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Iraq After Withdrawal

A Fresh Start to U.S.-Iraqi Relations

December 14th 2011

Iraq - Iraqi Forces

As the United States completes its military pullout from Iraq, two events this week will offer the opportunity for a clear statement of Washington's postwithdrawal policy toward Baghdad: today, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with President Obama at the White House, and on Wednesday, the president will deliver a speech on Iraq at Fort Bragg. Ideally, this fresh start to bilateral relations will focus on establishing red lines concerning the protection of U.S. citizens in Iraq, counterterrorism cooperation, human rights, and the observance of democratic norms. Iraq should not be a place where Iranian-backed militants can threaten U.S. interests, nor where an authoritarian regime can violate the rights of its citizens with impunity.

The White House Visit

Maliki's trip to Washington was not a foregone conclusion -- Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters have pressed the prime minister to cancel the visit since mid-October. That Maliki decided to come despite these pressures is indicative of his ongoing desire for a strategic relationship with the United States. His recent actions suggest that he feels insecure on a number of fronts. Notwithstanding his paranoia - a trait seemingly bred into him during long years of exile from Saddam-era Iraq - Maliki's concerns have some basis in reality.

Coup worries

Intelligence reports provided by either the Libyan or Syrian government (media reporting differs on this issue) appear to have stoked Maliki's fear of a Sunni-led coup backed by Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Lagarde Meets with Rousseff and Mantega as Part of Her Visit to Latin America to Negotiate Brazil’s Lending to the IMF

December 13th 2011

IMF - Christine Lagarde
Christine Lagarde

For many years, Brazil was a constant borrower of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but this time the country has been formally requested to lend funds to the IMF, which shows a remarkable shifting of power in the international scenario. With that in mind, Christine Lagarde held a meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her finance minister Guido Mantega as part of her first visit to Latin America as the IMF’s managing director.

Although the details of the lending proposal are still in negotiation, after the aforementioned meeting, Brazil has indicated that it would lend to the IMF on the condition that it restructures its quota system. The quotas have been denominated as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), which is the IMF’s unit of account and affords the quota-holders voting power. Currently, Brazil accounts for 4,250.5 million SDRs, which represent 43,246 votes. Therefore, the country seeks to increase its influence with the previously mentioned quota restructuring initiative and take a more central role in the IMF’s decision-making process, a goal that is consistent with Rousseff’s aims to expand Brazil’s “great country” campaign to flex its influence in the global community.

According to Mantega, Brazil’s willingness to help is not only in response to the European crisis, but also with the destiny of the developing countries in mind: “I believe that the euro zone has the tools to overcome the crisis, but while it doesn’t happen, the situation is getting worse. Our concern is not only with the European countries, but mainly with the emerging countries.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Israeli Officials Slam Obama as Soft on Iran

December 12th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama in Thought

Despite maintaining a veneer of happy collaboration, Israeli officials are deeply unhappy with the Obama administration's approach to the Iranian nuclear program.

It has long been assumed by observers that this is the case, but thus far there has been no public confirmation of it. That changed on Sunday night, when officials speaking under the cover of anonymity said that all is definitely not well behind the scenes.

"While the House of Representatives and the Senate are promoting (anti-Iran) legislation," said one of the officials, the White House is operating according to an ideology which could be defined as "hesitant." The Iranian issue calls for a clear stance, but the administration has yet to take the necessary measures to significantly hurt the ayatollahs' regime. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

Hugo Chavez and Venezuela's Cloudy Future

December 12th 2011

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez sick
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela

As the 2012 Venezuelan presidential electoral season begins, many question whether Hugo Chávez will manage to remain in power and if his overall performance merits another term in office. As expected, Chávez’s presidency has been filled with instances of both success and failure since he came to power in 1999, and his past record has led the Venezuelan people to contend over the future of Venezuela and whether Hugo Chávez should be a part of it. An analysis of Venezuela’s current social and economic condition provide part of the answer as well as Chávez’s political actions, and each must be carefully assessed in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Chávez administration and its “Bolivarian Revolution.” In doing so, a more informative decision can be made as to whether or not, taken as a whole, the Venezuelan firebrand deserves reelection in the coming year.

Social Indicators

Beginning in 2003, the Chávez administration commenced a series of “Bolivarian Missions” intended to address the social problems facing Chavista Venezuela. These missions set out to improve a number of serious social problems festering in key sectors such as healthcare, education, housing, food and nutrition, and agriculture. Through a few of the most influential missions, Chávez has been able to improve such mainstays as healthcare and education, but Venezuela still struggles with a biting housing shortage and a crippling crime rate.

Missions Barrio Adentro, Robinson, and Ribas were great successes. Mission Barrio Adentro sought to provide free and high quality health care by increasing the number of primary care physicians twelvefold while constructing several thousand additional health centers across the country. As a result, over 300,000 lives have been saved and infant mortality has been reduced by twenty percent. Mission Robinson was a literacy campaign that used the help of community and military volunteers to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic to the underprivileged adult population. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia's Wasteland of Lawyers, Murder, Democracy and Justice

December 11th 2011

Colombia Topics - Armed Police

On May 25, 2011, Avocats Sans Frontieres Canada and the Colombian Caravana UK Lawyers Group launched a report detailing the findings of a visit to Colombia by an international caravana of lawyers. The visit by a large and impressive group of international legal talent was undertaken to carry out an inventory of the status of the Colombian legal system and the working conditions faced by Colombian lawyers. Their report painted a damning picture of the Colombian legal system, establishing that “there continues to be a large number of assassinations of and threats against Colombian lawyers, human rights defenders and trade unionists, indications of the continued violent activity of former members of paramilitary groups and challenges to accessing justice by victims.”

This represents a depressing indictment of the lack of progress made in upholding the autonomy and safeguarding the effectiveness and security of the Colombian legal system since 2008, when the first Caravana of Lawyers visited Colombia and reported that, on average, twenty-five lawyers and human rights advocates had been killed on a yearly basis since 1991. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Crash Course - Putin's Ambitions, America's Tolerance

December 9th 2011

Russian Topics - Putin

Despite the Kremlin's best effort, an Internet video emerged the other week of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin being booed by a full arena of fans at the end of a mixed martial arts fight in Moscow's Olympic Stadium. "Putin's spin-doctors came up with a variety of explanations of the booing-from anger at lack of access to toilets during the speech to abuse directed toward the departing losing fighter," the Daily Beast reported. "None made much sense...Suddenly, it seems, Russian everymen aren't so thrilled by their once and future Tsar."

Indeed, the Olympic Stadium scene proved to be an accurate precursor to the Parliamentary elections held over the weekend in Russia.

"United Russia, the governing party of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, suffered surprisingly steep losses in parliamentary elections on Sunday and was barely clinging to a 50 percent majority, with nearly three-quarters of the votes counted," the New York Times reported. But though Putin's popularity is waning, his power in Russia is not. Read more ..

The Edge on Terrorism

Palestinian Terrorists Show no Remorse Despite Israeli Clemency

December 8th 2011

Terrorism - Hamas head

Israel hoped that the 477 prisoners it released as part of the Gilad Shalit exchange deal in October 2011 would show remorse for their actions; however, the oldest prisoner released so far seems to be the only one with any hint of penitence.

Seventy-nine-year-old Sami Younis had served 29 years of a 40-year sentence for activity in the terror cell that murdered soldier Avraham Bromberg in 1980. While never explicitly expressing regret, Younis said that "what was correct for that time is no longer correct. Since theOslo accord, I've become a soldier for peace. Sixty years of war and bloodshed is enough."

Unfortunately, several other prisoners have shown no remorse whatsoever for their heinous crimes and immediately incited others to follow in their terrorist footsteps. These include failed suicide bombers and Palestinians who dispatched or drove other terrorists to attack Israeli bus stations, hotels and restaurants.

These killers and would-be murderers were welcomed home as heroes not only by their families and friends but also by Palestinian Authority officials. President Mahmoud Abbas, often called a "moderate" by wishful thinkers, declared, "You are freedom fighters and holy warriors." Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Nuclear-Equipped Iran is a Worldwide Game-Changer

December 7th 2011

Iran - Ahmadinejad Nuclear

Sanctions and sabotage have not stopped them. Neither have threats nor United Nations resolutions. Iran's leaders say they'll never give up their nuclear program, and evidence shows the Iranians are closer than ever before to acquiring the bomb.

So how would a nuclear-armed Iran change the face of the Middle East and the world?

According to reports, Iran already has enough enriched uranium to produce at least four nuclear bombs.

And unless something changes, it appears the writing is on the wall for Iran's neighbors.

"In the end, I would argue that Saudi Arabia, which is the most Sunni, most Wahhabi -- which is the most extreme of the Sunnis -- is in more danger than America or Israel or Europe or anybody else," Harold Rhode, a senior advisor to the Hudson Institute, told CBN News. See video here.

Rhode, a former foreign affairs specialist at the Pentagon, said nuclear weapons would allow Iran to dominate its neighbors and set the global price of oil.

"The Saudis and other people who are supplying the world with oil and gas would have to kowtow to the dictates of this tyrannical regime in Tehran," he predicted. Read more ..

Mideast on Edge

Fire Spreads Both Ways

December 5th 2011

Iran - Iranian clerics and sailors

Before the Arab upheavals of 2011, the Middle East was dominated by a cold war, pitting US-aligned regional states against a self-designated “Muqawama (resistance) Axis” of states and movements led by Iran. Both these blocs still exist. Both have been in different ways diminished by the ferment currently under way in the Arabic-speaking world.

The Iran-led Resistance Axis liked to portray itself as the representative of authentic local Muslim forces, arrayed against a corrupt and declining alliance of local collaborators aligned with the US and Israel. Contrary to its preferred script, however, various components of this bloc now find themselves under siege and threatened by forces unleashed by the Arab Spring.

This was not how it looked at the start. The first two casualties of the 2011 ferment were staunchly pro- Western Arab leaders – Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. The Iranian leadership at that point heralded the “Islamic Awakening” across the region. Syrian President Bashar Assad explained in a seminal interview with The Wall Street Journal on January 31 that Syria and its allies would remain untouched by the ferment because of their identification with the deeper desires of the peoples of the region; namely, opposing the West and supporting the Palestinians.

The Resistance Axis was looking forward to settling down and enjoying the sight of the rival bloc tearing itself apart. It hasn’t quite turned out like that.

America on Edge

Older Floridians Have No Backup Plan After Hanging Up Their Keys

December 5th 2011

Social Topics - walking-cane

Florida is home to one of the highest percentages of residents ages 65 and older in the United States, but very few of them have thought ahead to a time when they will no longer be able to drive a vehicle safely or considered how they will get around without a car, according to a new survey developed by Florida State University and the Florida Department of Transportation.

In fact, 13 percent of survey respondents indicated they would not stop driving at all, with 3 percent expressing the opinion that they would die before they would stop driving.

The findings reflect a serious issue in Florida—and across the nation—that older drivers are at a disproportionate risk for being involved in a fatal vehicular crash, according to John Reynolds, the Eagles Professor of Sociology at Florida State and director of the university's Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

November Jobs Not Quite a Feast

December 4th 2011

Economy - Unemployment Line in California
Unemployment Line in California

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of jobs grew in November by 120,000 and that the unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent, the lowest level since March 2009. The sharp drop in the unemployment rate was a result of solid job growth in the household survey and also, worryingly, a large exodus of people from the workforce. The payroll survey continues the story of a slow recovery. November job gains were a bit lower than the average for the past year, but revisions in previous months were up 72,000 jobs. This is a jobs report that contains some good news, although it is likely that the sharp drop in the unemployment rate is more of a blip than a new low.

November Report

The household survey reported that the unemployment rate fell from 9 percent to 8.6 percent. Some of this decline is attributable to job growth of 278,000 jobs, according to the household survey. However, a large increase (487,000) in the number of potential workers reporting “not in labor force” was the second reason for the drop in the unemployment rate. This causes the labor force participation rate to decline to 64.0 percent, the first decline since July. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Impact of Sanctioning Iran's Central Bank

December 4th 2011

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

At a recent December meeting, European Union foreign ministers will discuss French president Nicolas Sarkozy's recent statement on Iran sanctions: "France proposes to the European Union and its member states, to the USA, to Japan, Canada, and to other countries willing to join, to take the decision to immediately freeze the assets of the Central Bank of Iran [CBI] and interrupt the purchases of Iranian oil." The EU's decision will be closely watched in Iran and across the world.

Several countries have already targeted the CBI to one degree or another. On November 21, Canada and Britain announced a ban on transactions with the CBI and other banks in the Islamic Republic, prompting Iranian calls for expelling the British ambassador and today's ransacking of the British embassy. Also on November 21, the U.S. government invoked Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act to warn that Iran is a jurisdiction of "primary money laundering concern," and that dealing with any Iranian bank, including the CBI, poses risks for the global financial system. In addition, Congress is considering an outright ban on transactions with the CBI. Yet the debate about whether to sanction the bank has not always been clear about the goal and potential cost of such a move. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Election of former Leftist Guerrilla as Bogota Mayor may hold Key to Colombia's Future

December 3rd 2011

Colombia Topics - Gustavo Petro - Bogota mayor
Mayor Gustavo Petro of Bogota, Colombia

On October 30, 2011, Bogotá elected Gustavo Petro as its next mayor. After earning a plurality of 32 percent of the vote in a highly contested election, Petro—a former member of the leftist M19 guerilla movement—made history as the first ex-guerilla to have won this post. During that same week, the Colombian government arguably achieved its greatest victory against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) by killing its top leader Guillermo León Sáenz, otherwise known as ‘Alfonso Cano’.

These two significant events could mark a pivotal point forColombia’s future and for that of its major insurgency group, which recently chose a new commander-in-chief, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry. Most importantly, Petro’s election toColombia’s second-most significant political post presents both a symbolic and concrete path forward for the two adversaries to create a new political framework for negotiations. Read more ..

Nicaragua on Edge

Silence on Fraudulent Rule in Nicaragua Detrimental to Latin American and U.S Interests

December 2nd 2011

Nicaragua - Daniel Ortega
President Daniel Ortega

Elections took place in Nicaragua in early November. These elections displayed an element of fraud from the beginning. According to the European Union’s electoral mission the vote tally was “opaque and arbitrary”. Prior to the election, the outcome was almost pre-ordained because the Ortega-controlled Supreme Court nullified a constitutional provision that limited the President to no more than two terms.

The Nicaraguan Supreme Court interpreted this provision as void because it failed to protect the individual right of Mr. Ortega to be reelected rather than the proper intention to limit the potential monarchical power of one president over the rest of the government and above the individual rights of multiple members of civil society.

As Ortega now seems to be the winner of this election, numerous complaints of irregularities have been heard. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt's Islamists' Success: A Sign of Nation's Future, or Past?

December 2nd 2011

Egypt - Egyptian Kid at Rally

Egyptian officials say the results of the first round of voting in parliamentary elections will be announced Friday evening local time, after delaying the announcement twice this week. Observers have said Egypt's first elections since President Hosni Mubarak's February resignation were mostly peaceful.

The Muslim Brotherhood is thought to be taking the early lead in the Egypt's months-long parliamentary elections.  But support for the moderate Islamist group, as well as for more fundamentalist ones, may say more about Egypt's past than future. From a purely practical standpoint, the Muslim Brotherhood was expected to benefit from the timetable of elections. The best-organized, yet officially banned, opposition group under the old government, the Brotherhood has left its newly-formed competitors scrambling to catch up. Perhaps more important is the suffering members of the Brotherhood endured --  arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture. 

Human Rights Watch Egypt researcher Heba Morayef says both privately and in recent years more publicly, members were at the forefront in opposing the former government's tactics. "They took on many human rights issues, in a sense, and would very often use their position as being the victim of these violations, I think, to recruit other sympathizers who were angry at Mubarak's repressive regime," said Morayef. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda’s Rope-a-Dope

November 30th 2011

Terrorism - Arab terrorist
Anwar al-Awlaki

Any evaluation of the first decade of the global War on Terror (or whatever phrase du jour is currently used to describe the conflict) cannot avoid an unmistakable triumph: America hasn’t suffered another catastrophic act of terrorism since September 11, 2001. Nevertheless, the U.S.’s success in defending itself against the tactic of terrorism has not been complemented by a deep understanding of its enemies’ strategy, and consequently its systems of offense and defense have not been structured for victory.

The lack of attention the U.S. has paid to al-Qaeda’s strategy so far is remarkable. To comprehend the shallowness of its understanding, one need look no further than the documents that frame official U.S. thinking about terrorism. For example, the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism (NMSP-WOT)—the most comprehensive military plan for the fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates—outlines America’s ends, ways, and means in the conflict, but doesn’t perform the same analysis for al-Qaeda. This is striking, because understanding an enemy’s ends, ways, and means is fundamental to military strategy. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Israeli Economy Strong Despite Conflict

November 30th 2011

Israel Topics - Jerusalem Bus Terminal

Israelis have always envisioned a day when they would have peace with their neighbors and enjoy normal commercial relations that would be a boon to both Israel and the Arab states. Unfortunately, the Arab states initiated an economic boycott in 1945 and most still refuse to engage in any trade with Israel. The ongoing conflict also imposes heavy costs on Israel, forcing it to devote resources to security that might otherwise be directed to more productive uses.

Despite these impediments, Israel has shown a remarkable capacity to thrive economically throughout its history. Today, in fact, as the economies of most nations struggle, Israel’s is booming. Israel now has the world’s fastest-growing economy.

One indication of the strength of Israel’s economy is its rating by Standard and Poor. While S&P downgraded America’s rating in August 2011 (for the first time since 1917) from AAA to AA+ following the stalemate over raising the debt ceiling, the ratings services raised Israel’s long-term foreign currency sovereign credit ratings in September 2011 from “A” to “A+,” denoting its “very strong capacity to meet financial commitments.” Read more ..

China in Africa

Africans' Flight from Farming is Accompanied by Neo-Colonialism

November 27th 2011

Africa Topics - China-Zambia co-prosperity sphere

Since 2001 governments of developing countries have rented out, sold or are in negotiations to sell 2.27 million square kilometers of land, according to figures of the Land Matrix Partnership, a group of academics, investigators and NGO cited by Oxfam in a recent report. African governments are the main “culprits”. More than 70 per cent of these contracts have been signed in Africa. Suddenly the developed world has realized that sub-Saharan Africa is not over-populated, as we have been told for years, but that it’s the new El Dorado: endless bounties of badly wanted minerals and the largest area of unused rich, cultivable land in the world.

In Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sudan and Liberia, for example, some 43,000 square kilometers were sold or rented out to foreign investors between 2004 and 2009, according to official data of the World Bank. This is equal to the surface territory of Switzerland.

Considering that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the size of two-thirds of Western Europe, Switzerland is a spot on the map for an immense continent like Africa. Nevertheless it indicates an interesting trend. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Half of GOP’s Biggest Bundlers Have Not Yet Picked a Presidential Candidate

November 25th 2011

Politics - Republican Candidates Nov2011

For the last three presidential elections, mega bundler Rudy Boschwitz has helped raise millions of dollars for Republicans running for the White House.

But this time around, the former U.S. senator from Minnesota says he is “conflicted” and has yet to put his fundraising skills to work for a Republican challenger to face President Barack Obama next year.

“I want to endorse the person who is most likely to make a change in the White House and I’m not sure who that is,” Boschwitz said.

Boschwitz has plenty of company among his fellow elite Republican fundraisers, an analysis of campaign finance reports. Read more ..

Cuba on Edge

Farm Sales Bring Change to Cuba

November 23rd 2011

Cuba Topics - Cuba Street Scene

The freehold buying and selling of residential real property became legal in Cuba on November 10, 2010, marking a major milestone on the island’s road to economic liberalization.

The Cuban government is encouraging the creation of small businesses and private farming. More than 180,000 “self-employment” licenses have been issued since 2010, and the government has turned over four million acres of land to 143,000 private farmers since 2008.

Today there are over 350,000 small private farmers in Cuba, producing 57 percent of the food consumed on the island and 60 percent of agricultural exports on just 24 percent of the land. The Cuban state owns more than 70 percent of the arable land on the island, of which some 50 percent lies fallow.

Yet even this situation is changing as economic reforms accelerate. Last month, Cuban authorities announced that the island’s private farmers would be eligible to receive land grants extending to 67 hectares (170 acres), up from the current maximum of thirteen hectares (33 acres). Read more ..

The Arab Fall

Jordan's Evolving Strategy toward the Pressures of the Arab Spring

November 22nd 2011

Jordan Topics - King Abdullah of Jordan
King Abdullah of Jordan

Although Jordan's new prime minister seems ready to address the public outcry over corruption, he may run into the same bureaucratic and economic impediments that have stymied previous governments.

Last month, King Abdullah of Jordan dismissed his second prime minister since the onset of the Arab Spring earlier this year. The decision to remove Marouf Bakhit was part of the king's strategy to placate an increasingly restive population's demands for political reform and an end to endemic and conspicuous corruption. Notwithstanding the opposition of ruling elites, who believe dramatic reforms could diminish their traditional perquisites, King Abdullah appears to understand that his legitimacy now rests in large part on his ability to respond to longstanding demands from the street.
Bakhit's replacement is Awn Khasawneh, a professional judge who previously served as chief of Jordan's Royal Court, vice president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and a leading figure in the king's constitutional reform project . His appointment may help Amman stabilize the kingdom against the political and social tempest sweeping the region. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Tunisia

Assessing Ennahda, Tunisia's Winning Islamist Party

November 22nd 2011

Islamic Topics - Rachid Ghannouchi of the Ennahda Party
Rachid Ghannouchi, one of the founders of the Ennahda Party

On October 23, Tunisians participating in their first post-revolution election handed the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) Party 41.7 percent of the popular vote and 90 of 217 seats in parliament. The secular Congress for the Republic Party received the second-highest share, with 14 percent and 30 seats, while the leftist Ettakatol came in third with 10 percent and 21 seats. Ennahda and the Congress party are joining forces to form a coalition government, while Ettakatol has suspended coalition talks pending clarification of controversial remarks by Ennahda's prime minister-designate that Tunisia is now entering the "sixth Caliphate." Ennahda's plurality puts the Islamist faction at the forefront of Tunisia's democratic reform effort and gives it a leading voice in redrafting the constitution. Despite concerns about women's rights and free speech, the party has promised -- publicly and often -- that it will support an open, democratic society, and its actions and preliminary agenda seem to support this.

What Is Ennahda?

The party was founded in 1981 as the "Movement of the Islamic Tendency" by Rachid Ghannouchi, Hmida Ennaifer, and Abdelfattah Mourou, who had together led a clandestine Islamist political organization since the early 1970s. They strongly opposed President Habib Bourguiba's secularist policies, which included the use of French as the official state language and a ban on headscarves. Influenced by Sayyed Qutb, Maulana Maududi, and other Sunni Muslim revivalists, Ghannouchi and his colleagues advocated the use of Islamic ideas and the Arabic language as a basis for political thought. Unlike other Islamist movements with a similar intellectual pedigree, however, Ennahda supported democracy and political pluralism from its founding and has never advocated that Tunisia break ties with the West -- policies that led many to label the party "moderate." Read more ..

Poisoned Places

In Smelter Town, Decades of Dirty Air, Disease—and Bureaucratic Dawdling

November 21st 2011

Environment Topics - Asarco Copper plant, AZ
Asarco Plant (credit: Emma Schwartz/iWatch)

As Betty Amparano sees it, the failures that all but ruined her town—Hayden, Arizona—occurred on multiple levels.

A copper smelter failed to keep toxic air pollution in check. The state failed to lean on the smelter’s owner, Asarco. And the federal government failed, until days ago, to override the state.

“The bottom line is that the whole town is contaminated,” said Amparano, who was born in Hayden and has lived here most of her life.

Soil tainted by airborne metals has been excavated from hundreds of yards. In some families, generations claim to have suffered ill effects from bad air. Deaths from cancer are common. Regulators have done little; for people who live here, the sense of betrayal is profound.

On November 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved against Asarco for what the EPA describes as more than six years of illegal emissions of arsenic, lead, chromium and seven other dangerous compounds from the smelter. The agency issued an unpublicized administrative action that could result in millions of dollars in fines from Asarco for allegedly being in “continuous violation” of the Clean Air Act since June 2005. The action is a slap at both the company and the state—another measure of failure. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Eurozone Debt Crisis Reveals China’s Economic Weakness

November 19th 2011

Economy - International Currency 3

The Chinese continue to watch the way in which the Europeans are trying to deal with their financial and political crisis right now. For China this is particularly important. Number one, Europe has become China’s largest export market and that has a major impact, of course, on the way in which the Chinese operate their economy. Number two is that a continued—or deeper crisis—in Europe could pull the entire global economy into recession.

Chinese exports to Europe and to much of the rest of the world saw a particularly sharp drop in 2009. This was something that the Chinese government had to rush to stabilize—they counteracted that dip in exports with a huge increase in domestic investment. The Chinese had hoped, during that time, that the Europeans would simply build themselves back up—pull themselves out of this particular crisis—and that China would be able to continue with its fairly rapid expansion of exports to Europe to keep its economy chugging along as China headed towards its 2012 leadership transition.

Although Chinese exports to Europe picked up a little bit in 2010, the rate of growth that the Chinese had been seeing in the previous four or five years slowed down quite a bit. The problem for China is that as the pace of export growth slows, the pace of import growth doesn’t. The Chinese still need a very large amount of commodities. They’re importing these commodities, not only to feed their export market, but to feed all of this new domestic investment. And that means that while the Chinese may not be making as much selling, they are having to buy still a very high market prices to be able to develop internally. Read more ..

Poisoned Places

Few Criminal Cases Target Big Air Polluters

November 19th 2011

Environment Topics - China Urban Pollution

For a decade, hazardous emissions from a refinery regularly swept into a mostly poor, minority neighborhood in Corpus Christi known as Hillcrest, where residents complained of odors, dizziness, vomiting and a range of conditions from asthma to cancer.

In June 2007, jurors found the refinery’s owner, Citgo Petroleum Corp., guilty of two felony criminal violations of the Clean Air Act for failing to control emissions of benzene, a carcinogen, from two massive, uncovered tanks at its refinery on the southern cusp of Texas.

It seemed a major victory for the federal government in its quest to punish Clean Air Act violators. The Justice Department, which prosecuted the case, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which investigated Citgo, said the verdict sent an important message. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Europe's Crisis: Beyond Finance

November 16th 2011

Economy - International Currency 3

Everyone is wondering about the next disaster to befall Europe.  Italy is one focus; Spain is also a possibility. But these crises are already under way. Instead, the next crisis will be political, not in the sense of what conventional politician is going to become prime minister, but in the deeper sense of whether Europe’s political elite can retain power, or whether new political forces are going to emerge that will completely reshape the European political landscape. If this happens, it will be by far the most important consequence of the European financial crisis.

Thus far we have seen some changes in personalities in the countries at the center of the crisis. In Greece, Prime Minister George Papandreou stepped aside, while in Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi now has resigned. Though these resignations have represented a formal change of government, they have not represented a formal policy change. In fact, Papandreou and Berlusconi both stepped down on the condition that their respective governments adopt the austerity policies proposed during their respective tenures.

Europeanists dominate the coalitions that have replaced them. They come from the generation and class that are deeply intellectually and emotionally committed to the idea of Europe. For them, the European Union is not merely a useful tool for achieving national goals. Rather, it is an alternative to nationalism and the horrors that nationalism has brought to Europe. It is a vision of a single Continent drawn together in a common enterprise — prosperity — that abolishes the dangers of a European war, creates a cooperative economic project and, least discussed but not trivial, returns Europe to its rightful place at the heart of the international political system. Read more ..

Britain and Latin America

Britain's Feints towards Latin America May Be Business as Usual

November 15th 2011

Brazil - Brazil in UK parade

Last year marked the 200th anniversary of Simón Bolívar’s visit to Britain, during which the revolutionary leader sought support for the independence movement in Latin America. Although the British government initially remained neutral in the struggle between Spain and Latin America, Britain became a valuable source of troops and weapons for Bolívar’s revolutionary army. Despite this historical link between Britain and an independent Latin America, a strong cooperative relationship between the two has not been maintained.

Two centuries later, in his speech at Canning House on November 15, 2010, UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, William Hague commented, “History teaches us that Britain has a track record of underestimating Latin America and neglecting its opportunities. It is this neglect that the British government is determined to address.” Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Darkening Clouds and the Coming Crisis of Europe

November 15th 2011

Europe Topics - Spanish protesters

Everyone is wondering about the next disaster to befall Europe. Italy is one focus; Spain is also a possibility. But these crises are already under way. Instead, the next crisis will be political, not in the sense of what conventional politician is going to become prime minister, but in the deeper sense of whether Europe’s political elite can retain power, or whether new political forces are going to emerge that will completely reshape the European political landscape. If this happens, it will be by far the most important consequence of the European financial crisis.

Thus far we have seen some changes in personalities in the countries at the center of the crisis. In Greece, Prime Minister George Papandreou stepped aside, while in Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi now has resigned. Though these resignations have represented a formal change of government, they have not represented a formal policy change. In fact, Papandreou and Berlusconi both stepped down on the condition that their respective governments adopt the austerity policies proposed during their respective tenures. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The U.S. can Sanction Those Doing Business with the Central Bank of Iran

November 13th 2011

Iran - Iranian Qiam missile launch

In recent years, the United States has imposed a punishing sanctions regime on Iran's banking sector. To further increase Tehran's level of financial pain, a great number of Congressional and advocacy groups have repeatedly called on the White House to blacklist the Central Bank of Iran (CBI). Doing so, the thinking goes, would seriously hamper the Islamic Republic's ability to abuse international markets in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Yet unbeknownst to most lawmakers and Washington policymakers, the U.S. Treasury actually has blacklisted the CBI, and not once but twice in recent years. The real question is why the U.S. government has not enforced its own sanctions regime. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Myths and Facts about Mahmoud Abbas

November 10th 2011

Palestine Topics - Mahmoud Abbas and father

MYTH: "Mahmoud Abbas is working toward reaching peace with Israel.'" 

FACT: Increasingly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appears to be the negotiator of choice for the West simply because officials see no option. Israelis are increasingly beginning to question this default option after three years of Abbas refusing to enter negotiations with Israel and a lifetime of rejectionism.

New evidence that Abbas is the impediment to peace continues to mount. In September 2011, Abbas defied the United States and many other nations by submitting an application for recognition to the UN Security Council.    Read more ..

The Arab Winter

The U.S. Plan as the Islamist Winter Draws Near

November 6th 2011

Islamic Topics - Islamic Terrorists
Islamic Terrorists

As secular authoritarian regimes topple across the Middle East, there is the danger that governments with a pronounced Islamist bent will replace them. In the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, this phenomena bears close watching.
In Tunisia this week, the Islamist Ennahdha (Renaissance) party has become the largest faction in the legislature following the first elections held since long-time strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile in January 2011. European Union monitors declared Sunday's elections free and fair, with Ennahdha capturing 40 percent of the vote. Failing to obtain an outright majority of seats in the 217-seat parliament, however, it will be forced to share power with the next largest vote recipients, two centrist secular parties.  Read more ..

The Koreas on Edge

South Korea: Taking the Right Steps to Defense Reform

November 6th 2011

South Korea - South Korea map
Credit: Ksiom

South Korea has initiated a series of extraordinary defense reforms. These reforms are commendable and will redress many of South Korea’s security shortcomings. Seoul will be hampered in these efforts, however, by demographic and fiscal constraints. Yet such barriers must be overcome; an increasingly unstable North Korea and an expansive, belligerent China demand as much. Furthermore, if Seoul is ever to “go global” with its political, economic, and military capabilities, the transformations outlined by the DR 307 reform plan must be enacted - and the U.S. can help.

From a full-scale invasion by the million-man North Korean army to tactical-level clashes along the inter-Korean border, South Korea is facing a daunting spectrum of security threats from North Korea. Even North Korea’s weaknesses pose a challenge to Seoul, as regime collapse would trigger instability, massive refugee flows, humanitarian disaster, Chinese incursion into North Korea, loss of control of nuclear weapons, and civil war. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

South Africa Needs a Roadmap to Economic Freedom

November 4th 2011

Africa - South Africa Flag

South Africa is one of the world’s largest exporters of precious metals used in a multitude of industrial and commercial applications. Continued access to this vast mineral wealth is vital for the economic security of the West. The future political and economic stability of South Africa hinges on its ability to tackle lack of economic opportunity, high unemployment, poverty, and the legacy of Apartheid. South Africa also needs a growing economy in order to address endemic challenges ranging from AIDS and crime to education and infrastructure development.

Accelerated economic growth requires increased access for all South Africans to land and capital, limits on government interventions, incentives for private investment, and a strengthening of property rights and the rule of law. Powerful voices in the ruling African National Congress, however, are demanding the nationalization of vital industries, land seizures, and state intervention to advance social equality. Analyzing developments in the ongoing debate between economic freedom and state intervention will go far in helping to shape the future of the “Rainbow Nation” as a regional and international economic player. The U.S. should use available political and economic diplomacy policy instruments (e.g., the U.S.- South Africa Strategic Dialogue, the U.S.- South Africa Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council, and AGOA - the African Growth and Opportunity Act) to weigh in with the South African government on the side of economic freedom. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia Embarks on Rebuilding an Empire

November 1st 2011

Russian Topics - Russian Paratroopers
Russian paratroopers

U.S.-Russian relations seem to have been relatively quiet recently, as there are numerous contradictory views in Washington about the true nature of Russia’s current foreign policy. Doubts remain about the sincerity of the U.S. State Department’s so-called “reset” of relations with Russia — the term used in 2009 when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed a reset button to her Russian counterpart as a symbol of a freeze on escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington. The concern is whether the “reset” is truly a shift in relations between the two former adversaries or simply a respite before relations deteriorate again.

The reset actually had little to do with the United States wanting Russia as a friend and ally. Rather, Washington wanted to create room to handle other situations — mainly Afghanistan and Iran — and ask Russia for help. (Russia is aiding in moving supplies into Afghanistan and withholding critical support from Iran.) Meanwhile, Russia also wanted more room to set up a system that would help it create a new version of its old empire. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia's Dire Choices in Addressing Narco-Terrorism

October 31st 2011

Latin American Topics - President Santos of Colombia
President Jose Manuel Santos of Colombia

Throughout the last year, a number of serious questions have been raised over the tools employed by the former Uribe administration (2002-2010) to establish and maintain a secure, stable Colombia. The August 31, 2011 resignation of Rodrigo Rivera, Defense Minister under the recently inaugurated president Juan Manuel Santos, presents a useful opportunity to reflect on the security policy under the new head of state and Colombia’s qualifications as a free trade partner.

Up until now, President Santos appears to have maintained the overall security language and posture employed by the Uribe regime: a repertoire of terms familiar to the post-September-11 world. This indicates that labeling enemies as ‘terrorists’ and more specifically in Colombia as ‘narco-terrorists’ is the order of the day. With the ten-year anniversary of September 11 just past, one may reflect on the ramifications of such carefully crafted and precisely targeted language observed in the last decade of Colombian foreign policy. This language, to a large extent, removes the possibility of a real political solution, and in its place, frames the politics of war and violence as the only viable means of achieving peace in the violence-wrecked nation of Colombia. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

Succession and the US-Saudi Relationship

October 27th 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

Given Saudi Arabia’s strategic position and its leadership roles in both Islam and international energy markets, the close relationship between Riyadh and Washington is crucial to a range of US policy concerns: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East peace process, and energy.

The character of the US-Saudi relationship has often been dictated by the personality and style of the king at the time. King Fahd, who ruled from 1982 to 2005 (thought he was plagued by poor health after a stoke in 1995), was seen as pro-American and cooperated closely, although often discreetly, with Washington on a range of foreign policy concerns, including in Central America, Afghanistan, and on the middle East peace process. King Abdullah, whose rule began in 2005 but who had stood in for Fahd after 1995, has protected the relationship but has been more cautious and at times even confrontational. In 2002, with relations in turmoil because of the involvement of Saudis in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the kingdom, apparently trying to deflect attention away from itself by spotlighting clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, was even prepared to privately threaten a temporary cutoff of oil exports because of US support for Israel. Read more ..

Venezuela and China

Venezuela Curries Favor with China as the Asian giant seeks Energy Security

October 25th 2011

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Xi Jinping China VP
China's Vice President Xi Jinping greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

President Hugo Chávez has long desired to minimize his country’s economic dependence on the United States, and since China’s huge and growing energy demands have resulted in expanded business with Venezuela, he may very well get his wish. Beijing and Caracas have a history of affable diplomatic ties, which in recent years have been strengthened by several multibillion-dollar oil-exploration deals that are providing China with a broadening spectrum of new sources of energy while helping to revive Venezuela’s wilting economy. With its petroleum consumption climbing 7.5 percent per year, China represents a significant and growing long-term source of income for Venezuela.

While Washington continues to fulfill the bulk of its energy requirements through long-established sources in the Middle East, China could be said to have jumped the fence into the U.S.’ ‘backyard’ in an attempt to capitalize on the impressive inventory of natural resources that the region has to offer. The state of Sino-Venezuelan petro-relations represents an evolving global order reflected by the waning influence of the U.S. in Latin America and the growing power of extra-hemispheric nations in the region. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Who was the Victor in the Shalit Swap?

October 24th 2011

Israel Topics - Shalit Graffiti

It is not often that scenes of joy wash over Israel and the Gaza Strip simultaneously.

Israelis were celebrating the freedom of a soldier who was abducted five years ago while guarding his country's borders. He was seized in an unprovoked cross-border raid and held by Hamas in violation of all international norms.

On the other side of the border, Gazans took part in a triumphant homecoming ceremony to honor jihadi combatants guilty of war crimes and the intentional murder of hundreds of unarmed civilians.

The trade of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners for a single Israeli soldier has bewildered some international observers, and touched off a debate over whether Israel had anything to celebrate at all. Read more ..

Libya after Gadhafi

What’s Next for Libya? Questions after Gadhafi’s Death

Libya - Gadhafi statue gets kicked

What Moammar Gadhafi’s death means to Libya and the rest of the world will take months, if not years, to sort out. There are big questions around leadership, politics, weapons, and wealth. We believe following the money is paramount because money always leads to power.

So in these hours after the dictator’s death, we think the questions worth asking include:

How much money does Libya have access to now, in the form of foreign assistance and domestic income or cash reserves? • Where is it? How much is inside the country or in foreign banks awaiting repatriation or settlement of ownership claims? • Who in Tripoli is controlling the cash outflow? • Can foreign governments trace the Gadhafi family’s wealth? • How much of Libya’s money does the US still have under its control and will his death speed the repatriation of those funds now? • How quickly will foreign aid or the country’s own wealth reach those who have been harmed the most by the civil conflict, and will it be distributed equitably? Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Challenges for the Egyptian Military

October 24th 2011

Egypt - Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi
Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi

Two intertwined problems confront Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces: the deteriorating economy and the looming elections.

The military has always been the dominant actor in Egypt since the July 1952 overthrow of King Farouk and the termination of the constitutional monarchy. Since then, every president of Egypt has been a military man: Muhammad Naguib (1953–1954), Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954–1970), Anwar El Sadat (1970–1981) and Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011).

The Military in Egypt

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, is at present a key player if not the actual leader of Egypt. Tantawi, who had served as military attaché to Pakistan, possibly sees that country as a kind of model for the position the military should continue to have in Egypt.

Tantawi participated directly in most of the military confrontations between Egypt and Israel, and has served as the Minister of Defense since 1991. During his term, Egypt’s military continued to prepare for a possible war with Israel, in spite of the peace treaty and, in a way, because of it. The massive size of the Egyptian military is made possible by generous American aid and support. That it is so large serves Egypt’s rulers in that the military and all of its associated facilities and industries serve as a major source of employment, a critical factor in Egypt’s perennially poor economy. U.S. interests are also served by the relationship as the delivery of weapon systems lowers the unit cost for the same systems purchased by the U.S. armed forces as well as helping the bottom of American defense companies. Read more ..

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