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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 ..

NATO on Edge

NATO: Must All Good Things Come to an End?

October 18th 2010

Military - NATO meeting

Twenty-eight heads of state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will meet in Lisbon on Nov. 20 to approve a new “Strategic Concept,” the alliance’s mission statement for the next decade. This will be NATO’s third Strategic Concept since the Cold War ended. The last two came in 1991 — as the Soviet Union was collapsing — and 1999 — as NATO intervened in Yugoslavia, undertaking its first serious military engagement.

During the Cold War, the presence of 50 Soviet and Warsaw Pact armored divisions and nearly 2 million troops west of the Urals spoke far louder than mission statements. While Strategic Concepts were put out in 1949, 1952, 1957 and 1968, they merely served to reinforce NATO’s mission, namely, to keep the Soviets at bay. Today, the debate surrounding NATO’s Strategic Concept itself highlights the alliance’s existential crisis. Read more ..

The Terrorism Edge

Terrorism, Vigilance, and the Limits of the War on Terror

October 11th 2010

India Topics - Mumbai terror2

The U.S. government issued a warning on October 3 advising Americans traveling to Europe to be “vigilant.” U.S. intelligence apparently has acquired information indicating that al Qaeda is planning to carry out attacks in European cities similar to those carried out in Mumbai, India, in November 2008. In Mumbai, attackers armed with firearms, grenades and small, timed explosive devices targeted hotels frequented by Western tourists and other buildings in an attack that took three days to put down.

European security forces are far better trained and prepared than their Indian counterparts, and such an attack would be unlikely to last for hours, much less days, in a European country. Still, armed assaults conducted by suicide operatives could be expected to cause many casualties and certainly create a dramatic disruption to economic and social life. Read more ..

Book Excerpt

'The Arab Lobby': the Insidious Influence of Big Oil

October 8th 2010

Book Covers - The Arab Lobby

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear that one component of his agenda would be to give a high priority to pursuing Arab-Israeli peace. Many Jews had some concerns about Obama, but his pro-Israel statements reassured them, and ultimately nearly 80% voted for him. Obama's appearance before the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and recitation of talking points from the Israeli lobby playbook were consistent with the popular view of a powerful lobby that demands the fealty of elected officials.

Within a few weeks of taking office as the nation's 44th president, however, Obama seemed to pick a fight with the Israeli government over its settlements policy. He began to publicly demand that Israel freeze all settlement activity. When Israeli officials brought up the fact that certain understandings had been reached with Obama's predecessor regarding what the United States considered to be acceptable construction, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied any such agreements had been made.

In July 2009, Obama invited a group of Jewish leaders to the White House who were content to hear the President's views and asked only that he refrain from public criticism. Obama made clear he would do no such thing.

Israelis tried to steer the administration away from the settlement issue toward what they believed was the most urgent threat to their nation and the stability of the region, namely, the Iranian nuclear program. Obama's [former] chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, coincidentally a Jew whose father is Israeli, said that the Israeli-Palestinian issue was the crux of solving the Iranian threat. Administration officials argued that the only way they could get Arab states to co-operate in the effort to stop the Iranian program was to solve the Palestinian issue. Read more ..

Edge on Mideast Peace

Obama's Efforts to Keep the Israel-Palestine Peace Process on Track

October 4th 2010

Israel Topics - Obama Netanyahu Abbas1

With Israel's ten-month moratorium on West Bank settlement construction now expired, Arab League foreign ministers are expected to convene on October 4 to discuss whether the Palestinian Authority (PA) should continue the peace talks. These developments have created a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity in a bid to keep the process alive. For the moment, the settlements issue is central, with challenges related to refugees, Jerusalem, and Gaza set aside. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama's Wars and America's Security

October 4th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Obama at Baghdad
President Obama at Camp Victory, Iraq.

Bob Woodward has released another book, this one on the debate over Afghanistan strategy in the Obama administration. As all his books do, the book has riveted Washington. It reveals that intense debate occurred over what course to take, that the president sought alternative strategies and that compromises were reached. But while knowing the details of these things is interesting, what would have been shocking is if they Haydn’t taken place.

It is interesting to reflect on the institutional inevitability of these disagreements. The military is involved in a war. It is institutionally and emotionally committed to victory in the theater of combat. It will demand all available resources for executing the war under way. For a soldier who has bled in that war, questioning the importance of the war is obscene. A war must be fought relentlessly and with all available means. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

The Electoral Illusions of Venezuela's Totalitarian Regime

September 27th 2010

Latin American Topics - Los Dos Amigos
Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro

On September 26, Venezuela  held parliamentary elections. Since Hugo Chavez was elected to the presidency in 1998, Venezuela has been transformed from a country with democratic institutions to one where the president controls all branches of government. The elections serve the purpose of making Chavez look like he is presiding over a free society but in reality provide no real chance for change. In this context, it is important to understand the true nature of the present Venezuelan political reality. Read more ..

The Financial Edge

New Debit Cards May Revolutionize the Card Industry

September 20th 2010

Economy - credit cards

Imagine strolling into Bob’s Sandwich Emporium to discover that the chalkboard behind the counter lists both lunch specials and financing specials.

That pastrami on rye with extra pickles, the board explains, will cost $10 if paying with a debit card, $10.16 if paying with a Visa credit card, and $10.25 if paying with an American Express card.

Quick: which card do you pull out of your wallet?

This scenario is anathema to the card companies and card-issuing banks that reap massive profits on the so-called interchange fees that merchants pay every time a consumer swipes a card. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama Faces Elections and Foreign Policy Choices

September 20th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Barack Obama with Flag

We are now nine weeks away from the midterm elections in the United States. Much can happen in nine weeks, but if the current polls are to be believed, U.S. President Barack Obama is about to suffer a substantial political reversal.

To begin thinking about this, we must bear three things in mind. First, while Obama won a major victory in the Electoral College, he did not come anywhere near a landslide in the popular vote. About 48 percent of the voters selected someone else. In spite of the Democrats’ strength in Congress and the inevitable bump in popularity Obama received after he was elected, his personal political strength was not overwhelming. Over the past year, poll numbers indicating support for his presidency have deteriorated to the low 40 percent range, numbers from which it is difficult, but not impossible, to govern.

Second, he entered the presidency off balance. His early focus in the campaign was to argue that the war in Iraq was the wrong war to fight but that the war in Afghanistan was the right one. This positioned him as a powerful critic of George W. Bush without positioning him as an anti-war candidate. Politically shrewd, he came into office with an improving Iraq situation, a deteriorating Afghanistan situation and a commitment to fighting the latter war. But Obama did not expect the global financial crisis. When it hit full blast in September 2008, he had no campaign strategy to deal with it and was saved by the fact that John McCain was as much at a loss as he was. The Obama presidency has therefore been that of a moderately popular president struggling between campaign promises and strategic realities as well as a massive economic crisis to which he crafted solutions that were a mixture of the New Deal and what the Bush administration had already done. It was a tough time to be president. Read more ..

A Failing Financial Recovery

Documentation Shows that Executives with Criminal Records Elude an FHA Crackdown

September 13th 2010

Economy - Foreclosure

A crackdown on reckless mortgage lenders by the Federal Housing Administration has failed to root out several executives with criminal records whose firms continue to do business with the agency in violation of federal law, according to government documents, court records and interviews.

The get-tough campaign has also been hamstrung because, even when the FHA can ban mortgage companies for wrongdoing or an excessive default rate, the agency does not have the legal power to stop their executives from landing jobs at other lenders, or open new firms. Read more ..

Chavez on the Edge

Hugo Chavez's Anti-Imperialist Rhetoric Soars as Relations with the U.S. Decline

September 6th 2010

Latin American Topics - Hugo Chavez red

Since Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, Caracas has maintained a testy relationship with the United States, a nation which Chávez views as the primary threat to his dream of reproducing the Bolivarian Revolution. Although the U.S. and Venezuela experienced a very brief honeymoon once President Barack Obama assumed office, the two countries’ relationship has quickly begun to sour.

Responding in kind, Chávez has vamped up his anti-imperialist rhetoric in recent months, repeatedly taking stabs at the U.S. government for meddling in Latin American affairs. In addition to chiding the Obama administration for its claims that the Venezuelan government may be supporting terrorist organizations and for the U.S. increased military presence in Latin America, Chávez has slammed Obama’s nominee for Ambassador to Venezuela. Larry Palmer, an experienced if somewhat back-slapping, Foreign Service officer who served as Ambassador to Honduras from 2002-2005, drew heavy criticism from Chávez and other Venezuelan officials because of a series of scathing remarks he had made regarding the Caracas regime during a fast-pace hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 27. Read more ..

The Edge of Peace

Peace within a Year? Israeli–Palestinian Direct Talks Resume

August 30th 2010

Israel Topics - Jerusalem-Temple and Wall

On Friday, August 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the resumption of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, to be launched in Washington next week. On September 1, President Obama will welcome Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Direct talks between Netanyahu and Abbas are scheduled to begin the next day, with the objective of reaching agreement on the permanent-status issues of borders, security, Jerusalem, and refugees within a year. The meeting will mark the first time that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have discussed these issues directly during the Obama administration.

Road to the Announcement

A number of turning points led to Clinton’s announcement. The first was President Obama’s July 6 meeting with Netanyahu at the White House. In sharp contrast to past encounters, which were often strained, Obama called the meeting “excellent” and went out of his way to vouch for Netanyahu’s sincerity: “We had an extensive discussion about the prospects for Middle East peace. I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace.” Read more ..

Edge on Green Politics

Obama Disappoints Environmental Activists who are Seeing Red, Not Green

August 30th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Barack Obama with Flag

The environmental groups that helped propel Barack Obama to the White House are feeling betrayed during a summer of discontent and climate inaction.

The latest blows to the environmental movement came this week when the administration decided to side with major polluters, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling that would have permitted “nuisance” suits against major greenhouse gas emitters. In a separate decision, the administration also approved loan guarantees for a U.S. maker of coal mining equipment to sell to India,

The Justice Department’s friend-of-the-court filing in the case involving giant utility American Electric Power Co. came as a complete surprise to the green lobby, and had many in the movement turning red.

“What the heck is happening at the White House on climate?” Clean Air Watch asked on its website.

“Some believe the Obama White House, having failed to enact climate change legislation, has adopted the old maxim when it comes to polluters: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” the advocacy group wrote in frustration, opining the administration might be gun-shy heading into the fall elections. Read more ..

Brazil on the Edge

Why The Quixotic Presidential Campaign of Marina Silva Matters for Brazil and the World

August 30th 2010

Latin American Topics - Marina Silva

When Marina Silva was still Brazil’s environment minister, she took a trip to the Xingu River in the Amazon. On the day she began her travels, José Dirceu, President Lula’s incorrigible former chief of staff, invited Germano Rigotto, the governor of Rio Grande do Sul, to fly to Brasilia. The governor has strong ties with agribusiness, and his political clout would be useful in lobbying for transgenic crops. Dirceu’s invitation was strategic– he wanted to make the most of Marina’s absence. The event shows how far Marina, the Green Party’s (PV) presidential candidate in the October 3rd elections, has taken the environmental debate in Brazilian politics. Although her cause – the environment – has gained momentum due to its urgency, Marina has no prospect for winning the presidency. Her voter base is composed of a number of small, disparate interest groups, who gravitate towards her for different reasons, a concern with the environment being only one of them. Read more ..

Mexico's Drug Wars

Los Zetas and the Gun Laws that Help Them Thrive

August 23rd 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexican Drug Violence

It is possible for terror to originate from a recognized symbol of power, safety, and strength. When a manifestation of all that is good betrays the trust bestowed upon it and becomes instead an agent of destruction, ruthlessness, and brutality, the fear it generates is far greater than if it had been regarded as evil all along. Unfortunately, one of the ultimate examples of this form of deception thrives in the chaos of the drug world. In Mexico, this terror is known by a name rarely spoken above a chilling whisper: Los Zetas.

Emerging as one of the most dangerous byproducts of the drug trade, Los Zetas’ existence represents a profound threat to the U.S. as well as to their country of origin. Not only does the U.S. keep Los Zetas in business with its insatiable appetite for drugs, but it also blindly puts guns in the hands of these killers. Since 2006, 28,000 individuals have lost their lives to this hemispheric catastrophe, a huge jump from the 23,000 reported in June of this year. With such an astronomically increasing death toll, drastic action needs be taken – and fast. Mexican President Felipe Calderón has taken the recent step of proposing a debate to consider the pros and cons of drug legalization. As for the U.S., it is critical that it finally takes responsibility for its role as a gun supplier to the drug trafficking industry. Of the tens thousands who have died at the hands of drug violence, many of these victims’ last visions were of a U.S.-made or U.S.-imported semi-automatic assault rifle. Read more ..

Mendoza Against the Deaf

Mendoza Eugenics Bill Creates Legal and Ethical Issues

August 16th 2010

Eugenics - Twins-Height-Verschuer

California bill AB 2072, sponsored by Assemblymember Tony Mendoza will be on the Senate floor for a vote this week with amendments which will create legal and ethical issues. The Deaf community which uses American Sign Language believes that this bill is bad public policy designed to enrich special interests who have reported record profits and will jeopardize the human rights of Deaf children to use American Sign Language.  

If the bill becomes law, it will put special interests such as audiologists, physicians, and those who promote the auditory/oral education methods in a position which they have the majority of influence over the contents of brochures which will be provided to parents of Deaf children by an audiologist and again by an Early Start provider. There is no language in the bill currently which guarantees members of the American Sign Language community a seat on the advisory panel. Rather, it vaguely identifies that there must be representatives from "visual language, including, but not limited to, [American Sign Language]".  According to Assemblymember Mendoza, it could include representatives from visual communication methods such as Cued Speech, Signed English, and others which the Deaf community believes have historically been tools used to oppress American Sign Language.

Deaf Studies/American Sign Language professor Kevin Clark expressed outrage saying, "When writing a bill about Deaf people, it is important to include a majority of Deaf people.  They have lived and breathed every moment as a Deaf person. These audiologists and physicians do not know what it is like to be Deaf. They put a price tag on our ears and want to continue to make record profits on our bodies." Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

The East Asian Loophole in Iran Sanctions: Encouraging Compliance by Our Allies and China

August 16th 2010

Iran - Iran Nuclear Equipment

Starting in August, U.S. officials are visiting East Asia, Latin America, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to garner support for tightening Iran sanctions under UN Security Council Resolution 1929. Robert Einhorn, the U.S. State Department's special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control, and Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary of the treasury for terrorist financing and financial crime, started with a trip to Japan and South Korea and are planning a trip to China in late August. On July 29, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing entitled "Implementation of Iran Sanctions" in which both Einhorn and Glaser expressed concern over China's compliance, with Einhorn emphasizing the "need for [China] not to 'backfill' when responsible countries have distanced themselves from Iran."

Mutual Dependence on Oil

East Asian countries are heavily dependent on crude oil imports from the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia is the largest provider, but Iran usually places second, ahead of the UAE, Kuwait, and Iraq. In early 2009, Iran was China's second-largest supplier after Saudi Arabia, though it is reported to have slipped to third place this year. In 2007, the Islamic Republic was Japan's third-largest supplier, after Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Fearing the Worst of Nicaragua's Sandinista President and his Oil Deal with Chavez of Venezuela

August 16th 2010

Latin American Topics - Daniel Ortega
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega

After Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega took office for his second presidential term in 2007, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez announced his plan to meet Nicaragua’s oil needs. The leaders’ ideological ties led Ortega to push for Nicaragua’s membership in the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA). The Venezuelan President established this political bloc with the intention of countering the U.S. ambition for a Free Trade Area of the Americas or Acuerdo de Libre Comercio de las Américas (ALCA). Comprising leftist nations such as Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and Ecuador, ALBA seeks to promote an ideology of solidarity that emphasizes social welfare policies rather than the kind of competitive capitalist agreements that have pervaded throughout the hemisphere in its recent history.

While ALBA serves as a symbolic opposition to the free trade agreements that the U.S. has negotiated with desperate Latin American regimes in the past, many skeptics have debated its practical impact due to a lack of concrete results produced by the Chávez-led body. Nicaragua’s simultaneous membership in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) suggests that ALBA does not quite play the revolutionary role to which its proponents initially aspired.

ALBA has proved a destabilizing force in an already polarized political environment. In Nicaragua, Venezuelan cooperation through ALBA led to the creation of a private company called ALBANISA (ALBA de Nicaragua, S.A) to manage the anticipated investment funds. The company has come under a great deal of heat: as a privately held company, ALBANISA is not required to disclose its funds to the public. However, it has turned out that the government has used its funds for state expenses. The secrecy enveloping ALBANISA expenditures has led some to fear the worst. Read more ..

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