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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 ..

Iran's Nukes

Ahmadinezhad's Bomb Rhetoric: Opportunities for U.S. Policy

August 8th 2010

Iran - Iran Long-Range Missile

On July 31, according to Iran's semiofficial Mehr News Agency, presidential chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashai claimed that the West had raised no objections to President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad's open proclamation that the Islamic Republic could build a nuclear bomb. How should this surprising claim be interpreted? And what implications might it hold for Iran's domestic politics, especially when viewed alongside Ahmadinezhad's history of confrontational rhetoric? Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Argentina-China Trade Relations Reveals the Power of Soy

August 2nd 2010

Farming - Soybeans
President Fernandez de Kirchner and President Hun Jintao

After months of delay, President Cristina Fernández Kirchner of Argentina traveled to China on July 11th to discuss economic issues affecting the two countries. China is Argentina’s largest commercial partner after Brazil. The primary purpose of this meeting was to convince China to lift the now two-month blockade against Argentine soy oil. However, the most significant occurrence of the meeting was the signing of an investment agreement that will boost mining and railroad infrastructure in Argentina through the import of Chinese goods. Though this is seen as a successful agreement in terms of Argentine interests, both countries, but especially Argentina, are suffering from the ongoing soy oil dispute. Read more ..

Iranian Politics

The Iranian Clergy’s Silence

July 26th 2010

Iranian clerics

On June 13, 2010, when Mehdi Karrobi, the reformist candidate in Iran’s 2009 presidential elections, paid a personal visit to the home of Ayatollah Yousef Sanei in the Shiite holy city of Qom, dozens of militants also descended on Sanei’s residence to disrupt the get-together. The militants were members of the Imam Sadeq Brigade 83, a paramilitary unit consisting of young radical clerics that is under the direct command of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. These days, the brigade functions as one of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s main instruments of suppression against clerics and others that oppose the regime. In the early morning hours after ransacking Sanei’s office, the brigade stormed adjoining offices that belonged to the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, causing a great deal of property damage. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Yemen’s Forever War: The Houthi Rebellion

July 26th 2010

Arab Topics - Yemen Map

The Yemeni government’s adoption of a February 2010 ceasefire indicates that its scorched-earth policy in the sixth phase of the war was unsuccessful. For their part, the Houthis sought to avoid a two-front war involving Saudi Arabia, whose military had begun to directly confront them prior to the truce. It is unclear whether ground forces were involved in these confrontations, but Saudi airstrikes on Houthi targets have been confirmed. The ceasefire also came at a time when the threats posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and southern secessionists were on the rise, overstretching government security forces.

Among the reported ceasefire conditions were items such as the removal of roadblocks and landmines; an end to fortification of Houthi areas; the return of captured Saudi weapons and civilian goods; the release of Saudi and Yemeni civilian and military detainees; and an end to aggressive acts in Saudi territory. These conditions are tough to measure objectively, however, and may prove difficult to implement, given the north’s views on territory. Cultural norms—particularly the longstanding custom of males possessing weapons—will also likely preempt any attempt at disarmament. Similarly, the cultural need for both sides to be viewed as equals in negotiations tends to conflict with modern concepts of state sovereignty. As a result, the ceasefire is likely to collapse like others before it; one can already find signs that a seventh phase of conflict is drawing close. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Who Benefits from African Bank Protectionism?

July 19th 2010

Africa Topics - Wen Jiabao in Ghana
Chinese premier Wen Jiabao greets a Ghana chieftain

The Ghana Investment Protection Council (GIPC) recently revived a regulation that requires foreign-owned businesses based in Ghana to raise at least $300,000 before they are allowed to operate. These measures are imposed to shield indigenous business owners from foreign competitors. This is hinged on the belief that there is a need to curtail the influx of neighbouring countries‘ nationals from crowding out local business interests and creating job loss for Ghanaians.

Although the argument that the policy is designed to witch-hunt the nationals of any country has been debunked by the Ghanaian authorities, industry watchers and experts are not convinced. What is evident in view of the investment pattern is that the regulation is directly aimed at local entrepreneurs from West African countries who want to invest in Ghana and not against Chinese or Indian entrepreneurs whose chunk of foreign investments‘ loans are guaranteed by their governments.

Thus, raising the specified amount won’t be a problem for the Chinese and the Indians. By and large the policy will have more direct bearing on small and medium, scale businesses owned by nationals of West African countries as they do not enjoy the protection offered by their Chinese and Indian counterparts. Read more ..

Venezuela on the Edge

Venezuelan Currency Reform: Pragmatic Policy or Misguided Gamble?

July 12th 2010

Latin American Topics - Chavez PDVSA
Hugo Chávez

Predictions about Venezuela’s economy spawn prolifically. In light of Venezuela’s major oil reserves and president who is increasingly outspoken against the U.S., many wait impatiently to see how the country will fare in the wake of its ongoing recession.  Will Chávez lead the economy downward to disaster, or will he surprise all with economic resilience?

On Wednesday, June 9, Venezuela’s bond market reopened after President Hugo Chávez had shut it down on May 19. Chávez blamed the bolívar’s fall to almost half its previous value on currency speculation in the parallel market for dollar bonds, which he proceeded to suspend until a new market system could be put into place. Newly reopening with a devalued bolívar, the new bond trading market will give the government full control of the exchange rate by requiring that companies buy dollar-denominated bonds rather than conduct direct sales of bolívars for foreign currency. This system follows the trend of Chávez’ leftist recession-fighting policies such as nationalization of industries, controls on prices, and high rates of government spending on social programs. Lauded by some and assailed by others, Chávez’ policies are often seen as indicative of a worldwide trend against the 1990s’ globalization, market economics, and neo-liberalism. The question that now remains to be answered is: what does this new policy portend for Venezuela’s economy?


Caucasus on the Edge

The Caucasus Cauldron

July 12th 2010

Eurasian Topics - Azeri_tanks_in_Nagorno-Karabakh
Azeri tanks in Nagorno-Karabakh

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited some interesting spots over the July 4 weekend. Her itinerary included Poland and Ukraine, both intriguing choices in light of the recent Obama-Medvedev talks in Washington. But she also traveled to a region that has not been on the American radar screen much in the last two years — namely, the Caucasus — visiting Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The stop in Poland coincided with the signing of a new agreement on ballistic missile defense and was designed to sustain U.S.-Polish relations in the face of the German-Russian discussions we have discussed. The stop in Ukraine was meant simply to show the flag in a country rapidly moving into the Russian orbit. In both cases, the trip was about the Russians. Regardless of how warm the atmospherics are between the United States and Russia, the fact is that the Russians are continuing to rebuild their regional influence and are taking advantage of European disequilibrium to build new relationships there, too. Read more ..

Venezuela on the Edge

Venezuela’s Media War: Is the Internet the Next Battleground?

July 5th 2010

Latin American Topics - Chavez PDVSA
Hugo Chávez

On March 1st, 2009, Hugo Chávez announced on his popular Sunday television show, Aló Presidente, that he would commence a kind of “media war” to determine which news bodies were controlled by the oligarchy. Chávez further maintained, “If it weren’t for the attack, the lies, manipulation and exaggeration of the private networks, the Venezuelan government would have the support of at least 80 percent of the population.”

Since this date, Chávez, who has clashed with the media in the past, has fully committed himself to fighting nearly all forms of opposition media. In August of 2009, Chávez withdrew the licenses of 34 radio and TV stations he deemed oppositional. That same month, he launched his new national newspaper Correo del Orinoco, which prints daily and claims to provide unbiased coverage of government actions in the country.

In January of 2010, six broadcast television channels, including the controversial Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) were suspended for refusing to broadcast the president’s long-winded speeches, known as “cadenas.” Previously, Article 10 of the 2004 Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (Resorte law) only required terrestrial networks to broadcast the speeches. But on December 22, 2009, the national telecommunications commission decreed that the law would now apply to cable stations as well. Read more ..

The Bear is Back

Are Germany and Russia Getting Cozy?

June 28th 2010

Russian Topics - Merkel and Putin
Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will brief French and Polish officials on a joint proposal for Russian-European “cooperation on security,” according to a statement from Westerwelle’s spokesman. The proposal emerged out of talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev earlier in June and is based on a draft Russia drew up in 2008. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be present at the meeting. Peschke said, “We want to further elaborate and discuss it within the triangle [i.e., France, Germany and Poland] in the presence of the Russian foreign minister.”

On the surface, the proposal developed by Merkel and Medvedev appears primarily structural. It raises security discussions about specific trouble spots to the ministerial level rather than the ambassadorial level, with a committee being formed consisting of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Russia’s foreign minister. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama's Speech at Cairo: One Year Later

June 28th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Obama Cairo Speech

Although likely eclipsed in the media by recent Israeli naval action against blockade runners, the first anniversary of President Obama's much-quoted address in Cairo occurred on June 4, earlier this month. In his remarks, described as a "new beginning," he identified seven issues at the heart of tensions between the United States and the world's 1.2 billion Muslims: the need to confront violent extremism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran's drive to obtain nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom, women's rights, and economic development. For each issue, the president indicated where American action was required.

On violent extremism, for instance, he highlighted his decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center within the year. Given that two issues -- the Arab-Israeli peace process and Iranian nuclear issue -- have garnered the lion's share of attention over the past year, it is timely and useful to assess progress on the other five. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Egypt's Future Hinges on Flawed Islamic Council Elections

June 21st 2010

Iraq - Iraq Election 2010

Amid the diplomatic and media frenzy over the Gaza flotilla incident, Egypt's upper house elections were largely overlooked last week, even though the voting for the consultative Shura Council was marred by low turnout, concerted fraud, and violence. These are disturbing indicators of what the international community and Obama administration should anticipate during the much more important parliamentary elections in November.

Why the Elections Matter

The two rounds of voting for the Shura Council, on June 1 and June 8, were the first in a series of warm-ups before next year's critical presidential election, when eighty-two-year-old Hosni Mubarak, who recently had major surgery, might stand for a sixth consecutive term. Established in 1980 through a constitutional amendment, Egypt's upper house wields little power and is purely consultative. A third of its 264 members are appointed by the president, and only half of the rest stand for election every three years for six-year terms.

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) has dominated the body throughout its history. No opposition party has ever managed to establish a substantial presence on the council, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has never won a seat. Last week's elections proved no exception, as the NDP swept eighty-four out of a possible eighty-eight seats. Although four opposition parties won one seat each, other parties such as the Democratic Front boycotted the elections, declaring them illegitimate. Read more ..

Turkey and Israel

Arabs, Israelis, and the Limits of Public Opinion

June 21st 2010

Turkish Topics - Turkish Flags

Events on May 31 off the coast of Israel continue to resonate. Turkish-Israeli relations have not quite collapsed since then but are at their lowest level since Israel’s founding. U.S.-Israeli tensions have emerged, and European hostility toward Israel continues to intensify. The question has now become whether substantial consequences will follow from the incident. Put differently, the question is whether and how it will be exploited beyond the arena of public opinion.

The most significant threat to Israel would, of course, be military. International criticism is not without significance, but nations do not change direction absent direct threats to their interests. But powers outside the region are unlikely to exert military power against Israel, and even significant economic or political sanctions are unlikely to happen. Apart from the desire of outside powers to limit their involvement, this is rooted in the fact that significant actions are unlikely from inside the region either. Read more ..

Edge on Politics

Automated Election Fraud in the Philippines: A Harbringer for the US?

June 14th 2010

Politics - Voting

United States voters worried about electronic voting should pay close attention to the recent Philippines elections.

When the Philippines government decided to embrace computerized voting for the 2010 presidential, congressional and local elections the international community looked on with considerable interest. Would May 10 mark a turning point in the struggling Asian democracy and produce, for once, undisputed results?

Authoritative and stable government is essential to Philippians's struggle to attract foreign investment, develop economically and lift a large number of citizens out of poverty.

But an electronic revolution in one giant stride? For a population of 50 million voters spread over 7100 islands where radio communication is often unreliable? It was always going to be a big ask. As a risk assessment carried out by Pacific Strategies and Assessment late last year warned, “there is no official record of any country in the world transitioning from a pure manual to a full automated elections system in one electoral exercise.”

Quite the contrary. Electronic voting has been plagued with problems even in the most developed countries of the world, and just a week before the Philippines elections the government appointed Commission on Elections, or Comelec, was frantically installing new memory cards in every one of more than 70,000 counting machines at polling stations because of an alleged glitch. Read more ..

The Hamas Flotilla

Was The Flotilla Bound For Gaza On a Humanitarian Mission?

June 7th 2010

Israeli Military - Israeli naval vessel

Israel and Egypt have imposed an embargo on the importation of weapons and certain dual-use items into the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Israel has allowed regular convoys of humanitarian supplies into Gaza, provided Palestinians access to medical care, continued to provide most of Gaza’s electricity, and transferred funds for the ongoing activity of international organizations and to pay the salaries of Palestinian Authority workers. Photos that appeared in a Palestinian newspaper showed bustling marketplaces full of consumer goods and fruits and vegetables.

Hamas has nevertheless allied with various critics of Israel to promote the idea of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza for the purpose of embarrassing Israel and stimulating international pressure on Jerusalem to end its blockade. The latest provocation involved the mobilization of a flotilla of ships, which was advertised as an aid mission, but behaved in a manner that showed their true interest was to achieve a propaganda victory through a public confrontation with Israeli forces. Read more ..

Iran Nuke's

Brazil's President Lula Out of his Depth in Iran

June 7th 2010

Iran - Lula and Ahmadinejad

On May 15th, 2010, President Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva of Brazil met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. The result was a startling announcement by the three countries regarding a proposed nuclear material trade deal between Iran, Turkey, and the Vienna Group (Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China).The tri-partite talks have since received both praise and criticism, much of it directed at Brazil and President Lula. Read more ..

Latin America on the Edge

Connecting the Dots of Internal Developments and Regional Security in Latin America

May 31st 2010

Latin American Topics - Latin Love Fiesta

Today, a large part of the Latin American continent is in danger of collapsing into a situation that fluctuates between totalitarianism and anarchy, between authoritarianism and chaos. The region is also in danger of falling under the strange influence of insurgent and terrorist groups, drug cartels and distant countries that historically have been poles apart from the region's culture and civilization (mainly Iran , China , and perhaps Russia ).

Part of the reason for this is the rise of Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution, which has had a mix of domestic, and foreign policy repercussions. The Bolivarian revolution has opened up a "window of opportunity" for external actors such as those mentioned above.

Venezuela has established a model of government and ideology that has implications on domestic and foreign policy. In terms of domestic policy, the regime is socialist and absolutist. It attacks private property and market forces, and it suppresses the political and civil opposition as well as the media. For foreign policy, the model expands the Bolivarian revolution and is inclined to unify Latin America as much as possible under Chavez's leadership. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Turkey and Brazil: Iran Supporters for Different Reasons

May 24th 2010

Iran - Lula and Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Lula Da Silva of Brazil

At the time the “P 5 + 1” members of the United Nations Security Council were about to agree on sanctions against Iran, news of a a deal a 10-point deal reached between Brazil, Turkey, and Iran emerged.

As the idea of sanctions against Iran aims precisely at preventing Iran from further enriching uranium, something which eventually will give Iran a nuclear capability, the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal does exactly the opposite. Such agreement called for the transference of low enriched uranium to Turkey without discussing the 20 percent enrichment activities that Iran began in February. Turkey, in principle would enrich the uranium and return it to Iran ready for civilian, medical use.

The deal did not stipulate that Iran discontinue uranium enrichment at home, but the opposite. It lays down the right of every country—including the Islamic Republic of Iran—to develop, research, produce, and use nuclear energy and the nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment activities, for peaceful purposes without discrimination. In other words, the deal had nothing to do with the problem of nuclear proliferation or with Iran’s nuclear program. It rather served Iran’s interests in delaying UN Security council sanctions and probably more severe economic sanctions expected to come from the U.S. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Effective Sanctions Against Iran Depend on Timing and Synergy

May 17th 2010

Iran - Ahmadinejad pointing

At this juncture, effective economic sanctions are the best way to deal with Iran’s maniacal regime. Sanctions have more advantages and fewer potentially serious consequences than the other two options—do nothing (so called “containment policy”) or attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Although there are many ways to get around sanctions, they are having serious consequences. The Iranian economy is clearly afflicted by slow growth, high inflation, substantial unemployment and limited economic prospects. The backbone of the country’s economy—the oil industry—is suffering from aging infrastructure and it has received little in the way of new investment in the last year or so. Furthermore, its ability to borrow on the international market has been seriously limited. Read more ..

Inside the War on Drugs

A Binational War on Drugs Pits the U.S. and Mexico Against a Panoply of Enemies

May 10th 2010

Crime Topics - Agent in Drug War

On March 23, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael G. Mullen visited Mexico City in a massive and unprecedented display of support to President Felipe Calderón as well as his beleaguered Mexican military and civil colleagues, who are shouldering the bulk of the fight in the anti-drug war against traffickers along their common border. In the course of the visit, Secretary Clinton referred to the previously authorized $ 1.4 billion budget for the “Mérida Initiative,” as a collaborative security program between the United States, Mexico, and the Central American nations. Its purpose is to provide an intelligence capacity as well as a training regime for regional law enforcement officials as well as sophisticated military aid and detection technology to their drug enforcement officers. Dispatching the high level U.S. initiative to Mexico City is meant to signal a firm U.S. commitment to end the bloodbath now occurring across the Río Grande.

One might think that $1.4 billion would be a generous budget to fight the growing conflict that is destroying the inner fabric of Mexican and Central American society. But the fight against drugs involves more than a token dosage of funds and a military buildup—it requires a serious political and security commitment involving deeds as well as words and close collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico. In order to be successful, this effort will have to entail neutralizing criminal organizations, the creation of corruption-free institutions, the pursuit of a non-porous border, and the formation of empowered local communities willing and able to help contain the violent agenda of the drug cartels. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

We're Engaged In a Terror War—And New York Is the Prime Target

May 3rd 2010

Terrorism - Times Square bomb response

“Once again, we're talking about another ‘terror act’ taking place on U.S. soil.

New York's Governor David Patterson labeled Saturday night's foiled car bomb attack in Times Square an “act of terror.” Janet Napolitano, our secretary of Homeland Security is treating it as “potential act of terror.” Fair enough. If the three propane tanks, fireworks, two full 5-gallon gasoline containers, and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire, fertilizer, and other components found in the back of the Nissan Pathfinder had exploded, they  would have, in the words of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly “caused a significant ball of fire.” New York's Mayor Bloomberg said the explosion could have caused “huge damage on a block of Broadway theaters and restaurants teeming with tourists.” In short, federal and local officials understand clearly that the goal of the SUV bomb was killing and/or injuring a large group of New Yorkers and visitors, and causing severe damage to the area and a shock to the public (who would be traumatized by the sight of such pictures), had, God forbid, the “act of terror” been successful.

Bravo to the watchful citizens—local vendors—who alerted authorities to the out-of-pace SUV. Also, bravo to the men and women of New York law enforcement who rushed to secure the area and disable the device. In that sense it was a success story for New York, one of the cities targeted most by terrorists in the Western world. Read more ..

The Edge of Recovery

Mortgage Defaults Could Leave Taxpayers Holding the Bill

April 26th 2010

Economy - Foreclosure

A District nonprofit organization that says it helps cash-strapped homeowners avoid foreclosure is under federal investigation for instead helping lenders make high-risk loans that leave the government on the hook if they go bad, according to sources familiar with the probe. Federal officials say they are concerned that the Rainy Day Foundation could be thwarting government efforts to weed out mortgage lenders that make too many precarious loans.

The Federal Housing Administration, which encourages homeownership by guaranteeing mortgages made by qualified lenders, has long struggled to keep companies from slipping risky loans under its protective umbrella. The agency has done this in part by barring lenders if too many of their borrowers default.

The Rainy Day Foundation advertises that it can help lenders remain in the FHA’s good graces. For a fee of about $600 per borrower, paid by lenders, home builders and real estate firms to cover the cost of making mortgage payments for distressed borrowers, the group promises to limit defaults during the two years after a loan is made, the period watched most closely by the FHA. Rick Del Sontro, chief executive of the Rainy Day Foundation, said in an interview that his group provides an important service to borrowers and lenders. Read more ..

Inside Asia

Short-Term Challenges for Fractured Kyrgyzstan

April 19th 2010

Asia Topics - Women arguing in Kyrgyzstan

The next six months will be a decisive period for Kyrgyzstan.

That’s the amount of time the country’s provisional government—which took power last week after President Kurmanbek Bakiev initially fled the capital following violent protests opposing his rule—has allotted itself to write a new constitution, create an electoral code, and hold elections for a new parliament.

Amid the general euphoria at the downfall of Bakiev and his internationally brokered departure late on April 15, one pressing question hangs in the air: Is the interim government now running the country—composed of 14 former opposition figures from a variety of different political parties—sufficiently durable and capable of governing Kyrgyzstan over the next half year?

While few people are dismayed to see Bakiev gone, the way in which he was removed from office was hardly ideal. “The greatest threat [to stability in Kyrgyzstan] is how the government came to power and where they get their legitimacy from,” says Donna Stewart of the USAID-funded PACT, which works to strengthen civil society and democracy in Kyrgyzstan. Read more ..

Inside Iraq

The Road to Power: Iraqiyya and Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki

April 12th 2010

Iraq - Ayad Allawi of Iraq
Ayad Allawi

As the news broke that his cross-sectarian alliance was leading last month's parliamentary election with 91 seats, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was seen on television, grinning and receiving well-wishers in his Baghdad headquarters. His supporters took to the streets, jubilantly dancing and exchanging congratulatory embraces. It was, however, a short-lived victory. Since election day, there has been little reason for either the leaders of his coalition, al-Iraqiyya, or the 2,851,823 voters who endorsed the alliance, to celebrate.

All trends currently suggest that another candidate, potentially the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will leapfrog Allawi and emerge as the dominant force in the new Iraqi government. On March 25, a ruling by Iraq's Federal Supreme Court increased this likelihood: The court determined that though Iraqiyya secured the largest number of seats, it might not get the first shot at forming a government. In response to a March 22 request by Maliki's office to clarify the Iraqi Constitution, the court ruled that election lists could merge after the elections -- and if a newly formed list then constituted the largest alliance, it would gain the privilege of attempting to form a government. Bad news for Allawi. Read more ..

UN on the Edge

UN Peacekeepers: Forces of Mistrust

April 12th 2010

UN Topics - Man talks to UN peacekeepers

“Every child and young person should live in a supportive, protective and caring environment that promotes his/her full potential. Children with inadequate or no parental care are at special risk of being denied such a nurturing environment,” so reads Resolution 64/142 of the United Nations General Assembly. The resolution of February 24, 2010 is a worthy document. It provides twenty-three pages of recommendations, advice, and outlines proper care techniques for alternative care for children. Yet there is one important piece of the problem missing from this UN effort: preventing children from being victimized by UN Peacekeepers. Instead of being forces for trust, for their child rape victims the peacekeepers are forces of mistrust.

Today, there are 85,000 U.N. troops in 16 peace operations, with soldiers contributed by 115 nations and there are at least hundreds of cases of child rape by these peacekeepers, perhaps more. In many cases, peacekeepers commit crimes of forced sex, verbal sexual abuse, child prostitution, child pornography, sexual slavery, sexual assault, and child trafficking. A frightening number of cases result in multiple rape. Some children are as young as six, according to reports. According to children who were interviewed, most did not report it out of fear of losing material assistance, fear of retaliation, lack of knowledge about doing so, and lack of support from their own governments, who do not in most cases take action. The victims come from some of the most poverty and war-stricken areas of the world, such as Haiti, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Burundi, the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Liberia. Read more ..

Geopolitical High Stakes

U.N. Sanctions Against Iran are Unlikely Despite Pressure from the U.S. and France

April 5th 2010

Iran - Iran Nuclear Equipment

President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this week urged reluctant members of the United Nations Security Council to quickly pass sanctions against Iran. But that is highly unlikely, as Obama himself acknowledged: “Do we have unanimity in the international community? Not yet. And that’s something we have to work on.”

In the absence of decisive action from the U.N., the Obama Administration should work with allies to impose strong sanctions outside the U.N. framework, where effective action is hampered by the veto power of China and Russia. Such a strategy should include working with Congress to quickly approve the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act and partnering with like-minded nations to impose the strongest possible sanctions independent of the lethargic U.N. Security Council. Neither country seems to care much about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s truculent defiance. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Two Parcels of Land--Conflicting Life vs Death Celebrations

March 29th 2010

Terrorism - Coastal Bus Massacre
Coastal Bus Massacre

Two parcels of land, Ramat Shlomo and El-Bireh are symbols. In Jerusalem and in Ramallah’s sister city respectively, both stand for the eternal hopes of two peoples. In the wake of the recent flare-up between the Obama Administration and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, these two sites, which became the subject of news stories at the same time, say volumes about the intensity of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

They also say much more about the intentions of both sides for the use of these parcels of land and about the goals of two peoples. East Jerusalem, annexed by the Israeli Government following its capture during the Six-Day War of 1967, is the administrative and spiritual capital of Israel and has been the subject of longing for the Jewish people for millennia. The intended construction of 1,600 apartments there signals the goal of providing homes for Jews in the capital—viewed by Israelis as indivisible. El-Bireh is a sister city of Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, which was established following the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and Israel. The intentions that the Israelis and Palestinians have for these respective sites are starkly different. Even if one argues about the strategy of security both sites epitomize, there are very real differences for what they symbolize. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Is Mexico the Next Climate Change Hot Spot?

March 22nd 2010

Latin American Topics - Mexican Marine in Boat

With a confluence of climate and non-climate drivers, the ubiquitous presence of land degradation, and an irregular geographical population and land distribution, Mexico, not just Chile, stands out as a candidate to witness the next environmental shock and its consequences and an exemplary potential hotspot for environmentally-induced migration in Latin America. Its adjacency to the United States has in part facilitated international migration as a viable coping strategy. Migration exponentially rose in the 1980s following the economic hardships stemming from Mexico’s economic strategy of liberalization imposed upon the country’s poor and led by President Zedillo and before him President Salinas de Gortari.

There has been a growing out-migration of environmentally induced migrants from the arid northern region, already estimated by the mid 1990s at 900,000 per year. When Washington decides to include environmentally motivated migration as a factor in its migratory policy, it might first address it in regards to Mexico, due to the latter’s status as the largest immigration feeder country into the United States. This may set a precedent for how the issue is approached in the rest of the Western hemisphere. Read more ..

Arab World Elections

Hope on the Nile

March 15th 2010

UN Topics - Mohammed El Baradei
Mohamed ElBaradei

In the most interesting development in Egyptian politics in years, former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei is eyeing an improbable challenge to six-term incumbent president Hosni Mubarak—or his son Gamal—in September 2011. While Egyptian law and Mubarak’s authoritarian regime will no doubt prevent ElBaradei from getting on the ballot, his flirtation with entering the race has, at least temporarily, energized a demoralized electorate.

ElBaradei has a biography with popular appeal. The son of the former head of the Egyptian Bar Association, ElBaradei served for three terms as the head of the international nuclear watchdog. In addition to winning the Nobel Peace Prize in his role as head of the IAEA, in 2006 he received Egypt’s highest honor, the Greatest Nile Collar, awarded by President Mubarak himself, for his service to the Republic.

Since his retirement from the IAEA in December 2009, ElBaradei has been making headlines criticizing governance in Egypt, and, in late February, when he returned to Cairo for a 10-day visit after decades working abroad, he was welcomed at the airport by thousands of supporters. During his trip he gave a slew of television interviews condemning the absence of democracy, the slow pace of reform and the need for change in his country. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Hillary Clinton meets with Challenges on Latin American Tour

March 8th 2010

Latin American Topics - Cristina Fernandez Kirchner & Hillary Clinton
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Hillary Clinton

On March 1, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embarked on her five-day tour of Latin America. The trip came in the wake of immensely destructive earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, the legacy of an ousted constitutionally-elected president in Honduras, the threats raised by an Iran-Brazil nuclear partnership, and the first female president being elected in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, until these recent natural disasters grabbed the headlines, the United States’ presence in Latin American affairs had been reduced to a minor distraction by the Iraq war.

Beginning with the now all but forgotten Monroe Doctrine of 1823, and continuing with a constant assortment of invasions and covert operations, Latin America has long been considered the United States’ “backyard,” today an antique notion. However, coming with the presidency of Barack Obama, it seemed as if Washington would be turning its back on its legacy of manipulation and intervention. Sadly, up to this point, the Obama White House has not given the American people anything strikingly new or inspiring. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Challenges Ahead for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez

March 1st 2010

Latin American Topics - Hugo Chavez - beer goggles

All 167 seats of the Venezuelan National Assembly will be in play this coming September, and the current 141-seat controlling stake of ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) appears to be at risk. Amid growing internal economic upheaval and violent street protests, Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s embattled president, is facing a sharp decline in his personal popularity and the possibility of a significant gain by the opposition in the upcoming legislative elections. Chávez has continued to use his soapbox to concoct fiery speeches, earning him additional enemies and alienating his friends due to his pugnacious style of rule and confrontational habits.

Leadership: Consolidation and Corruption

Shuffling his cabinet in recent weeks, Chávez has tightened his circle of advisers to an unprecedented degree in a very short span of time. As his strategy to restore public faith in his government’s qualifications and to continue to serve his fellow Venezuelans oscillates, his recent call to further consolidate power among his supporters in the country has prompted concern among those in the international community who refused to acknowledge any claims to his worthiness. Some are troubled by what they see as a trend towards burgeoning autocracy in the country. Following a local banking scandal in early December, in which his brother Arne was implicated as a major player, Science and Technology Minister Jesse Chacon resigned from his post. He had been a close confidant of Chávez for years. Read more ..

Edge of Mideast Politics

Haiti is No Gaza

February 22nd 2010

Israeli Military - Israeli Rescue team in Haiti

Dubai-based columnist Aijaz Zaka Syed recently penned an op-ed that appeared in multiple publications claiming that Israel was hypocritical for sending medical teams to earthquake-ravaged Haiti while ignoring the plight of Gazans.

“If the Israelis have reached out to the Haitians by swiftly dispatching a medical team, it’s laudable,” he wrote. “But why those moved by a tragedy on the other side of the world can’t see what’s been happening right under their noses for years?”

Syed also mentioned the “plane-loads of relief and aid supplies” that Arab and Muslim countries have sent, suggesting that the lack of publicity is not known because Arab countries are not particularly media-savvy. Read more ..

Edge of Financial Recovery

Germany faces a Bailout of Greece and Reassessment of EU Monetary Structure

February 15th 2010

Europe Topics - Euro money

The situation in Europe is dire.

After years of profligate spending, Greece is becoming overwhelmed. Barring some sort of large-scale bailout program, a Greek debt default at this point is highly likely. At this moment, European Central Bank liquidity efforts are probably the only thing holding back such a default. But these are a stopgap measure that can hold only until more important economies manage to find their feet. And Europe’s problems extend beyond Greece. Fundamentals are so poor across the board that any number of eurozone states quickly could follow Greece down.

And so the rest of the eurozone is watching and waiting nervously while casting occasional glances in the direction of Berlin in hopes the eurozone’s leader and economy-in-chief will do something to make it all go away. To truly understand the depth of the crisis the Europeans face, one must first understand Germany, the only country that can solve it. Read more ..

Engaging Cuba

No "Common Policy" as Europe Grapples with its Future Ties with Cuba

February 8th 2010

Latin American Topics - Cuba

In January, Spain took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Despite being deeply affected by the global financial crisis, Spain confidently proclaimed ambitious objectives for its term at the head of the EU, including the cancellation of the EU’s “Common Position.” The latter defines the EU policy towards Cuba that has been in place since 1996. During his two-day visit to the Caribbean island last October, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos stated that Spain wants “to give up the Common Position in order to obtain bilateral agreements.”

Undoubtedly the motivations behind Spain’s initiative are at least partially economic in nature. Moratinos explained that the Iberian nation has negotiated for Cuban authorities to pay their debts to Spanish companies. Cuba’s president Raúl Castro has promised to repeal the payment block of approximately $300 million due to the 280 Spanish companies currently operating in Cuba or have some other financial stake in the country. After strong opposition from Eastern European members, states such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, Spain eventually withdrew its initiative, allowing the EU to maintain the Common Position for the present time. Read more ..

Venezuela on the Edge

Chavez Risks Popular Support with Currency Devaluation and Inflation

February 1st 2010

Latin American Topics - Hugo Chavez - beer goggles

On January 8th, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced the devaluation of his country's currency, the bolivar. In his address, Chávez distinguished between two classes of products, establishing separate exchange rates for “essential” and “non-essential” goods.

This news prompted concern for inflation among Venezuelan citizens and followed other signs of trouble that have been afflicting the country, such as severe drought, rolling blackouts in order to ration electricity, and aggressive rhetoric accusing the United States of violating Venezuelan airspace.

Although the currency devaluation could yield positive results for the long-term development of the Venezuelan economy, immediate political factors seem to have provided the primary motivation for the government’s decision-making at this time. The dual exchange rates expose the interrelated economic and political motives that led to the currency’s devaluation. Read more ..

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