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Inside South America

Guyana’s Departing President Leaves Legacy of Perpetual Violence and Incompetence

January 30th 2011

Latin American Topics - Bharrat Jagdeo

Stagnation, violence, corruption, arch-sectarianism, and unfettered crime—this is the heritage that Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo will bequeath to his country. Now that Jagdeo has announced that he will not seek a third term in the upcoming August election, he may well ask, as a New York mayor once did, “How did I do?” The answer, in this instance, must be: “terribly.” Chosen by former President Janet Jagan to succeed her in office, and supposedly held in high esteem by Guyana’s founding father, the illustrious Cheddi Jagan, Jagdeo could only receive the lowest of marks from any independent evaluation. Through his tolerance of crime, racism, and dismal social progress, President Jagdeo has turned in a fifth-rate performance as president of one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. As the Guyanese use every strategy, legal and illegal, to flee the dysfunctional country, Jagdeo will go down in history as a man who did almost nothing for his nation while in office. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama’s State of the Union and U.S. Foreign Policy

January 25th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Flag

U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver the State of the Union address tonight. The administration has let the media know that the focus of the speech will be on jobs and the economy. Given the strong showing of the Republicans in the last election, and the fact that they have defined domestic issues as the main battleground, Obama’s decision makes political sense. He will likely mention foreign issues and is undoubtedly devoting significant time to them, but the decision not to focus on foreign affairs in his State of the Union address gives the impression that the global situation is under control. Indeed, the Republican focus on domestic matters projects the same sense. Both sides create the danger that the public will be unprepared for some of the international crises that are already quite heated. We have discussed these issues in detail, but it is useful to step back and look at the state of the world for a moment. Read more ..

Haiti on the Edge

Haiti on the Brink of Going Back to the Future with Baby Doc Duvalier

January 24th 2011

Caribbean - Baby Doc Jean Claude Duvalier

The world recently marked the first anniversary of the tragic earthquake that ravaged Port-au-Prince, killing upwards of 300,000 Haitians, destroying more than 250,000 homes, and displacing more than 1.3 million people. The earthquake in Haiti was by far one of the most unforgiving natural disasters of the past century (with property damage estimated at up to $14 billion), and has led to one of the most comprehensive international humanitarian relief responses ever undertaken. Within a few weeks of the earthquake, national governments, international agencies, charities, and well-intentioned individuals reached out from their homes and overseas, pledging several billions of dollars in emergency assistance. A portion of the funds are now being devoted towards rehabilitation and future reconstruction efforts. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Did Israel Illegally Demolish a Palestinian National Landmark in East Jerusalem

January 24th 2011

Israel Topics - Demolition of the Shepherd Hotel
Demolition of the Shepherd Hotel

Among Israel’s detractors is a widely held and circulated myth meant only to drive a wedge deeper between Israel and those she seeks for international support that claims Israel illegally demolished a Palestinian national landmark in East Jerusalem.

The facts however, when presented—but even more, when actually reviewed—support a very different scenario.

On January 9, 2011, Israeli crews began demolition work on the Shepherd Hotel building in the Sheikh Jarrah community of Jerusalem to make way for the planned construction of a Jewish housing project. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insists the hotel is a historic national landmark and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat claims that Israel is illegally demolishing the hotel as part of their attempt to “ethnically cleanse Jerusalem from its Palestinian inhabitants, culture and history.” Read more ..

Guns in America

Firearms Vendors Raise Millions for NRA

January 24th 2011

Congressional issues - Glock with 31-round mag

MidwayUSA is a Missouri company well known among gun enthusiasts for its firearms accessories: the company website boasts that the firm stocks “Just about everything for shooting, reloading, gunsmithing, and hunting.”

These wares include high-capacity magazines similar to those used in the Arizona shooting spree that enabled the accused assailant to kill six people and wound 14 others—including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords—by rapidly firing a fusillade of shots without pausing to reload.

Over the last two decades, MidwayUSA has done just about everything to help the National Rifle Association flourish financially.

In 1992 MidwayUSA developed a fundraising tactic to boost the NRA’s fortunes, dubbed “Round-Up,” that has yielded $5.7 million for the NRA’s lobbying operations. The MidwayUSA money drive asks customers to “round up” the total of each order to the nearest dollar or higher. Then the company donates the difference to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, a lobbying arm of the gun rights group. Read more ..

Tunisia on Edge

The Breakdown in Tunisia is an Object Lesson for Similar Police States

January 18th 2011

Africa Topics - Tunisia riots

On January 14, President Zine al-Abadine Ben Ali of Tunisia stepped down after days of worsening riots and, coincidentally, one day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bluntly criticized Middle Eastern leaders during a speech in Qatar, where she accused them of tolerating "corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order." In Tunis, it was announced that Prime Minister Muhammad Ghannouchi has taken over as interim president. Ghannouchi said Ben Ali was "temporarily unable to exercise his duties." (Arab television stations report that he has flown abroad.) Ben Ali, who had ruled for twenty-three years, had earlier promised to step down when his term ends in 2014 and hold parliamentary elections within six months. Now the Arab world is watching to see which other regime might be vulnerable and what the U.S. response will be. Read more ..

Edge on Security

Democracy and Stepping Up Congressional Security

January 18th 2011

Congressional issues - DC Capitol police officer

Following the January 8 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Federal District Judge John McCarthy Roll and 17 others in Tucson, Arizona, discussion has focused on the motivations and ideology of the accused shooter, Jared Loughner. While it was important to make a quick assessment of Loughner’s profile in order to evaluate the possibility of an organized threat, all the available evidence (though not conclusive) indicates that he acted alone.

For the most part, discussion of the event has not touched on a re-evaluation of security for members of Congress.  

A common mindset of politicians and their staffers is that better security will limit their accessibility and thus hinder their ability to do their job (and win elections). In fact, there are a number of measures that members of Congress and other public officials can institute for better security without limiting accessibility. While staying in a secure facility would be the safest, it isn’t a realistic option. What is realistic — and effective — is the prudent employment of protective intelligence as well as some measure of physical protection on the move.

A Look at the Threat

While there have been approximately 20 assassination attempts against U.S. presidents, four of which were successful, attacks on members of Congress and local judges are much more rare. There have been only five recorded attempts against members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including the attack on Gabrielle Giffords. And two of those five attacks resulted from disputes between representatives (one of which was a duel in 1838). But there are also many more threats voiced against public officials, which should never be ignored. The majority are issued by what we call lone wolves — individuals acting on their own rather than with a group. Read more ..

Border War

Mexico's President Calderon Tries to Put a Positive Spin on a Deadly Narco-War

January 18th 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexico Drug War Casualty

In its second-to-last year in office, the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon is on a public relations offensive to counter a ceaseless barrage of criticism over the conduct and progress of the so-called drug war. In response, Calderon administration officials-echoed by Washington-are increasingly claiming victories in various operations against organized crime.

Interviewed on Mexican television, Mexico City's new point man for public relations, Alejandro Poire, put a positive spin on the balance of power between the Mexican state and several large criminal organizations.

Of 37 wanted crime family capos, 17 have been captured and four killed, said Poire, who serves as technical secretary for Mexico's National Security Council. "If something marked 2010, it was the systematic capture of these criminals," Poire said. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Drawing a Distinction Between Blasphemy and Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan

January 18th 2011

Asia Topics - Pakistan blasphemy protest

It is common to say that a law is introduced to provide remedy for a mischief. What is the mischief that section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) provides a remedy for?

The issue of Tauheen-i-Risalat (insult to Muhammad) first raised heads in the 1920s when a publication in Lahore by a Hindu publisher Raj Pal agitated some segments of Muslim population. Raj Pal was prosecuted under Section 153A, which provided punishment for acts (words, either spoken or written, visible representations, or otherwise) that promoted feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes. He was convicted and sentenced by the Sessions Court at Lahore. The conviction was, however, set aside by the high court with the opinion that though Raj Pal’s act may have outraged religious feelings of Muslims it did not fall within the definition of Section 153, and that another legal provision was needed to be incorporated to remedy the mischief (Raj Pal versus The Emperor: AIR 1927 Lahore 250). Raj Pal was later murdered in 1929 by a man named Ilm Din. Read more ..

Islam Against Copts

Geopolitical Implications of Islamist Attacks on Christians in Egypt

January 10th 2011

Christian Topics - Coptic Christian blast

Over recent days, Christian churches have been attacked in at least two countries — Nigeria and Egypt — while small packages containing improvised explosive devices were placed on the doorsteps of Christian families in Iraq. Attacks against Christians are not uncommon in the Islamic world, driven by local issues and groups, and it is unclear whether these latest attacks were simply coincidental and do not raise the threat to a new level or whether they indicate the existence of a new, coordinated, international initiative. There is a strong case to be made for the idea that there is nothing new in all of this. Read more ..

Sudan on the Edge

Obama’s Southern Sudan Policy

January 10th 2011

Africa Topics - Omar Bashir of Sudan
President of Sudan Omar Hassan al-Bashir

Southern Sudan’s mostly Christian population has been under genocidal attack from the Islamist-dominated North. Wikileaks has shed new light on the Obama administration’s diplomatic activities on this crisis.

According to Wikileaks cables, in December 2009, the U.S. warned Sudan to stop transshipments of Iranian arms to Hamas in Gaza for use against Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The cables however, did not discuss that Sudan was also transferring Iranian arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill American and coalition forces. Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

Following START, whither America-Russian Relations?

January 3rd 2011

Russian Topics - Dmitry and Barack buddies

Late last year, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which had been signed in April.

The Russian legislature still has to provide final approval of the treaty, but it is likely to do so, and therefore a New START is set to go into force. That leaves two questions to discuss. First, what exactly have the two sides agreed to and, second, what does it mean? Let’s begin with the first. The original START was signed July 31, 1991, and reductions were completed in 2001. The treaty put a cap on the number of nuclear warheads that could be deployed. In addition to limiting the number of land- and submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and strategic bombers, it capped the number of warheads that were available to launch at 6,000. The fact that this is a staggering number of nuclear weapons should give you some idea of the staggering number in existence prior to START. START I lapsed in 2009, and the new treaty is essentially designed to reinstate it. Read more ..

Sudan on Edge

South Sudan Referendum Still on Track, If Khartoum Allows It

January 3rd 2011

Africa Topics - Sudan demonstration

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is a set of protocols signed in January 2005 between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan. 

It is facilitated through a regional effort by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development and the international community, namely the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway. The agreement aimed at ending the second Sudanese civil war, develop democratic governance in the country, and share oil revenues on an equitable basis. The agreement also set a timetable by which southern Sudan would conduct a referendum on its future. So how effective has the CPA been in achieving its intended objectives? Read more ..

Brazil and Palestine

The Logic Behind South American Countries’ Support for a Palestinian State

December 27th 2010

Latin American Topics - da silva and abbas
José Inázio Lula Da Silva and Mahmoud Abbas

In December, Brazil recognized the creation of a Palestinian state (with pre-1967 borders) while the U.S was making serious efforts to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together. The creation of a Palestinian state has been supported not only by President Barack Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush but also by every Israeli Prime Minister in the last decade including the current one, Benjamin Netanyahu. This move, was followed by Argentina and Bolivia; most likely, Uruguay will follow early next year. However, Brazil’s leadership and initiative in this endeavor is clear. Read more ..

Wikileaks on the Edge

WikiLeaks Revelations Do Not Come Close to Changing the Rules of the Game

December 27th 2010

Politics - Julian Assange WikiLeaks

Julian Assange has declared that geopolitics will be separated into pre-“Cablegate” and post-“Cablegate” eras. That was a bold claim. However, given the intense interest that the leaks produced, it is a claim that ought to be carefully considered. Several weeks have passed since the first of the diplomatic cables were released, and it is time now to address the following questions: First, how significant were the leaks? Second, how could they have happened? Third, was their release a crime? Fourth, what were their consequences? Finally, and most important, is the WikiLeaks premise that releasing government secrets is a healthy and appropriate act a tenable position?

Let’s begin by recalling that the U.S. State Department documents constituted the third wave of leaks. The first two consisted of battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. Looking back on those as a benchmark, it is difficult to argue that they revealed information that ran counter to informed opinion. I use the term “informed opinion” deliberately. For someone who was watching Iraq and Afghanistan with some care over the previous years, the leaks might have provided interesting details but they would not have provided any startling distinction between the reality that was known and what was revealed. If, on the other hand, you weren’t paying close attention, and WikiLeaks provided your first and only view of the battlefields in any detail, you might have been surprised. Read more ..

The EU on Edge

Europe to Take a Perilous Next Step

December 27th 2010

Europe Topics - EU flag

Europe is on the cusp of change. An EU heads-of-state summit December 16 launched a process aimed to save the common European currency. If successful, this process would be the most significant step toward creating a singular European power since the creation of the European Union itself in 1992 — that is, if it doesn’t destroy the euro first.

Envisioned by the EU Treaty on Monetary Union, the common currency, the euro, has suffered from two core problems during its decade-long existence: the lack of a parallel political union and the issue of debt. Many in the financial world believe that what is required for a viable currency is a fiscal union that has taxation power — and that is indeed needed. Read more ..

Edge on Immigration

Beyond the DREAM Act: Getting Immigration Reform Right

December 27th 2010

Mexican Topics - US Border Patrol arrest

Last weekend, the United States Senate voted not to proceed to a final vote on the House-passed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. This bill would have given legal permanent resident status to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and who agreed to attend college or enter the military. In this way the bill would have granted amnesty to around 2.8 million illegal immigrants inside the U.S.

Now that Congress has rejected the “amnesty” strategy once again, it is time for the Administration to put this unrealistic approach aside once and for all and begin a serious, practical, and honest approach to fixing America’s broken borders and flawed immigration system. Pushing the issue off on the next generation or using immigration as a tool to win votes through amnesty is not only irresponsible but wrong in terms of national security, the rule of law, and economic prosperity.

Not a New Problem

The number of illegal immigrants inside the U.S. topped off at around 12 million. Since the recent economic recession began, numbers have decreased to around 10.8 million. In 1986, the U.S. attempted to handle the issue by granting amnesty to the 2.7 million illegal immigrants inside the U.S. at that time. This amnesty, however, worsened the illegal immigration problem, encouraging more individuals to cross the border illegally and stay in the U.S Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Latin American Nations and the Geopolitics of State Recognition: Palestine, Caucasus, Kosovo and Taiwan

December 21st 2010

Latin American Topics - Hugo Chavez and PLO flag

In 2008, Russia fought a five-day war with Georgia, an independent nation in the southern Caucasus, which gained its independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union. While the details of the incident remain controversial, it is generally agreed that Georgia was the aggressor. One critical consequence of the conflict was that two Georgian separatist regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, were recognized relatively quickly as independent states by four countries: Russia, the Pacific island of Nauru and the Latin American countries of Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Why were Venezuela and Nicaragua persuaded to recognize the two separatist states and what is the likelihood of a subsequent Latin American wave of recognition taking place? The experience of South Ossetia and Abkhazia may help highlight two distinct factors involved in the recognition process:

First, although there is no recognition policy in effect, Latin American states tend to extend recognition to states outside the hemisphere principally based on a closely-felt geopolitical sense of national interest as opposed to a clear understanding of the merits and facts of a given conflict or transition. Second, due to forces of globalization, Latin American countries are now extending ties to areas of previously little interest.

Border War

Northern Mexico Citizens Increasingly Fed-up with Government Impotence in the Face of Narco-violence

December 21st 2010

Mexican Topics - Juarez protesta

December on the US-Mexico border is a time of family, faith and fiesta. Every year, thousands pay homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe. While throngs jam international bridges for holiday shopping excursions, lively gatherings of friends and family on both sides of the border enjoy tamales, posole and festive times. But in Ciudad Juarez, the month of December also is a time of funerals, fear, frustration and fury. Roaring, non-stop violence related to the so-called narco war continues to claim lives right up to the holidays. Read more ..

Middel East Peace

Beyond the Freeze Deal: A New Agenda for U.S. Efforts on the Peace Process

December 13th 2010

Israel Topics - Obama Netanyahu Abbas1

The recent announcement that the Obama administration has ended efforts to negotiate a ninety-day extension of Israel's moratorium on West Bank settlement construction is more opportunity than embarrassment. After twenty-two months of near-fruitless efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian negotiations conditioned on a total cessation of Israeli settlement activity, the administration can finally focus its efforts on the substance of its diplomatic mission -- to test the tantalizing proposition that the current Israeli and Palestinian leaderships may be closer to agreement on the core issues at contention than is commonly recognized. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Anwar Ibrahim’s Islamic Agenda

December 13th 2010

Arab Topics - Anwar Ibrahim

The list of prominent U.S. admirers of Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s former Deputy Prime Minister, on trial for corruption and sodomy, is impressive. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, former President of the World Bank James Wolfensohn, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Letters of support on his behalf praise his leadership and fight “for international justice, peace and development.” Strangely, these prominent figures fail to notice that Anwar’s fight is not for democracy, justice and peace according to Western principles. Instead, his call is for democratization “on the platform of Islam.”

It is Anwar’s constant advocacy of Islamic rule that led the Qatar-based spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf Qaradawi, to join the defenders of the Malay politician. Read more ..

The Roadway’s Edge

Medical Cards for Drivers Easy to Get—and Easy to Ignore

December 13th 2010

Transportation Topics - Rest Stop DOT clinic

Trucker Bob Caffee needed a medical card fast. His U.S. Department of Transportation medical certificate was to expire in two days, and he was in Southern California, halfway across the country from his regular doctor in Missouri.

So Caffee did what many drivers do: He headed to one of the medical clinics that have sprung up at truck stops across America.

The clinic in Ontario, Calif., where Caffee stopped is housed in a small, rundown building next to a Travel Centers of America truck stop. A sign advertises “DOT Physicals” next to a picture of a red truck.

“You go in there, and there’s a little girl sitting behind the desk, and you say, ‘I need a DOT physical,’ and she says, ‘OK, come back here and I’ll call the doctor,’” Caffee said. Read more ..

Israelis and Palestinians

Palestinian Public Opinion: Tactically Flexible, Strategically Ambitious

December 13th 2010

Palestine Topics - Hamas at Press Conference

Amid the latest setback in the peace process -- the ongoing failure to agree on a "peace talks for settlement freeze" deal -- Palestinian public opinion trends reveal unexpected flexibility on short-term tactics, but also troubling long-term intentions. Five public opinion polls of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians taken by five different reputable pollsters in October-November 2010 show a very mixed picture.
On the positive side, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the Palestinian public backs a resumption of peace talks with Israel, even without preconditions. Surprisingly, support for rejectionist actors such as Hamas or Iran is very low by recent standards. And several polls show that a majority of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians would accept a two-state peace solution with Israel, with half even willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one.

At the same time, when asked explicitly about whether a settlement freeze should be a precondition for resuming direct negotiations, Palestinians are widely in support. Moreover, although a majority of them claim to back a two-state solution, an even larger majority clearly continue to harbor irredentist claims over pre-1967 Israel as well. These findings raise questions about whether the Palestinian Authority (PA) is leading or following public opinion -- and whether peace talks, even if they can be renewed, will ever result in an agreement grounded in enduring popular acceptance. Read more ..

Iran in Latin America

The Growing Influence of Iran on Latin America's 'New Left' Governments

December 6th 2010

Latin American Topics - Ahmadinejad and Chavez
Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

As concern grows in Washington over the potential threat that Iran poses to the United States and its allies, scant attention has been given to the Islamic Republic’s expanding influence in Latin America. In the past year, a number of events revealed Iran’s increasing links to the region, most of which have been economic in nature, although political gambits have also proved important. While Iran’s increased involvement in Latin America may have the potential to present a threat to U.S. security, such threats may be overstated and not a justified concern.

Despite what those seeking to demonize the Latin American left would have the U.S. public believe, the security implications of an Iranian presence in the region may well be minimal. Rather, the relationship is more likely to challenge Washington’s ability to exert itself abroad. Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Israel is Not Alone in Feeling Threatened by Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

December 6th 2010

Iran - Iranian nuclear faciilities

In light of the thousands of secret documents and cables released by the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks in late November, it is clear that Israel is neither alone in its concern over the Iranian government’s budding nuclear weapons program, nor in its desire to see that program destroyed. Western media outlets have consistently harped on deep concerns over the Iranian march toward becoming a nuclear power, however much of the Arab world also feels threatened by Iran and harbor similar, if not more extreme, views towards confronting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

While most nations in the Arab world continue to state publicly that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the greatest threat to the region, the WikiLeaks cables tell a different story. The leaked documents, many of which detail meetings between U.S. diplomats and high-ranking officials in Arab governments, expose how many Arab states in the Middle East feel threatened by the prospect of a nuclear Tehran and are advocating for military action. As Mustafa El-Labbad, director of the Al-Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo, notes, WikiLeaks unveiled to the world that “the official stance in the Middle East, led by Saudi Arabia and including Egypt, Jordan, UAE, and Bahrain is that Iran—Israel—poses the main threat to the region.” Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Signs of Hope and Contradiction in Africa

December 6th 2010

Africa Topics - China Gabon amity

In January 2011, the people of southern Sudan are to vote in a referendum whether or not they want a separate country of their own or remain united to the North as one country, now known as Sudan. Will this be the last country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain its independence, exactly 55 years after its first “independence” from a colonial power? For most southern Sudanese, the Khartoum government has treated them as colonial subjects, or worse: abducted into slavery, the region left undeveloped, its resources extracted with little of the profits returning to the South; fierce and cruel civil wars; ensuring the main tribes are kept disunited, little say in power-sharing, massive flight of refugees, and human rights violations.

This year, 2010, about 20 African countries –most of them former French colonies, and Somalia- celebrate their 50th independence anniversary. Within the next three years much of Anglophone Africa would follow suit, with the notable exception of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which declared its own kind of independence, UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) from Britain, under the White rule of Ian Smith, and the country called itself Rhodesia, until Robert Mugabe took over in 1980. South Africa was the last with a majority Black population to become independent in 1994 with Nelson Mandela as president, holding out the hand of reconciliation to its sizable, powerful and educated White minority. Read more ..

Immigration on the Edge

Innovative Thinking May Resolve the Labor-Business Divide on US Immigration

November 29th 2010

Mexican Topics - US Border Patrol arrest

In May 2008, a massive immigration raid took place on the Postville, Iowa-based kosher slaughterhouse Agriprocessors, Inc. The result of the raid was the apprehension of nearly 400 people, most of whom originally hailed from a small town in Guatemala called San José Calderas. One of the largest such roundups in the history of U.S. immigration enforcement, the Postville raid led to the shutdown of the facility and the imprisonment of some of the plant’s senior management, constituting a large economic blow to the entire community.

Two years later, the repercussions from the raid are still visible in the Iowa community. Postville Mayor Leigh Rekow acknowledged that the city “is still dealing with some of the negative issues in the past.” In April 2010, Postville’s infamous slaughterhouse took on a new persona; reopening under Canadian ownership, the rebranded “Agri Star” plant now employs 560 people. Read more ..

Border War

The Geopolitics of the Narco-Wars just South of America's Border

November 22nd 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexican SWAT
Mexican naval infantry

The regional differences in Mexico's drug war make little sense to Americans. Until October 24, when gunmen massacred 14 patients at a Tijuana drug rehab clinic, Baja California, a hotbed of violence in 2009, had started to stabilize during 2010. The Rio Grande, in contrast, has gone from mostly tranquil to normally uncontrolled. Consider the recent story of David and Tiffany Hartley, a married couple, who had moved to the border from Colorado three years earlier for a job in the oil industry. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Saudi Cleric’s Assurances about Peaceful Islam Do Not Concur with Historical Record

November 22nd 2010

Islamic Topics - Mecca Hajj
Muslims circumambulate the Kaaba at Mecca

In his midday sermon on November 15 to millions of Muslim pilgrims gathered on the plain of Arafah for the annual Hajj to Mecca, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh called for religious moderation and affirmed that Islam prohibits terrorism, extremism, and injustice. In the United States, Nihad Awad of the Council on American Islamic Affairs welcomed the cleric’s words, saying “It is extremely significant that such a prominent Muslim leader would offer a clear statement condemning terrorism and religious extremism during the largest Islamic gathering in the world and on the most important day on Islam's spiritual calendar.”

In a press release, Awad was quoted, “The importance of the Grand Mufti's statement is made even more significant given the fact that it was delivered in the same spot as the last sermon offered by the Prophet Muhammad.” Making reference to terrorism wrought by Muslim extremists, Awad added, “This statement from Islam's spiritual capital should put to rest once and for all the false claim that Muslim leaders do not condemn terrorism.” Awad urged Muslim leaders in America and worldwide to incorporate the Grand Mufti's statement in prayers to be offered on November 16 to mark the end of Hajj. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Waiting for Iran’s Response to NATO Missle Defense Shield

November 22nd 2010

Iran - Iranian Qiam missile launch
Iranian Qiam missile launch

The new “Strategic Concept” that NATO is expected to adopt at its Lisbon summit this weekend offers the advantage of an early initial capability to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian ballistic missile threat, even though—in deference to Turkish sensibilities—NATO is not expected to identify Iran as the source of the threat. For now, the Islamic Republic is unable to reach targets in Eastern Europe, but that could change as early as 2012 if Tehran decides to commence production of the medium-range Sajjil-2 missile. And because the NATO concept hinges first on the deployment of ship-based missile systems to the eastern Mediterranean, followed later by the deployment of land-based interceptors, it entails certain vulnerabilities that Iran could exploit in the near term. Read more ..

The Transportation Edge

Economics and Safety Collide in Airplane Repairs

November 15th 2010

Transportation Topics - Damaged Airplane

In 1991, a mechanic at a Turkish repair shop overhauled an engine on a U.S. passenger jet and missed a crack in the engine.

Four years later, on the evening of June 8, 1995, 57 passengers on ValuJet Flight 597 heard a loud bang as the plane sped down a runway in Atlanta. Shrapnel from the damaged engine ripped through a fuel line. The engine and cabin caught on fire. One crew member suffered serious puncture wounds from the shrapnel, and another crew member and five passengers suffered minor injuries.

Thousands of mechanics from all over the world work on U.S. commercial airplanes. Foreign repair stations are located in Canada, Mexico, countries in Central America and Asian countries such as China. Domestically, airplanes are repaired at large facilities in Mobile, Ala., Greensboro, N.C., and Everett, Wash., among many others. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

The Future of Democrats Rises and Falls with Obama's Popularity

November 15th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Flag

Whether Democrats retake the House majority in 2012 will depend in no small part on the popularity of President Obama.

Republicans won control of at least 60 seats on Election Day but more than half of those are in districts the president carried in 2008.

The performance of a party’s presidential candidate is usually a good indicator of its chances in a district’s House race. With that in mind, the incoming class of Republican freshmen will be particularly conscious of Obama’s approval numbers for the next two years, as will Democratic strategists. 

"House Democrats have a plethora of pick-up opportunities in 2012 in Republican-held seats that President Obama won,” said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Targeting districts based on presidential electoral performance is a proven strategy. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

How the World Views Obama and the U.S. Following the Mid-Term Elections

November 8th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Obama at Cairo

The 2010 U.S. midterm elections were held, and the results were as expected: The Republicans took the House but did not take the Senate. The Democrats have such a small margin in the Senate, however, that they cannot impose cloture, which means the Republicans can block Obama administration initiatives in both houses of Congress. At the same time, the Republicans cannot override presidential vetoes alone, so they cannot legislate, either. The possible legislative outcomes are thus gridlock or significant compromises. Read more ..

Inside South America

Bolivia Gains Long-Sought Access to the Pacific

November 8th 2010

Latin American Topics - Chilean actors portray War of the Pacific
Film re-enactors of the War of the Pacific

On October 19th, Peruvian President Alan García and Bolivian President Evo Morales signed an accord granting Bolivia access to a small stretch of coastline in southern Peru. The deal confirms the “Bolivamar” agreement initially signed in 1992, allowing Bolivia a 99-year lease of the port of Ilo. Consequently, Bolivia will have access to the Pacific Ocean for the first time since it lost its entire coastal region to Chile in the “War of the Pacific” over a century ago. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

Argentina in Mourning As it Faces Political Uncertainty

November 1st 2010

Latin American Topics - Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Argentina shows great uncertainty and heightened emotion following the death of former president Néstor Kirchner on October 27. Analysts in the South American republic opine that the country may now be facing a new chapter in politics. Kirchner’s wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, followed him as president. But even while the Peronists are now in possession of the presidential palace, and the Kirchner legacy will last at least until the national elections in 2011, the question remains: Who will be the incumbent party’s candidate for the next term in office? Read more ..

Mexico's on the Borderline

Mexico's Centrist Political Leader Faces a “Failed State” and a Cloudy Future

November 1st 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexican crime scene

Fourteen youths massacred at a house party in Ciudad Juarez. Fourteen men gunned down in a Tijuana drug rehab center. Bodies tossed about the suburbs of Acapulco. Indigenous leader Catarino Torres Pereda assassinated in Oaxaca. Secretly-taped audiotapes and anonymously-posted videos on the Internet stir the sordid pot of a political drama that seems to have a bizarre new twist every day. Such are the headlines from Mexico in recent days. Read more ..

Successions and the Balance

Ras Al-Khaimah’s Succession Struggle: The Iran Angle

November 1st 2010

Islamic Topics - Ras al-Khaima -- Sheik and Map
Sheiks Saqr bin Muhammad and
Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi

The October 27 death of a long-serving Arab ruler in an obscure Persian Gulf sheikdom has the potential to alter the tense relationship between the region’s Arab states and Iran, while also testing the ruling style and adaptability of hereditary, quasimonarchical Arab states. Tiny but strategically situated Ras al-Khaimah, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has a long-standing territorial dispute with Tehran: the 1971 loss of two islands to Iranian control was keenly felt by the late Sheikh Saqr bin Muhammad al-Qasimi. Now two of his sons are at odds over who should replace him.

Elder son Sheikh Khaled bin Saqr is effectively under “palace arrest,” with newly installed concertina wire encircling his compound and UAE federal security forces with armored troop carriers serving as guards, preventing him from attending his father’s funeral. The situation is reminiscent of a weekend of turmoil in 2003, when the late Sheikh Saqr switched the title of crown prince from Khaled to a younger son—Saud, Khaled’s half-brother. Back then, shots were fired, and Khaled’s supporters protested in the streets and forced members of the local guard to retreat behind the high walls of the ruler’s palace before UAE forces intervened.

Since then Khaled has waged a public relations battle reaching as far as the United States, from lobbying the halls of power to placing advertisements on the sides of Washington, D.C., buses. His tactics have also included depicting the governing style of Saud—who has served as de facto ruler since 2003 given their father’s increasing age and ill health—as being pro-Iranian. Read more ..

Travel Safe

Safety Board Less Aggressive in Last Decade

October 27th 2010

Social Topics - train on fire

The National Transportation Safety Board issued significantly fewer recommendations for improvements in travel safety during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration than during any other presidency in its 36-year history.

An analysis of NTSB data shows that for most of its history the board has been fairly consistent, issuing an average of 300 to 450 safety recommendations a year. But after Bush took office in 2000, the agency’s activity dropped to the lowest level in its history. In 2005, the board issued just 110 recommendations—by far the fewest of any year since the NTSB was established as an independent voice for transportation safety in 1974. Read more ..

Edge on the Mideast

Saudi Diplomat Bandar bin Sultan has Returned to the Fore as the Oil Kingdom Mastermind

October 27th 2010

Arab Topics - Bush and Bandar
President George W Bush confers with Prince Bandar

For a generation, Prince Bandar bin Sultan was Riyadh's man in Washington. As the Saudi ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005, he was even dubbed "Bandar Bush" for his close ties to that powerful American political dynasty. After leaving Washington, apparently burned out, he returned to Saudi Arabia to head the newly established Saudi National Security Council, the function of which was not, and still is not, clear. However, he continued to sneak back into the United States periodically because the king quickly decided he preferred Bandar over his successor, Prince Turki al-Faisal, as his channel to the White House -- a situation that eventually led Turki to resign in protest. Read more ..

Deficit on the Edge

Congress Cannot Rein In Galloping Medicare Costs

October 27th 2010

Health/Medicine - StethoscopeAndKeyboard

If Congress had known in 1965 how expensive Medicare would become, it might not have approved the program in the first place. So Lyndon Johnson made sure it didn’t know.

He railed against his budget advisers for trying to predict the long-term costs. “The fools had to go projecting it down the road five or six years,” he complained to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy at the time. Johnson’s allies were getting nervous, according to historians David Blumenthal and James Morone, so Johnson had to hide the price tag. Read more ..

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