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Edge on American Politics

Reagan's Magic Mandate Gave Americans Just what They Ordered

April 4th 2011

History American - Reagan and flags

Amid the claims and counterclaims regarding Ronald Reagan’s 1980 electoral victory, one clarifying contradiction emerges. Yes, Reagan exaggerated, alleging a mandate for his Reagan Revolution which never existed. Yet, when Reagan implemented a more muscular, more flamboyantly patriotic, up-with-America, down-with-the-Communists foreign policy, he was doing what the American people hired him to do.

Ronald Reagan began his presidency with a magic trick, conjuring a mandate he lacked. The election was tougher than he acknowledged; his victory margin thinner than it appeared. He won only 50.75 percent of the popular vote. The victory was also something of a fluke. After extended squabbling, Reagan and President Jimmy Carter finally debated on October 28. With Reagan’s silky-smooth, “There you go again,” performance, with America’s President reduced to quoting his 13-year-old daughter Amy on the importance of ending the nuclear threat, polls showed that Carter’s popularity dropped ten points within 48 hours after the debate. It was the most significant last-minute slide Gallup pollsters ever recorded. Read more ..

After Egypt's Revolt

The Fate of the World's Peace Is to Be Determined in Egypt

April 4th 2011

Arab Topics - Suez canal ladies

The fate of Egypt’s former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, remains uncertain as he is still kept under house arrest following the dramatic events of February 2011, when a popular revolt brought swelling crowds to the streets of Cairo and Alexandria and brought him down. So too is the delicate house of cards that has been erected with aid from the United States following the 1979 peace accords that has rendered a measure of security for Egypt and Israel. But as a new government emerges in the keystone of the Arab world, relations with Egypt for the United States and Israel may grow more difficult. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Greater Cooperation by Israeli and Palestinian Security Increases Safety at Checkpoints

April 4th 2011

Israel Topics - Qalqiliya checkpoint Israel
Qalqiliya checkpoint, Israel

Checkpoints in Israel exist solely to protect the lives of innocent civilians on both sides of the conflict. If no terrorist threat existed, no barriers would be necessary.

Thanks to improved security cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, a greater commitment to preventing terror on the part of the Palestinian Authority and Israel's successful counterterror measures, the level of violence emanating from the West Bank has significantly declined. This has allowed Israel to take steps to ease restrictions on Palestinian movement and remove many of the road blocks and checkpoints. Read more ..

The Edge of War

Without A Declaration of War, American National Interests and Principles Collide

March 30th 2011

Presidential - FDR

In my book The Next Decade, I spend a good deal of time considering the relation of the American Empire to the American Republic and the threat the empire poses to the republic. If there is a single point where these matters converge, it is in the constitutional requirement that Congress approve wars through a declaration of war and in the abandonment of this requirement since World War II. This is the point where the burdens and interests of the United States as a global empire collide with the principles and rights of the United States as a republic.

World War II was the last war the United States fought with a formal declaration of war. The wars fought since have had congressional approval, both in the sense that resolutions were passed and that Congress appropriated funds, but the Constitution is explicit in requiring a formal declaration. It does so for two reasons, I think. The first is to prevent the president from taking the country to war without the consent of the governed, as represented by Congress. Second, by providing for a specific path to war, it provides the president power and legitimacy he would not have without that declaration; it both restrains the president and empowers him. Not only does it make his position as commander in chief unassailable by authorizing military action, it creates shared responsibility for war. A declaration of war informs the public of the burdens they will have to bear by leaving no doubt that Congress has decided on a new order — war — with how each member of Congress voted made known to the public. Read more ..

Australian Edge

Taking Australia Prime Minister Gillard to School in Washington

March 28th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Julia Gillard and Barack

On March 7, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard met with President Barack Obama during her first visit to Washington since she assumed the country’s leadership position in June 2010. Gillard had a full agenda to attend to in Washington during her whirlwind five days in town, including addressing a joint meeting of Congress and meetings with President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama in Latin America: In the spell of Richard Nixon

March 28th 2011

Latin American Topics - Venezuelans assailing Dick Nixon
Venezuelans attack Nixon car in 1958

President Obama is not the only high-profile U.S. official to have kicked around a soccer ball in Latin America, as he did in Brazil a few days ago. When Vice President Richard Nixon toured Latin America in 1958, he walked out onto a soccer field in front of ten thousand Ecuadorians and did some dribbling, joking that he never could use his head.

Obama did not try to head the ball in Rio, but I bet he could have. He is not only more athletic than Nixon ever was but also a better statesman. His popularity in Latin America is another testament to that.

In the fifties Nixon went to Latin America ostensibly to woo the middle classes but he wound up lecturing them and reverting to patting dictators and militaries on the back.

Obama, in contrast, went to connect with all groups.  He met with elected presidents from the left and the right, and with business groups. In Rio he visited a slum and spoke, like the former community organizer that he is, of the possibilities of self-improvement.  In El Salvador he visited the crypt of Archbishop Oscar Romero, slain by a U.S. ally in 1980.

Obama came to the poor and forgotten. Nixon avoided them, so they came to him:  when he landed in Caracas, Venezuela, denizens of a lower-class neighborhood rushed his motorcade, spit on his windshield and banged it with iron bars, almost killing the vice president. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Examining Muslim Student Group Gateways to Jihad?

March 21st 2011

Terrorism - Arab terrorist
Anwar al-Awlaki

The Muslim Students Association (MSA) is one of the largest Islamic organizations in America, with chapters on hundreds of college campuses. Its alumni include doctors, lawyers, and engineers.

But the group has another track record that it doesn't advertise: several of its leaders have been convicted of terrorism, prompting some terror experts to call the MSA a recruiting tool for jihad. Although many Muslim and liberal groups complained about recent congressional hearings on homegrown Islamic radicalism, American-born Muslims are behind a growing number of terror plots -- a trend that Attorney General Eric Holder has said keeps him "up at night." Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Problems Remain for the Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement

March 21st 2011

Presidential - Santos and Obama
Presidents Juan Manuel Santos and Barack Obama

On April 7, 2008, President George W. Bush delivered the American Colombian Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to Congress with hopes that it would receive timely approval. Bush lamented that trade restrictions with Colombia were so asymmetrical that “our markets are open to Colombian products, but barriers exist to make it harder to sell American products in Colombia.” The trade treaty, agreed to by both Colombia and the Bush administration, has awaited congressional ratification since it was signed in November 2006. The treaty languished for years until 2011, when President Obama gave his State of the Union address which directly highlighted the pending FTA with Colombia as well FTAs with Panama and South Korea that Congress had also passed over. President Obama stated, “Before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers, and promote American jobs. That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia.” Read more ..

Energy Security

Japan and its Dependence on Persian Gulf Petroleum

March 21st 2011

Energy Topics - Japanese refinery fire
Refinery fire following earthquake in Japan

Over the past week, everything seemed to converge on energy. The unrest in the Persian Gulf raised the specter of the disruption of oil supplies to the rest of the world, and an earthquake in Japan knocked out a string of nuclear reactors with potentially devastating effect. Japan depends on nuclear energy and it depends on the Persian Gulf, which is where it gets most of its oil. It was, therefore, a profoundly bad week for Japan, not only because of the extensive damage and human suffering but also because Japan was being shown that it can’t readily escape the realities of geography.

Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, a bit behind China now. It is also the third-largest industrial economy, behind only the United States and China. Japan’s problem is that its enormous industrial plant is built in a country almost totally devoid of mineral resources. It must import virtually all of the metals and energy that it uses to manufacture industrial products. It maintains stockpiles, but should those stockpiles be depleted and no new imports arrive, Japan stops being an industrial power.

The Geography of Oil

There are multiple sources for many of the metals Japan imports, so that if supplies stop flowing from one place it can get them from other places. The geography of oil is more limited. In order to access the amount of oil Japan needs, the only place to get it is the Persian Gulf. There are other places to get some of what Japan needs, but it cannot do without the Persian Gulf for its oil. Read more ..

Edge of Terror

The Failing Of Humanity When An Israeli Is Killed

March 17th 2011

Israel Topics - Fogel Family
The Fogels - Murdered in their homes while they slept

A horrific crime occurred in Cheshire, Conn., in 2007.  A family--Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley--were butchered and burned, while Dr. William A. Petit, Jr, was beaten to within an inch of his life. The crime was committed in the comfort and safety of the Petits' homes by two ruthless men who allegedly set out only to rob the house, not commit murder. There are few things more tragic than seeing families being massacred senselessly, and we rightfully cry out, voice shock and outrage, and demand a full measure of justice for the people who committed the crime.

The report of this murder went viral. Just about every media outlet rightfully picked it up and offered insight and indignation. The two killers, even though they claimed not to have intended to commit murder, were demonized in the media as crazed killers. Read more ..

The `Obama Edge

Obama's Mis-steps in Latin America

March 14th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Chavez

"It’s time for a new alliance of the Americas.”
- Barack Obama

Two words dominated the rhetoric of the 2008 campaign and election of President Barack Obama: “Change” and “Hope.” From healthcare to the economy, and to America’s various conflicts abroad, Obama pledged to begin a new era in Washington and U.S.-Latin American relations. At the Trinidad and Tobago Inter-American Summit in 2009, the delegates who attended had reason to assume that “change” meant an end to US intervention in Latin America along with an effort to renew relations without the aggressive tactics that characterized the Bush administration. As for “hope,” this meant no more special privileges for domestic or regional overlords, a respect for human rights and social justice, and most of all, good behavior without hypocrisy from the State Department. President Obama assured hemispheric leaders that there would be “mutual respect” and an “equal partnership” between the U.S. and Latin America and that he was committed to new policy changes that instilled a sense of optimism for many political leaders throughout the Americas. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Anti-European Stance is a Challenge to U.S. Policy

March 14th 2011

Turkish Topics - Turkish Flags

Late last month, two diplomatic rows erupted when French president Nicolas Sarkozy visited Turkey and Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Germany. Sarkozy had an unfriendly welcome in Ankara, including a deliberately unflattering photo that showed Erdogan towering over him during a handshake. And during a speech in Dusseldorf, Erdogan accused the German government of "discrimination." Both visits highlighted Ankara's growing problems with key European Union states, signaling trouble for Turkey's EU membership process. Current U.S. policy supports Turkish accession.

Souring Rhetoric

In recent weeks, Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been launching particularly acidic rhetoric toward the EU. Turkish resentment on this front is nothing new, given that French objections to Turkey's EU candidacy have stalled accession talks since they began in 2005. But the AKP's latest salvos represent a significant shift that seems driven by several key factors. The first is the AKP's apparent desire to make the EU understand the risks of excluding Turkey. Although delivered in inflammatory tones, such rhetoric essentially asks the EU to avoid creating a cultural divide in and around the continent by excluding Muslim Turkey. Read more ..

Edge of Arab Unrest

A Decisive Moment Awaits the U.S. as Mideast Unrest Mounts

March 14th 2011

Arab Topics - Bahrain enraged protesters

The world’s attention is focused on Libya, which is now in a state of civil war with the winner far from clear. While crucial for the Libyan people and of some significance to the world’s oil markets, in our view, Libya is not the most important event in the Arab world at the moment. The demonstrations in Bahrain are, in my view, far more significant in their implications for the region and potentially for the world. To understand this, we must place it in a strategic context.

A decisive moment is approaching, with the United States currently slated to withdraw the last of its forces from Iraq by the end of the year. Indeed, we are already at a point where the composition of the 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq has shifted from combat troops to training and support personnel. Read more ..

Egypt After the Revolt

Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi - In his own Words

March 7th 2011

Egypt - Qaradaqi in Cairo
Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi speaks in Cairo

Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi is an Egyptian Islamic theologian best known for his TV program Shariah and Life broadcast through Al-Jazeera to an approximate 40 million people worldwide. Qaradawi has written and published more than 100 books and, in 1997, founded the popular website "Islam Online," for which he now serves as chief religious scholar. In late February 2011, after the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, Sheik Qaradawi spoke to cheering crowds in Tahrir square as part of his first public appearance in Egypt in more than 50 years.

Qaradawi is widely viewed as a source of intellectual inspiration for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and, although he has twice turned down the opportunity to lead the group, he maintains  strong ties with its rank and file. A 2008 Foreign Policy magazine poll put Qaradawi third on its worldwide list of public intellectuals. Qaradawi was one of the first influential Islamic clerics to denounce the attacks of September 11, 2001; however, he publicly supports attacking U.S. troops in Iraq and suicide bombings in Israel. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Libya Air Strikes Prompt Debate on No-Fly Zone

March 7th 2011

Military - F-35

As Libyan warplanes continue to launch new air strikes against areas under the control of opposition rebels, international debate is growing about whether a no-fly zone should be established over the country to protect civilians.

Some influential voices in the United States and international community are calling on the United Nations and NATO to consider establishing a no-fly zone over Libya, where the warplanes of the country's leader Moammar Gadhafi continue to bomb targets held by rebel forces.

U.S. Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "I believe that the global community cannot be on the sidelines while airplanes are allowed to bomb and strafe. A no-fly zone is not a long-term proposition, assuming the outcome is what all desire, and I believe we ought to be ready to implement it as necessary." Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

U.S. and NATO Intervention in Libya: Options, Risks, and Benefits

February 28th 2011

Military - F-15E Refuels
F15e Refuels

Muammar Qaddafi has vowed to fight to the bitter end, raising the prospect of a protracted and bloody conflict with opportunities for exploitation by radical Islamist elements. Although external military intervention could help prevent a very bad outcome, such action carries its own risks and potential complications.

The United States and other NATO members have the military capability to intervene directly and effectively, reducing the regime’s ability to use raw military power against its population. This could be accomplished relatively quickly by using air and naval assets from the U.S. 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean and NATO aircraft from Sicily or southern Italy to establish no-fly, no-drive, and no-sail zones in northern Libya. In addition, intervention could have important psychological effects, bolstering the opposition’s morale and weakening that of pro-regime forces. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

The Future Role of Islam in Nations Torn by Uprisings

February 28th 2011

Islamic Topics - Pakistan antiblasphemy rally
Rached Ghannouchi returns to Tunisia

All across North Africa and the Middle East, ordinary citizens have staged massive protests in recent weeks calling for the end to autocratic rule. They want better government, less corruption and greater economic opportunity. They come from all walks of life, including once-banned Islamic groups.

During his 23 years in power, former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali cracked down on opposition groups, including proponents of Islamic rule. But with Mr. Ben Ali now gone, Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the banned Islamist Ennahdha party, has returned to Tunisia after 22 years of exile. At the airport he greeted his supporters and brushed stereotypes aside. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia Militarizes its Drug Conflict and Risks Resembling Mexico

February 28th 2011

Latin American Topics - Pres Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia
President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia

Colombia’s never ending conflict with the country’s drug dealers has demonstrably decreased since the mid-1990s, although the U.S. public’s demand for foreign narcotics has not. While Washington’s anti-narcotics efforts have succeeded in reducing the tempo of drug production and transport out of Colombia, it also has facilitated a massive boom in Mexican drug trafficking as well. Although the face of the drug conflict in Mexico is similar to that which has been seen in Colombia, the causes and the probable solutions to Mexico’s tectonic drug-eradication problem remain distinct. Mexico’s meteoric rise in drug trafficking deserves to be seen as the result of the successes and failures of a U.S. policy that originally was applied to Colombia and later moved on to Mexico. Read more ..

Battle for Libya

There is More Than Meets the Eye in Peru's Disaffiliation from Libya

February 28th 2011

Latin American Topics - President Alan Garcia of Peru
Peruvian President Alan Garcia

On February 21, 2011, Peru surprised the international community by formally suspending its diplomatic ties with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, insisting that they would not be restored until the violence against the civilian population was halted. While other Latin American nations responded in various ways to Gaddafi’s flagrant and erratic behavior, Peru is the lone hemispheric nation that has officially cut off relations with Libya.

Peruvian President Alan García declared diplomatic links “suspended” as a means of protesting the unprecedented violence that Gaddafi has unleashed on his own people. Furthermore, García posted on his official website that his intentions were to speak with UN Security Council officials in order to create an internationally-mandated air exclusion zone over Libya. This would prevent the use of Libyan warplanes to carry out raids against the civilian population. Read more ..

Edge of the Uninsured

An Illuminating Expedition to the World of the Uninsured

February 21st 2011

Social Topics - Uninsured patient bracelets

As Congressional Republicans seek ways to starve the new health care reform law of necessary funding — and Democrats try to keep that from happening — it’s easy to lose sight of the reasons why reform was pursued in the first place.

For a reminder, lawmakers might want to spend a few hours in Nashville this weekend. I’m betting they would behave differently when they got back to Washington on Monday. If they had arrived in Nashville by Friday afternoon, those legislators would have seen an ever-growing line of cars and trucks outside a locked gate at McGavock High School. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

US-Argentina Imbroglio May be Pre-Election Maneuvering by President Cristina Fernandez

February 21st 2011

Latin American Topics - Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

The government of Argentina delivered a formal protest to the US embassy in Buenos Aires concerning an incident that has become the most serious flap in bilateral relations in recent years. Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman urged the US government in the note to assist authorities in an investigation into an incident involving a US Air Force C-17 cargo jet that landed on February 10 in the South American country to deliver supplies and personnel for a joint counter-narcotics program.

Argentine officials, despite heated protests from the US, are holding materials it believes were brought into the country illegally. Customs agents boarded the US plane at Buenos Aires' Ezeiza International Airport and made the seizures. Read more ..

America on Edge

Disabled People Find No Help From Education Department over Burdensome Student Loans

February 14th 2011

Social Topics - Scott Creighton
Scott Creighton examines his files

Tina Brooks can’t sit or stand for more than half an hour before the pain in her lower back becomes intolerable. She suffers severe headaches and memory loss, and she has lost most vision in her left eye. Five doctors and a judge from the Social Security Administration have all determined that she is fully disabled and unable to work.

A former police officer and mother of two, Brooks fractured a vertebra in her back, damaged three others in her neck, and suffered a concussion when she fell 15 feet down a steep rock quarry while training for bicycle patrol. Even though Social Security approved her disability claim, she has been mired for more than five years in an unsuccessful struggle to persuade the Department of Education to accept that she is too disabled to work again ­— and to forgive the $43,000 that she borrowed in federal student loans. Read more ..

Egypt After the Revolt

Ideas for U.S. Middle East Policy in the Wake of Egypt's Revolt

February 14th 2011

Egypt - Bye bye Mubarak

The winds of change that first began to blow in Tunis and turned into a tornado in Cairo will have an impact elsewhere in the region. It is a mistake, however, to view the Middle East as a series of dominoes waiting to fall. The domestic context in each country is the dominant factor determining the stability or instability of a particular regime, and each country's situation is quite different from the next.

Apart from the intensive focus on promoting the development of a democratic Egypt that continues to view itself as a partner with the United States, the following themes should guide U.S. policy in the uncertain period ahead. Read more ..

Revolt in Egypt

Middle East "Days of Rage" Unlikely to Set Latin America Alight

February 6th 2011

Latin American Topics - Inca woman

Recent explosions of protest in Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan have unsettled even the most self-assured governments around the world. Many countries with minimal economic and diplomatic ties to these nations—whose civic core is now erupting—are apprehensive. Their discomfort is not necessarily traceable back to any fiscal or trade interruptions caused by the Middle Eastern protests, but rather from uprisings that obviously cannot be contained by state boundaries.

This raises the question of whether these infectiously inspiring revolutions will endure. Will they be muzzled within the region, or will the seeds of these protests be widely dispersed? How will they affect Latin America, where there are plenty of have-nots among a population that is growing at a rapid tempo? Should the world expect the 52-year reign of the Castro brothers to be overthrown in the streets, or that Hugo Chávez’s legacy be shortened due to civilian unrest? Doubtful—at least in Latin America. Read more ..

Egypt in Revolt

The Egyptian Revolution Will Affect Israel’s Security

February 6th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Mitchell Bard

The impact of unrest in Egypt on Israel’s security will not be known until it is clear who will be leading the country. Whatever his failings as a leader within Egypt, Hosni Mubarak faithfully upheld the peace treaty with Israel. If, however, Mubarak is replaced by someone who does not keep the country’s treaty commitments, Israel’s security will be endangered.

Since signing the peace deal with Egypt in 1979, Israel has reduced the percentage of its GDP devoted to defense spending by nearly a third—from 23 percent in the 1970s to 9 percent today. 479 Israel also significantly reduced the number of soldiers stationed on its southern border and has been able to focus its strategic planning on other threats. Peace with Egypt has contributed to the economic growth of Israel and also was a catalyst for other peace negotiations. Psychologically, the treaty also showed Israelis that peace with an Arab Muslim state is possible.

A change in regime could easily lead to the reversal of these trends. While Mubarak fulfilled the letter of the peace treaty, he was never fully committed to its spirit. The media, military and general public were never conditioned to accept Israel as their neighbor. The Egyptian media in particular has often been critical of Israel to the point of anti-Semitism and the military has consistently directed war games against Israel.

If the next leader of Egypt reneges on the treaty, Israel will find itself essentially surrounded by enemies—the same position it was in for the decades following independence. A potentially belligerent Egypt would join the threats currently posed to Israel from Hamas in Gaza; Syria, who remains formally at war with Israel; and Lebanon who, has become essentially an Iranian proxy dominated by Hezbollah. Jordan is also facing unrest and its future is uncertain. Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

Lack of Contract Oversight Puts Billions At Risk

February 6th 2011

Politics - contracts oversight

The cost of federal contracts in 2010 totaled $535 billion.

Federal agencies are increasingly reliant on contractors but many struggle to manage them and therefore expose billions in taxpayer dollars to fraud, waste and mismanagement.

The Government Accountability Office identified management weaknesses and internal control deficiencies as roadblocks to contractor oversight. The watchdog also found problems with the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Pentagon’s contract management office. The agency experienced conflicts of interest between auditors and contractors, insufficient audit testing, and inadequate supervision. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia’s Pragmatic President Santos Burnishes the National Image

February 6th 2011

Latin American Topics - Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia

Since arriving at the presidential office on August 7, 2010, newly inaugurated Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has sought to revise many of Colombia’s flawed diplomatic relationships, boasting in a number of instances a complete turnaround from the policies of his predecessor Álvaro Uribe. Under Uribe, U.S.-Colombian relations were immeasurably strengthened while Bogotá’s commercial and diplomatic ties with both Venezuela and Ecuador were essentially severed. In contrast to President Uribe’s envenomed foreign policy style and his not-to-be-denied hauteur when it came to tutoring Colombia’s Latin American neighbors in the intrinsic superiority of all things Colombian, Santos maintains a surprisingly level-headed manner of acquitting himself. Read more ..

The Arab Revolts

Is King Abdullah of Jordan Next?

January 30th 2011

Arab Topics - Jordan protest sheikh

Initial and hopeful analysis stemming from the deadly riots that toppled Tunisia’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali—who had been relatively friendly to US and EU interests—are growing more cautious as news comes of violent disturbances in Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan. Elliot Abrams, a former National Security adviser to President George W. Bush, for example wrote in a weekend op-ed that the regime change in Tunisia and its prospects in Egypt are a vindication of the doctrine of that Arabs too may aspire to democracy. Reports from on the ground in Egypt and Tunisia are less hopeful. Linking the three inflamed countries is the global Muslim Brotherhood. Read more ..

Egypt in Revolt

Egypt’s Internet Blackout

January 30th 2011

Arab Topics - Cairo Internet Cafe

The Egyptian Government has become the first in the world to turn off its the internet. As of January 28, almost all internet servers in Egypt are offline. Homes, businesses, foreign embassies, and Egyptian government departments are without internet access. Text messaging services (SMS) have also been turned off.

The move aims to prevent the Egyptian people from protesting, and Egyptian officials have specifically called on people not to congregate in public places after prayers. Renesys notes that the shutdown is reminiscent of efforts in Iran and Tunisia to slow the internet or shut down some main internet connections. The real purpose however is more in line with a “government crackdown on peace, goodwill, and social media.” It aims to discredit, disrupt, and ultimately censor anti-government protest. Read more ..

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 ..

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