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China Rising

China’s Military Comes Into Its Own

January 18th 2011

China Topics - Chinese J-20 fighter

Chinese President Hu Jintao is visiting the United States, perhaps his last state visit as president before China begins its generational leadership transition in 2012. Hu’s visit is being shaped by the ongoing China-U.S. economic dialogue, by concerns surrounding stability on the Korean Peninsula and by rising attention to Chinese defense activity in recent months. For example, China carried out the first reported test flight of its fifth-generation combat fighter prototype, dubbed the J-20, during U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s visit to China the previous week.

The development and test flight of China’s J-20 is not insignificant, but it is also by no means a game changer in the U.S.-China defense balance. More intriguingly, the test highlights how China’s military increasingly is making its interests heard. Read more ..


America and Lebanon

The Challenge President Obama Faces in Lebanon's Power Shift

January 18th 2011

Lebanon Topics - Obama and Saad Hariri

On January 12, as Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri prepared to meet with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, the Hizballah-led opposition withdrew its support from the Beirut government, forcing its collapse.

In the next few days, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is widely expected to announce between two and six indictments of Lebanese Shiites affiliated with Hizballah regarding its investigation into the February 2005 assassination of Saad's father, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Forcing the political crisis was Hizballah's latest card in its campaign to curb Lebanese government support for the UN-mandated investigation and prosecution. How this political drama plays out will have crucial implications for Washington's standing in the Middle East, as well as for Hizballah's allies, Syria and Iran. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Mohammed Cartoon Dust Has Not Settled

January 10th 2011

Jyllands-Posten building

When one considers all of the people and places in the West targeted by transnational jihadists over the past few years, iconic targets such as New York’s Times Square, the London Metro and the Eiffel Tower come to mind. There are also certain target sets such as airlines and subways that jihadists focus on more than others. Upon careful reflection, however, it is hard to find any target set that has been more of a magnet for transnational jihadist ire over the past year than the small group of cartoonists and newspapers involved in the Mohammad cartoon controversy. One is struck by the number of plots in 2010 that involved the cartoon controversy—and by the number of those plots that had transnational dimensions, rather than plots that involved only local grassroots operatives. Read more ..


The Judicial Edge

Judges Invested in Health Care

January 3rd 2011

Health/Medicine - nurse w/stethoscope

Three U.S. District judges presiding over legal challenges to the landmark federal health care law have held financial investments in the health care industry, which has a lot riding on the outcome of the cases, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of their latest available financial disclosure forms. The investments include individual stocks and mutual funds with holdings in private health insurance companies, companies selling health-care products, or pharmaceutical firms, according to the forms the judges filed in 2009 and 2010. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Clash of the Titans in Iran

December 27th 2010

Iran - Ali Khameini2

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has never been happy about the status of the Iranian presidency -- neither during his own tenure, from 1981-1989, nor during the terms of his three successors.
Tension between the president and the Supreme Leader is built into the Islamic Republic's core. The Supreme Leader has absolute authority and can veto decisions made by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. At the same time, the president emerges from an electoral process with an agenda and ambitions of his own. During a president's second term -- which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now begun -- the tensions inevitably emerge into public view.

Khamenei has never been willing to tolerate a president with a large independent power base. In the past, he clipped the wings of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had strong ties to the merchant class, and of Mohammad Khatami, a reformer whose support came from Westernized middle-class professionals. Though Ahmadinejad received the Supreme Leader's support in the face of large-scale protests against his re-election last year, Khamenei does not appear hesitant about limiting the president's power. Read more ..


Border War

Mexico at a Crosroads in Hyper-Violent Drug Wars

December 21st 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexico Drug War Casualty

In 2010, the cartel wars in Mexico have produced unprecedented levels of violence throughout the country.

No longer concentrated in just a few states, the violence has spread all across the northern tier of border states and along much of both the east and west coasts of Mexico. This year’s drug-related homicides have surpassed 11,000, an increase of more than 4,400 deaths from 2009 and more than double the death toll in 2008.

Cartel Dynamics

The high levels of violence seen in 2010 have been caused not only by long-term struggles such as the fight between the Sinaloa Federation and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization (also known as the Juarez cartel) for control of the Juarez smuggling corridor but also from the outbreak of new conflicts among various players in the cartel landscape. For example, simmering tensions between Los Zetas and their former partners in the Gulf cartel finally boiled over and quickly escalated into a bloody turf war along the U.S.-Tamaulipas state border. The conflict has even spread to states like Nuevo Leon, Hidalgo, and Tabasco and has given birth to an alliance between the Sinaloa Federation, the Gulf cartel and La Familia Michoacana (LFM) called the New Federation. Read more ..


Looting the Seas

The Bluefin's Corporate Food Chain

December 21st 2010

Economy - Bluefin tuna in a Tokyo Market
A slab of bluefin at Tsukiji market, Tokyo.

Mount Fuji rises across the bay from the 16th century port of Shimizu—a sight fit for a post card.

The town has seen better days—its businesses shuttered, fishing boats driven into bankruptcy, and the only department store closed. But the city’s core business—marine and overland trade—has assured its survival. Shimizu is the primary port of landing for tuna in Japan. Hundreds of tons of tuna arrive here daily from all over the world, but none has the allure of the giant Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, a fish that once caught is nurtured for months at sea ranches in the Mediterranean to increase its fat content—and its yen value. Once considered a low-class dish, today the Atlantic bluefin is favored by sushi eaters across Japan. A single large fish can fetch more than $100,000 at market. Read more ..


The Rocky Recovery

Wall Street Quietly Creates a New Way to Profit from Homeowner Distress

December 13th 2010

Economy - Tax Auction

When Florida retiree Gladys Walker fell behind in paying taxes on her modest Pompano Beach home, she had no idea one of America’s biggest banks and a major Wall Street hedge fund engaged in frenzied bidding for the right to collect her debt—all $768.25 of it.

“I just couldn’t come up with the money,” said Walker, 67, a former hotel worker who makes do on a monthly Social Security check.

Barely more than a year after a taxpayer bailout of major financial institutions, Bank of America and the hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group, spotted a fresh money-making opportunity—collecting the tax debts of tens of thousands of people like Walker. The bank and hedge fund can add interest charges and fees, and they bundled the debts as securities for investors. 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 ..


The Lobbying Edge

The Tobacco Lobby Goes Global

November 29th 2010

Economy - Child Smoking
A young girl, the daughter of farmers, smoking in Cambodia.
Credit: Jim Holmes/WHO

Multinational tobacco companies for years have been battered by politicians and lawyers in the United States and other developed nations like Australia and France. The global reputation of tobacco executives ranks near the bottom in public standing surveys. Market growth in the developed world has flattened out or declined. In the United States, the number of men who smoke dropped from 52 percent in 1965 to half that today. It appears to be so bad for the industry that one consulting group said selling tobacco represents “the worst operating environment in the world.”

No wonder. The industry’s product is the world’s single-largest preventable cause of death. Between 2005 and 2030, tobacco-related illnesses will claim as many as 176 million lives worldwide, according to the World Health Organization Read more ..


Looting the Seas

A Mediterranean Feeding Frenzy on Blue Fin

November 22nd 2010

Environment Topics - Tuna at Market

Cobblestone walkways line the quiet canals of Sète, a French community of 40,000 nestled along the Mediterranean about 85 miles west of Marseille. It is a picturesque place, bounded on one side by Mount Saint Clair and the other by the clear turquoise water of the sea. But there is more to this seemingly sleepy tourist town.

Anchored in the harbor are dozens of multimillion-euro fishing boats—vessels that comprise the world’s most productive tuna fishing fleet, with 36 vessels targeting the prized, and increasingly at risk, Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna. Fed by ravenous demand in Japan, Mediterranean fishing fleets—led by those in Sète—have fished out as much as 75 percent of the Eastern Atlantic bluefin. Half of the stock, say scientists, has disappeared during the past decade. Read more ..


Confronting the Farhud

When Arabs Massacred Jews Because they Sat While Praying

November 15th 2010

Book Covers - Farhud book

Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust. This article is drawn from his just released book, The Farhud, Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust (Dialog 2010). Buy it here

As Israelis and Palestinians struggle with a twenty-first century peace process, the world must face the forgotten history that was so pivotal in determining the present crisis. In many ways, a turning point was the day Arabs massacred Jews because they dared to sit at the Wailing Wall while praying. This simple act of prayer was so unacceptable to Arabs that it helped launch a worldwide crisis of hate that provoked a global Islamic jihad, forged an Arab-Nazi alliance during the Holocaust, and still echoes today.

The year was 1929. Jewish Palestine was still being settled by torrents of eastern European refugees. The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine included the provision for a Jewish Homeland. The Balfour Declaration, widely endorsed by many nations, was a matter of international law. But the Arabs in Palestine refused to co-exist with Jews in any way except as second-class dhimmis.

Islam had been at war with the Jewish people since its defining inception in 627 when Mohammad exterminated the Jews of Mecca and launched the Islamic Conquest that swept north and subsumed Syria-Palestina. For centuries, Jews and Christians in Arab lands were allowed to exist as dhimmis, second-class citizens with limited religious rights. These restrictions were enforced by the Turks who, until World War I, ruled the geographically undetermined region known as Palestine, which included Jerusalem.

When the Ottoman Empire fell, after World War I ended in 1918, the British were obligated by the Mandate to maintain the Turkish status quo at the Wailing Wall. Read more ..


Looting the Seas

The Black Market in Bluefin

November 8th 2010

Energy / Environment - nets for catching bluefin

Along the Mediterranean coast of France, in the city of Montpellier, prosecutors are quietly putting on trial an ancient French tradition—the fishing and trading of the majestic Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, a sushi delicacy sold in restaurants from New York to Tokyo. The still-secret proceedings accuse some of France’s most prominent fishing masters of illegally catching several hundred tons of the prized bluefin, a fish so severely plundered in the Mediterranean that this year it was proposed for listing as an endangered species alongside pandas.

Bluefin tuna is one of the sea’s most valuable species, a highly migratory fish that can weigh more than 500 kilograms and live 40 years. One large fish can fetch more than $100,000 in Japan, which consumes around 80 percent of the global bluefin catch. The widely hunted bluefin has also become a bellwether, the latest threatened species in a feeding frenzy that has seen the disappearance of as much as 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish. Read more ..


The Electoral Edge

Americans for Job Security: How a Shadow Group Hustles for Funds

November 1st 2010

Economy - Dollar Bills

Long-time GOP operative David Carney is hardly a household name like Karl Rove. But among Republican strategists and fundraisers in Washington D.C., Texas, and other states, Carney is well-known as an aggressive and controversial figure who periodically operates under the radar. Those qualities are also hallmarks of Americans for Job Security (AJS)—a shadowy advocacy group that Carney, who is in his early 50s, founded in 1997. The group has poured almost $9 million dollars into negative ads this year to help Congressional candidates, putting it in the top tier of GOP-allied groups attracting big donors who want to remain secret. Read more ..


Edge on Politics

How Political In-Action Committees Spend Your Money

October 26th 2010

Economy - Money Money Money

Jay Peters is a psychology instructor at a Durham, North Carolina, community college who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to conservative, Republican, and Libertarian causes over the past two decades. One repeated recipient of his generosity has been a political action committee (or PAC) founded and chaired by former presidential candidate Alan Keyes: Black America’s PAC (BAMPAC, for short). Peters made three contributions to the Washington-based group, expecting that his donations would be used to help elect conservatives to federal office.

BAMPAC had other ideas. Out of more than $2 million spent since the beginning of 2007, just $13,500 of money controlled by BAMPAC has gone to federal candidate contributions, with another $9,325 for state and local candidate donations. Combined, that amounts to a mere 1.14 percent of overall spending. Over the same period, the PAC’s president received almost $200,000 in salary payments—about 10 percent of the group’s spending. And almost all of the rest went to fundraising expenses and other overhead. Read more ..


The Edge of Safety

Sleep and Fatigue Endanger All Travel

October 18th 2010

Health/Medicine - airplanes shadows

Accidents happen in a matter of seconds.

An airplane pilot takes a moment too long to react in an emergency. A trucker who has been on the road all day wanders across the median. A train engineer is lulled to sleep by the isolation and monotony of the job and misses a signal.

It’s impossible to say how many accidents are caused by operators who are just too tired to do their jobs, in part because fatigue can’t be measured like the level of alcohol in a person’s system. But fatigue is frequently cited by investigators as a factor in accidents in the air, on the water and on railways and highways. Read more ..


Edge on Financial Crisis

Foreclosure Mills: The Story of America's Foreclosure Shenanigans

October 11th 2010

Economy - Foreclosure

The news about the nation’s foreclosure scandal has been coming fast and furious, driven by tales of backdated documents, false affidavits and “rocket dockets” that push families into the street.

A former employee with one of the nation’s largest lenders testifies that he signed off on 400 foreclosure documents a day without reading them or verifying the information in them was correct.

Ex-employees of a law firm that serves as a “foreclosure mill” for major lenders describe a workplace where speed—not accuracy or justice—trumps all. “Somebody would get a 76-day foreclosure,” one recalled, “and then someone else would say, ‘Oh, I can beat that!’”

Shocking stuff. But surprising? Not for anyone who’s been tracking the recent history of the mortgage machine. Just about every corner of the America’s mortgage industry has been blemished by significant levels of fraud over the past decade. Read more ..


Travel on the Edge

Travel Safety Recommendations Ignored for Years

October 4th 2010

Disaster - USAir ditch in Hudson

Americans are exposed every day to risks in highway, air, rail and water travel that could be reduced if federal regulatory agencies and states moved faster to carry out recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents and proposes ways to prevent them.

More than 710 people have died over the past 30 years in plane crashes in which ice built up on the wings of aircraft while the Federal Aviation Administration considered NTSB recommendations to reduce icing dangers. Read more ..


Lehman on the Edge

Lehman Brothers and Government Regulation: It Was the Least they Could Do

September 27th 2010

Crime Topics - Richard Fuld
Former Lehman CEO Richard Fuld

On September 1, former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld Jr. testified about the failure of his Wall Street firm, painting himself and his company as victims of “uncontrollable market forces” and unsympathetic government banking officials.

Afterward, The New York Times said the seemingly “tragic and solitary figure” had gained a “fairly sympathetic hearing” from the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission as he gave his version of the chaotic days before Lehman’s massive bankruptcy filing on Sept. 15, 2008 — two years ago. Read more ..


Mideast Peace

Hamas and the Peace Process--Internal Palestinian Tensions Roil

September 20th 2010

Palestine Topics - Hamas at Press Conference
Hamas leader Khaled Mashal

Unsurprisingly, the Hamas leadership—both in Gaza and Damascus, and less so in the West Bank—has greeted the resumption of direct Israeli–Palestinian talks with a flood of contrarian rhetoric. Characterizing the process as a “sellout” of the Palestinian “cause,” the movement argues that President Mahmoud Abbas lacks the necessary “mandate” to represent his people. Hamas leader Khaled Mashal went so far as to call Abbas “a zero,” amid accusations of “treason” and “betrayal.” The group has also issued fiery denunciations of the growing cooperation between Palestinian Authority (PA) security agencies and their Israeli counterparts. Read more ..


Edge on Terror

Electromagnetic Pulse Attack Debated--But Looms as Real Threat

September 13th 2010

Military - EMP

Over the past decade there has been an ongoing debate over the threat posed by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to modern civilization. This debate has been the most heated perhaps in the United States, where the commission appointed by Congress to assess the threat to the United States warned of the dangers posed by EMP in reports released in 2004 and 2008. The commission also called for a national commitment to address the EMP threat by hardening the national infrastructure.

There is little doubt that efforts by the United States to harden infrastructure against EMP — and its ability to manage critical infrastructure manually in the event of an EMP attack — have been eroded in recent decades as the Cold War ended and the threat of nuclear conflict with Russia lessened. This is also true of the U.S. military, which has spent little time contemplating such scenarios in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union. Read more ..


The War in Afghanistan

The Struggle to Monitor Iraqi and Afghani Subcontractors

September 6th 2010

Afghan Topics - Brit with Afghani Soldier

To win hearts and minds in Afghanistan and Iraq, military experts want U.S. companies to contract with local firms for a variety of tasks like trucking, feeding troops, and providing security. The U.S. government’s “Afghan First” and “Iraqi First” initiatives increasingly seek to rely on local contractors, often through subcontracts, in part to stimulate their local economies. But a host of investigations underscore the perils in the murky world of subcontracting with foreign firms, and the difficulties in making sure taxpayer dollars are well spent. Read more ..


Persian Gulf on the Edge

Iran Casts Dark and Threatening Shadows over Bahrain

August 30th 2010

Arab Topics - Bahrain riot

For nearly two weeks, the Persian Gulf island state of Bahrain has experienced near-daily disturbances following government arrests of opposition activists from the majority Shiite community. The timing of the arrests seemed geared toward preempting trouble in advance of the scheduled October 23 parliamentary and municipal elections, which minority Sunni parties and candidates are currently projected to win. The street violence and other incidents are of particular concern to the United States because Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command, whose mission is to "deter and counter disruptive countries" -- a wording likely aimed at Iran, which claimed the island as its territory prior to 1970.

Recent Violence

The most serious incident reported so far was an August 20 attack on an electric power installation. According to an official statement, the resultant outage "affected large areas," although power was reportedly restored within two hours. Other incidents have involved individuals setting tires alight, throwing Molotov cocktails, and attacking a pro-government newspaper editor. Read more ..


The Mortgage Meltdown

Some Foreclosure Rescue Scams Involve Lawyers, Mortgage Pros

August 23rd 2010

Economy - Foreclosure

Desperate U.S. homeowners facing foreclosure are being duped by con artists. The scammers employ a variety of schemes such as a “forensic mortgage loan audit” that promises to find errors in loan origination terms that will help the homeowner negotiate a loan modification or even cancel the loan, according to the Government Accountability Office. Many of the rescue schemes use telemarketing techniques and operate across state lines, making it difficult for local or state officials to prosecute. Some schemes were organized by former mortgage industry professionals or use the names of attorneys to add credibility or help them skirt state laws. California, for example, prohibits companies from charging advance fees but exempts licensed attorneys.

Other mortgage rescue schemes highlighted by the GAO:

  • Offers to negotiate new mortgage terms on behalf of a distressed homeowner for an up-front fee averaging around $3,000, then providing little or no help.
  • Convincing homeowners to transfer the deed of their home to save it from foreclosure. The scam artist, who promises to sell it back to the homeowner in the future, then has control of the property and can make money by either taking out a second loan on the home or selling it to someone else.
Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

What Would Happen in an All-Out Nuclear War?

August 16th 2010

Military - Atomic Mushroom Cloud

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and on August 9, 1945, dropped another on Nagasaki. Since then, neither the United States nor any other nation has ever used nuclear weapons in anger. The threat of nuclear war, however, has been omnipresent, and many scholars, government officials, and civilians discussed and thought about scenarios for a possible nuclear war during the Cold War.

The U.S. Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) published The Effects of War in 1979, which predicted the horrendous effects of a nuclear strike between the Soviet Union and the United States. Of course, the Soviet Union no longer exists, but the threat of a “limited” nuclear war breaking out somewhere in the world remains, between India and Pakistan for example. Read more ..


The New Iraq

How to Form a New Iraqi Government while U.S. Combat Forces Withdraw

August 9th 2010

Iraq - Iraqi Forces
Iraqi forces may soon be only forces on the ground

In an August 2 speech, President Obama confirmed that regardless of the status of government formation in Iraq, the U.S. military remained committed to the withdrawal of all combat forces by the month's end. Meanwhile, Iraq is still struggling to form a government in the long wake of the March elections, and the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan -- when much political and business life slows almost to a standstill -- begins next week. If an Iraqi government does not form fairly quickly after Ramadan ends in mid-September, Iraq's political scene may worsen, including an increased risk for violence. Ramadan has always existed in Iraqi and U.S. minds as a break point, when a new government may finally come together. Failure to make progress during the month is thus likely to elicit at least mild panic amongst politicians and the public. So how might the deadlock be broken?

Government Formation and Ramadan

The process of Iraqi government formation is stuck at its earliest stage. The first session of the new parliament opened on June 14 but failed to yield the election of a permanent speaker and deputies. In addition, a new president was not elected within one month of the parliament's first meeting (i.e., by July 14), amounting to a breach of a constitutional requirement. Once the president is finally elected by the parliament, he will be required, within the next fifteen days, to call upon the leader of the largest Iraqi political bloc (probably the largest postelectoral conglomeration of lists) to form and ratify a Council of Ministers by parliamentary majority in thirty days or fewer. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Rubashkin Judge Accused of Massive Conflict of Interest—Acted as Both Judge and Involved with Prosecutors, Attorneys Say

August 5th 2010

Jewish Topics - Sholom Rubashkin
Sholom Rubashkin

Chief District Judge Linda Reade both coordinated with prosecutors and acted as judge in the contentious conviction of Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse operator Sholom Rubashkin, according to internal federal documents and court filings obtained by this reporter. According to the documents, Judge Reade personally participated in many aspects of the raid and prosecution “game plan” nearly from its planning inception in October, 2007 some six months before the raid and long before the ultimate trial of Rubashkin before her. Her continuous week-to-week involvement in the organization of the raid and ultimate prosecution was not disclosed to defense counsel or a House Judiciary Sub-Committee during hearings on the matter. Ultimately, Judge Reade sentenced Rubashkin to 27 years imprisonment for financial crimes related to the original immigration case. That sentence was two years longer than requested by prosecutors and startled many legal experts as inexplicably harsh.

The revelations have caused Rubashkin’s attorneys, Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin of Washington D.C. and Guy Cook of Des Moines, to file emergency court papers this morning demanding a new trial and the immediate recusal of Judge Reade. While the motions have been filed in Judge Reade’s court, they ask her not even to rule on the motion and instead “to transfer this motion to another judge for determination” in order “to preserve public confidence in the impartiality of the judicial system.” Read more ..


Iran on the Edge

Iranian Re-Revolution--How the Green Movement Is Repeating Iranian History

August 2nd 2010

Iran - Iran Election Protest

On June 10, when the Iranian opposition movement cancelled its planned commemoration of the anniversary of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection, commentators assumed that the Green Movement was finally finished. For months, it had been criticized as lacking strong leadership and for being unable to seriously challenge Iran's entrenched regime.

But the history of political turmoil in twentieth-century Iran suggests that the movement may yet survive. After all, movements propelled by similar social currents have succeeded in dramatically changing Iran in the past.

Three periods of domestic political turbulence shook Iran in the last century -- the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-11, which for a time curbed royal power and led to the development of Iran's constitution; the Muhammed Mossadeq era of 1951-3, which temporarily ousted Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi; and the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which replaced the monarchy with clerical rule. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Exporting an Epidemic: A Global Asbestos Crisis

July 26th 2010

Health/Medicine - asbestos hazard

In Osasco, Brazil, an industrial city on the western flank of Sao Paulo, the past is buried beneath a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a Sam's Club at the intersection of Avenida MariaCampos and Avenida dos Autonomistas. Here the Eternit asbestos cement factory was shuttered in 1993 and demolished in 1995 after 54 years of operation. Here three generations of workers—pouring asbestos into giant mixers with cement, cellulose and water, emptying bags, cleaning machinery—were immersed in fiber-rich white dust, setting themselves up for diseases that would debilitate many of them in retirement and kill some of them in an excruciating fashion. Scores have died since the mid-1990s, at least 10 of mesothelioma, a rare malignancy that eats into the chest wall and dispatches its victims swiftly. Aldo Vincentin succumbed at age 66 in July 2008, only three months after his diagnosis. “They knew about the dangers of the materials and they didn’t protect my husband,” his widow, Giselia Gomes Vincentin, says of Eternit. “I think many people will still die.” Read more ..


After the BP Spill

Libya Positioned to Buy Major Stake in BP

July 19th 2010

Arab Topics - Muammar Qaddafi
Muammar al-Gaddafi

Just as the news for British Petroleum was getting brighter, with stocks soaring 6 percent higher after the temporary cap fell into place and sealed the leak into the Gulf of Mexico, news sources reported on a possible deal between the oil giant and the Libyan government that could end up in Libya’s owning a considerable stake in the oil company.

However, the story became even stickier for BP as the week ended. While its prices were at their disaster mode low, wealthy Libyan oil moguls were vying for a controlling stake in BP. Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya’s Nation Oil Co., with which BP is now doing business with, told Dow Jones Newswires that he will recommend investing in BP to the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Ghanem said in an interview, “BP is interesting now with the price lower by half and I still have trust in BP, I will recommend it to the [Libyan Investment Authority] … It’s a good opportunity for bargain hunters.” BP shares jumped 5 percent on the news out of Libya.

In addition, news on the street is that BP is now seeking increased Middle East investment as it guards against takeovers. European newspapers have reported that BP and the Kuwaiti Investment Authority are discussing increasing the Kuwaits’ existing 1.77 percent share in the company. BP CEO Tony Hayward recently flew to Abu Dhabi to meet Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Sheikh Mohammed is also the chairman of Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi government. Read more ..


The Political Edge

2010 Midterms Will Be Most Expensive In History With More Than $1 Billion In Play

July 12th 2010

Economy - Money Money Money

More than $1 billion has already been spent on the 2010 battle for Congress, which is expected to be the most expensive midterm election in history.

Interest groups riled up by the Obama administration's far-reaching legislative agenda of healthcare and Wall Street reform are pledging massive expenditures. Democratic strategists have been circulating a four-page memo that chronicles how Republican-leaning independent groups are set to spent $301.5 million this cycle.

Rich candidates are also fueling the political spending spree. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R) has already funneled $5.5 million from her personal fortune into her Senate campaign and in Florida billionaire Jeff Greene (D) is expected to do the same in his race for the Democratic Senate nomination.

“We fully expect this will be the most expensive midterm election ever in U.S. history,” said Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). “Not only do we expect it to exceed the high water mark set in 2006, but this could very well obliterate that number when all is said and done.” Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

UAE Ambassador Endorses Preemptive Bombing of Iran

July 7th 2010

Arab Topics - Youssef al Otaiba
Yousef al-Otaiba

In an extraordinary exchange, the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba explained his views – and fears – of a nuclear Iran.  Speaking on July 6, 2010 at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Ambassador expressed openly to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and The  Washington Times’ Eli Lake what other Arab diplomats usually say privately.

When Goldberg asked the Ambassador, “Do you want the U.S. to stop the Iranian nuclear program by force?” he responded candidly, "Absolutely, absolutely. I think we are at risk of an Iranian nuclear program far more than you are at risk. At 7,000 miles away, and with two oceans bordering you, an Iranian nuclear threat does not threaten the continental United States. It may threaten your assets in the region, it will threaten the peace process, it will threaten balance of power, it will threaten everything else, but it will not threaten you." Read more ..


The Edge of Economic Recovery

Democrats Now Warn of Double Dip after Downplaying Recession Threat

July 5th 2010

Economy - Out of Business

Democrats are starting to warn of major risks to the economy after months of downplaying the threat of a double-dip recession. In letters, interviews, and public statements, President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other senior Democrats are now raising red flags that the economy could falter without additional stimulus efforts.

Obama urged congressional leaders in mid-June to pass an extension of tax breaks and unemployment benefits, and up to $50 billion in aid for states and local governments. Without Congress acting, Obama said the economy could “slide backwards.” Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Targeting Re-Export Loopholes Give Teeth to Iranian Sanctions

June 28th 2010

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, Undersecretary of State William Burns and Undersecretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey laid out the administration's game plan for leveraging the sanctions mandate created by UN Security Council Resolution 1929, adopted earlier this month. Central to this strategy is "vigorous" implementation, in part through a monitoring committee. The resolution, Burns noted, includes "new platforms" and "new tools," including a tough cargo inspection regime to detect and prevent Iranian smuggling efforts aimed at circumventing the sanctions. Now that these measures have been passed, he emphasized, we "need to make the maximum use of them." One key area that would benefit from greater attention and enforcement is closing the re-export loopholes through which Iran has successfully evaded sanctions in the past.

Deceptive Trade Practices

Mirroring the Iranian banking sector's deceptive financial practices -- which the Treasury Department has studiously exposed over the past few years -- procurement agents, businesses, and transporters in Iran have developed a network of front companies and willing partners as a means of procuring controlled military and dual-use technologies. Some of these fronts are aware of the deception, while others are not. Read more ..


The Hamas Flotillas

Next Flotilla Crisis Sails from Lebanon with Hezbollah Woman's Brigade--Israel to Intercept

June 21st 2010

Israeli Military - Israeli Sub

The next flotilla crisis has set sail from Lebanon intent on confronting the Israeli Defense Forces and running the Gaza blockade. The ship, re-named ‘Mariam’ – the Arabic version of Mary, has been authorized to depart from a port in Lebanon. Originally called The Julia, the ship was renamed for this episode. The stated purpose of the organizers is to embarrass the Israelis by a confrontation with women sailing with large images of the Virgin Mary. The group's backers say they want to help expel "thieving Israelis" and "Jewish garbage" back to Europe.

Permission to sail was originally held up because Lebanese law prevents direct passage to Israeli waters; however, the ship pledged to sail first to Cyprus, so the trip was authorized by Beirut officials.

The group is comprised of Christian and Muslim women under purported Hezbollah aegis, funded by a major Hezbollah financier. Hezbollah banned Lebanese model and pop star Haifa Wehbe from boarding the female-only ship headed for Gaza, according to Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah on Friday. Hezbollah sources asserted, her “nudity … and immodest dress will harm the reputation of all women participating in the trip.” Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Saudis Reportedly Grant Israel a Narrow Corridor to Bomb Iran's Nuclear Facilities

June 14th 2010

Israeli Military - Israeli Jet

Saudi Arabia has made preparations to allow the over-flight of the Israeli air force in the case of an eventual bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

According to media reports, just days after the UN Security Council imposed new sanctions on the Islamic Republic, the oil kingdom of Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow Israel to utilize an essential corridor in its air space and thereby shorten the route for a raid on Iran. 

In order to allow the Israeli raid, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defense systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defenses will return to full alert.

The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way, according to US Defense Department sources, which averred that Saudi jets will not be scrambled and Israel’s will not be shot down. The US State Department is apparently in agreement, according to the Times of London, which covered the story in its weekend papers. Read more ..


Inside Iraq

Iraq Heads toward a Unity Government for Everyone and No One

June 7th 2010

Iraq - Iraqi Soldiers voting

Eleven weeks after the March 7, 2010, elections, Iraq appears to be headed toward a sprawling "unity" government that values stability and inclusiveness over efficiency or decisiveness. Despite being an arguably safer bet for Iraq at a delicate and dangerous moment, this approach will pose several challenges for U.S. policy in both the country and the region.

In the broad-based government currently emerging, almost everyone is a participant to some extent, but no one has signed onto an agreed manifesto that outlines how the government will operate. If the situation continues on this course, the new government will not be a meeting of equals. Rather, a subset of three political coalitions would form the government's core and hold the balance of votes in the cabinet. Read more ..


The BP Spill

Obama Administration Should Take Over BP in Gulf—A Company with a History of War and Government Intervention

May 31st 2010

Energy / Environment - Anglo-Oil BP Sign Change

This article is based research originally done for Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here


America’s unrelenting addiction to oil has compelled it to recklessly drill off its most pristine shores without an emergency plan. Now, the country’s territorial integrity is increasingly threatened while the Obama administration is essentially powerless to control the outcome and prioritize the response. This country’s government—state, local and federal--fights its own community fires, responds to its own natural disasters, and maintains its coastal defenses against all comers.

However, although oil spills incrementally equaling the Exxon Valdez spill occur annually--and have for decades--our nation has never developed its own response capability. By necessity, the legacy of neglect to this addictive oil supply means consigning those governmental responsibilities in the Gulf to a foreign company — BP.

Hence, the panoply of stoppage efforts are under the control BP, the video feeds are under the control of BP, the dispersants deployed are under the control BP, the clean-up efforts are under the control of BP, the estimates, progress, operational facts and figures are under the control of BP, and the communities are at the mercy of BP. Read more ..


The Edge of Lobbying

Five Lobbyists for Each Member of Congress on Financial Reforms

May 24th 2010

Economy - Financial reform now protest

More than 850 banks, hedge funds, companies, associations, and other organizations hired 3,000-plus lobbyists to work on the reform bills, according to an examination of lobbying disclosure data for all of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010. However, public outrage over Wall Street’s role in the 2007-09 financial meltdown blunted industry attempts to win loopholes in the measure now before the U.S. Senate.

Most of the big players in American business lobbying were active as regulatory reform proposals worked their way through Congress. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce deployed 85 lobbyists, including 49 hired from outside lobbying firms. Among financial services groups, the Securities Industry and Financial Market Association employed 54 lobbyists, including 37 from outside firms. The American Bankers Association deployed 53 lobbyists, the Business Roundtable 42, and the Mortgage Bankers Association 29, according to Center data.

In the financial services industry, some 175 companies and groups—ranging from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to CME Group Inc. to the Private Equity Council—hired lobbyists to try to weaken or eliminate reform proposals aimed at banks and the capital markets. A distant second was the energy and utilities sector, with 91 companies and organizations, followed by manufacturing with 66 firms. Read more ..


The BP Spill

Training Exercises Showed Gaps in Government Preparedness Before BP Oil Spill

May 17th 2010

Energy / Environment - Oil Spill Cleanup Crew

Over the last eight years, the U.S. government has conducted four major drills to prepare for a massive oil spill, the results of which foreshadowed many of the weaknesses in coordination, communication, expertise, and technology that have plagued the federal response to the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to interviews and after-action reports, the training exercises conducted in 2002, 2004, 2007, and just this past March caused federal officials to express concern about a host of issues. Most prominent among them:

  • coordination and communication between the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, especially involving the process for naming a National Incident Commander (NIC) to take charge of the crisis;
  • a slow or inaccurate flow of information from the industry, particularly caused by companies' desire to protect proprietary information and officials' tendency to exclude industry representatives from the government's command center; and
  • a lack of expertise and modern technology for closing a spewing oil well leak and containing a slick through controlled burns and dispersants.

Since then, the government has faced questions about why it took so long to declare the spill an emergency, why it didn’t use Pentagon planes sooner to spray dispersants and why it lacked a ready supply of specialized booms to contain and burn the growing oil slick. Read more ..



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