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Iran’s Nukes

Bunker Busters a Bust?

January 30th 2012

Military - MOP GBU57

In a bizarre development for a country whose military is routinely cited as the most advanced in the world, the United States is reportedly concerned that its bombs are not powerful enough to successfully attack Iran’s nuclear program.

A recent Wall Street Journal report revealed that the U.S. military establishment has concluded that its largest conventional bomb, the so-called “bunker buster” cannot effectively combat Iran’s defense tactics, which involve burying its nuclear facilities deep beneath the surface of the earth.

“The main concern,” YNet reports, “is Iran’s Fordow uranium enrichment site near the city of Qom. The facility … is located under a mountain.” Read more ..

Inside Latin America

China's Great Challenge to U.S. in Latin America

January 28th 2012

Brazil - Dilma Roussef and Hu Jintao
Meeting of Hu Jintao of China and Dilma Roussef of Brazil

Does China represent an economic and political threat to the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere? Four experts describe the playing field faced by the United States in Latin America, a region that has been traditionaly where the U.S. has exercised economic, commercial and military leadership.
Congressman Connie Mack Answers:

China’s economic expansion is rapidly filling spaces vacated and ignored by the United States. In the Western Hemisphere, the lack of a coherent U.S. foreign policy has left the door wide open for a variety of actors. China hasn’t hesitated. 

While the U.S. waited five years to pass free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, China has been working with Colombia on developing a coast-to-coast railroad as an alternative to the Panama Canal. While the U.S. spends four years dithering over the Keystone XL pipeline, a slam-dunk energy project with another hemispheric ally—Canada— China has made preparations to buy Canadian oil through new pipelines and invested heavily in national oil companies in Brazil and Venezuela. China has invested in Peru’s mining, oil, wood, fishing, and tourism sectors. Chinese groups have signed agreements in Brazil and Argentina to develop millions of acres of farmland to boost its food security. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Diplomatic Solutions to Removal of Assad Gain Momentum

January 27th 2012

Syrian Issues - Nakba Protests

President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address had much to say about the economy, but relatively little about foreign policy. Yet one line from that brief section stands out: “And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change can’t be reversed, and that human dignity can’t be denied.”

This sentence, which puts the United Stated firmly behind the demise of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, is all the more striking because it followed so closely upon the president’s description of Qadhafi as “gone.” Beyond the mere fact of singling out Syria’s government for such dishonorable mention, Obama’s statement used two very specific words that loom large in a context where every word reflected deliberate decision. First was his use of “soon,” indicating an assessment that Assad does not have much time left in power. Second was “regime,” indicating an official U.S. expectation that not just Assad personally but his whole ruling clique must also go. Read more ..

Mideast Peace on Edge

Palestinians Again Walk Out on Peace Talks

January 26th 2012

Palestine Topics - Mahmoud Abbas and father
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas

The Palestinians continued their long history of sabotaging peace talks on Wednesday, January 25, when they unilaterally declared recent negotiations in Amman a failure and walked out. Naturally, the Palestinians were quick to blame Israel for their own unwillingness to negotiate. Official Saeb Erekat, for example, made it clear that because Israel has not presented its position on the issue of borders with a Palestinian state, from the Palestinians' standpoint, the talks have ended.

Israel is in no way required at this stage to present such a position, nor was this a prerequisite for beginning talks. In the past, the issue of borders, being one of the most fraught and complicated problems facing the negotiators, has always been left to the final stages of negotiations. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who had previously claimed that the main problem was the lack of a settlement freeze, suddenly began using the same excuse as Erekat, telling Jordan's King Abdullah that the talks were over because Israel "refused to recognize the borders of a Palestinian state." Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

As The Brotherhood Takes Office Can we Keep Faith with the People?

January 26th 2012

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

The Egyptian Parliament re-opened this week with the Muslim Brotherhood in charge and the Salafists in second place. Googling liberals were far behind. It is not surprising as the vast majority of Egyptians are rural, poor, and religious, but since majority rule should never be confused with democracy, the Obama administration is in a tight spot. The U.S. wants western-style capitalism and free markets in a country that looks and acts like ours. The State Department appears to believe it is America's job to tell the Brotherhood what it wants and what it expects. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Deputy Secretary of State William Burns' meeting with the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi was, "an opportunity to reinforce U.S. expectations that Egypt's new government will support human rights, women's rights and religious tolerance and support Egypt's peace treaty with Israel." CNN reported that Burns' message was, "We want to work with your government. We want a meaningful partnership that fully accepts your government and we want to work with you on your primary goal, which is economic development as long as we feel you are building a democracy that respects human rights and freedom and supports regional peace."

Mr. Burns may believe that economic development should be the Brotherhood's "primary goal," and national survival may bring it to the top of the list right now, but the Muslim Brotherhood stands for the establishment of an Islamic society based on its understanding of God's requirements for man. Mr. Burns is likely to be disappointed when those requirements don't include universalized "human rights and freedom" or "regional peace" for Israel. Read more ..

The Edge of Food

Update on Global Food Commodities

Food - Rice bowl

Most countries have domestic agricultural industries. However, the majority of these countries do not produce more than what their populations can consume. Only a handful of countries are able to export significant quantities of key food staples to countries that cannot meet their consumption needs or experience temporary setbacks in their agricultural sectors.

Output from exporting countries is an important geopolitical issue. Increased demand for global food supplies can cause localized shortages and price spikes. Food shortages and price increases, in turn, can lead to political turmoil and social unrest in countries whose populations depend on these imports for survival. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

The Empires Strike Back

January 25th 2012

Turkish Topics - Turkish Flags

As Egyptians and Tunisians vote to replace ousted despots and the Syrian government teeters on the brink, two old imperial powers are competing to exert their political influence over Arab countries in upheaval. And they are not America and Russia. After years of cold-war competition over the Middle East and North Africa, it is now France and Turkey that are vying for lucrative business ties and the chance to mold a new generation of leaders in lands that they once controlled.

This rivalry is nothing new. Since Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, France and Turkey have competed for dominance in the Middle East. France's rise as a Mediterranean power has been an inverse function of Turkish decline around the same sea. As the Ottoman Empire gradually collapsed, France acquired Algeria, Tunisia and, temporarily, Egypt. The French took one final bite from the dying empire by securing control over Syria and Lebanon after World War I. Read more ..

Economy on Edge

Putting People Back to Work

January 25th 2012

Economy - Unemployment Line in California

What should be America’s top priority for 2012? For the more than 13 million out-of-work Americans, the answer is clear — it’s jobs. Unemployment has become a major constraint to growth and a contributor to our growing inequality of income. It represents a loss of tax revenues on the one hand and a cost of unemployment benefits on the other. Even more significant is the human toil: As breadwinners lose their job skills over time, they tend toward discouragement and depression, putting family stability at risk. That the U.S. jobless rate has fallen from 9 percent to 8.5 percent is good news. Yet almost half of those still without jobs are the long-term unemployed, jobless for 27 weeks or more. Recent surveys tell us that for each available job, there are at least four candidates. What can be done to get the unemployed back to work? Here are three ideas for the administration and Congress to consider in this new year.

Heal the economy. Getting us back on a growth track is the best way to create new jobs. While our bloated deficit must be reduced over the medium and long term through a combination of budget cuts and revenue increases, right now we need to encourage U.S. businesses to resume hiring. That will only happen when consumers resume spending — not through the corporate tax breaks and deregulation that some are proposing. History has shown that government stimulus can really work if it is targeted on job creation, especially in the public services (e.g., teachers and first-responders) and construction sectors. Read more ..

Inside the War on Narcotics

Mexico is Increasingly Polarized and More Violent as the Narco-War Continues

January 25th 2012

Mexican Topics - Spent cartridges Mexico

Mexico in 2010 bore witness to some 15,273 deaths in connection with the drug trade. The death toll for 2010 surpassed that of any previous year, and in doing so became the deadliest year ever in the country's fight against the cartels.

But in the bloody chronology that is Mexico's cartel war, 2010's time at the top may have been short-lived. Despite the Mexican government's efforts to curb cartel-related violence, the death toll for 2011 may have exceeded what had been an unprecedented number.

According to the Mexican government, cartel-related homicides claimed around 12,900 lives from January to September -- about 1,400 deaths per month. While this figure is lower than that of 2010, it does not account for the final quarter of 2011. The Mexican government has not yet released official statistics for the entire year, but if the monthly average held until year's end, the overall death toll for 2011 would reach 17,000. Though most estimates put the total below that, the actual number of homicides in Mexico is likely higher than what is officially reported. At the very least, although we do not have a final, official number -- and despite media reports to the contrary -- we can conclude that violence in Mexico did not decline substantially in 2011.


Broken Banking

Confusing and Paradoxical Political Treatment of International Financial Centers

January 25th 2012

Money - International Currency 3

The US government has for many years taken a deep interest in  international financial centers (IFCs), viewing them with stringent concern and alleging that tax evaders and fraudsters exploit this industry to the government’s detriment.  Congress held hearings on offshore tax evasion in the early 1960s and has continued to do so in recent years. Members of Congress, both in the Senate and House of Representatives, often criticize IFCs, routinely equating them with offshore tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions.

Estimates of lost corporate taxes through offshore loopholes can reach up to US$100 billion per year, with estimates of overall tax evasion through offshore schemes even higher.

Yet, it is commonly known that much of the corporate taxes lost through offshore loopholes are done through legal means. Transfer pricing, which can be described as a corporation creating an entity in an offshore jurisdiction with lower tax rates than that of the US, then transfering its profits to that jurisdiction, thereby lowering its US taxes, is in principle legal. General Electric for example, received much attention for its 2010 profits of US$14.2 billion without owing any US taxes. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Rules Against Coordination Between Super PACs, Candidates, Tough to Enforce

January 24th 2012

Politics - Superpacs
Courtesy: Opensecrets.org

Presidential front-runner Mitt Romney knows that he can’t talk to the people who run the notorious “super PAC” that may have won the Iowa caucuses for him.

“It's illegal, as you probably know. I'm not allowed to communicate with a super PAC in any way, shape or form,” he said in December on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show. “My goodness, if we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the Big House.”

Well, probably not. Criminal prosecution is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely — and even civil sanctions are rare, according to a review of Federal Election Commission actions. Since 1999, the FEC has conducted a total of three investigations into alleged coordination between a candidate committee and an individual or organization making “independent expenditures.” Two of those probes resulted in fines totaling $26,000, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision and a lower-court ruling in 2010 allowed corporations, individuals and labor unions to make unlimited contributions to independent organizations that use the money to support or defeat a candidate. The ruling led to the creation of “super PACs.”


The Defense Edge

Air Force Needs to Maintain Its Focus on the Nuclear Mission

January 24th 2012

Military - A Bomber

Since the end of the Cold War, the Air Force has struggled to maintain standards of excellence when fulfilling one of its most important missions: being prepared to respond to an adversarial nuclear attack. Recently, the Air Force has decided to move away from having one squadron of bombers dedicated solely to the nuclear mission. This shift increases a risk of failures in the future. Despite dedication of the service to its nuclear mission and an extraordinary performance of the members under complex changes in the strategic environment and declining nuclear and defense budgets after the end of the Cold War, the fulfillment of the mission has not been problem-free.

In 2006, the Air Force mistakenly sent four nose-cone fuses for intercontinental ballistic missiles to Taiwan. In 2007, the Air Force mistakenly carried six nuclear warheads on cruise missiles on a flight from North Dakota to Louisiana. These incidents prompted then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to set up a task force to look into the Air Force’s management of nuclear weapons and resulted in broad changes to improve oversight and management of the nuclear mission and inventory. Read more ..

Saudi Arabia on Edge

Saudi Arabia Simmers Even During an Arab Winter

January 24th 2012

Saudi Topics - Saudi Oil

In mid-December 2011, a series of sporadic protests erupted across Saudi Arabia, roughly nine months after the spontaneous outbreak of the “Day of Rage” rallies that ignited in the kingdom back in March 2011. The latest rallies, however, went largely unnoticed by international media. Far more headlines at the end of 2011 were devoted to the $30 billion arms deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia than to protests which, by some, were seen as seedlings of a Saudi version of the Arab Spring. Reports on the crackdown against the December protests largely originated from one source – Human Rights Watch – which reported that Saudi security forces arrested more than 100 protesters on December 16 and December 23, 2011, in Riyadh. The arrests illustrated a pattern of sporadic bursts of Arab Spring determination followed by methodical silencing.

Early in 2011, citizens across Saudi Arabia, regardless of class or sect, glued to international satellite channels, witnessed previously unthinkable yet successful revolutions taking place in Tunisia and Egypt and another revving up in the nearby monarchy of Bahrain. To many of them, it looked as if the Arab Spring was moving on their kingdom. Inspired, hundreds of Saudis took to the streets on March 11, 2011 – some pleading for more rights, some for free elections and others for a constitutional monarchy. A handful even demanded an end to the rule of the Saud dynasty. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Ahmadinejad Visits the Countries of the Bolivarian Alliance

January 22nd 2012

Venezuela Topics - Chavez and Ahmadinejad

Now that it is known that Iran is moving ever closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon, the United States is targeting sanctions against the Iranian Central Bank. Likewise, the European Union is moving in the direction of imposing an effective oil embargo on Iran. These sanctions are apparently having a more dire effect on Iran’s economy as evidenced by their threat to close the Straits of Hormuz. If anything the Iranian government’s animus towards the West and towards the U.S and Israel has grown exponentially as Iran sees these two countries as the principals in trying to thwart their nuclear ambitions.

Thus, in order to inflict harm and better position itself against any possible hostile US action, Iran has been seeking allies in the U.S sphere of influence: namely the Western Hemisphere. President Ahmadinejad has found no better friend or ally than Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Read more ..

The Arab Fall

The Middle East in 2012: The Year of Living Dangerously

January 20th 2012

Islamic Topics - Egyptian Muslim bros

The region-wide upheaval known as “the Arab Spring” would make it seem that terrorism, especially Islamist terrorism, is pretty much as dead as are its thousands of victims. After all, if the protest demonstration and balloting have proven able to resolve grievances then who needs to blow people up? And the same applies to intimidation and instability since presumably people vote, a government is elected, and democracy immediately enues. But the Middle East is far from through with violence. Where should we look in 2012 for the greatest threats of terrorism and what will be the targets? If we think this through in advance we can better plan to avoid or minimize these problems.

Let’s start with Egypt. If the military refused to move forward with elections or turn power over to the winners (that is, the Islamists) there would be a violent response. And that’s one of the reasons why this is unlikely to happen. The moderates are not going to engage in violence, which is one reason the military feels free to repress them. The problem of crime and general anarchy has already become very serious. Yet political violence in Egypt is very likely and it will come mainly from the Salafists. Remember that there are numerous groups and leaders, even within the al-Nur party which has done so well in the elections. Some radical Salafists will not be satisfied with the pace of progress (regress?) toward Islamism. They will target Christians, liberals, secularists, women demanding rights, tourists, and Israel.  Continuing attacks on Christians are inevitable, with the goal of forcing them to submit or encouraging them to flee. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrrorism

A Hezbollah Crack-up?

January 17th 2012

Palestine Topics - Hassan Nasrallah

Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, wants out. Things have gotten so tense for Hezbollah, says Lokman Slim, an independent Lebanese Shiite activist, that according to well-sourced accounts of a meeting two weeks ago, Nasrallah "complained he no longer wanted the job." 

It's hard to blame him. A figure once revered by Arabs for his (relative) success against Israel, Nasrallah is now tainted in the Sunni-majority Middle East by his association with a Syrian regime that has been slaughtering its Sunni opponents. More to the point, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that Hezbollah's patron in Damascus will survive the uprising. Some Lebanese observers are even wondering if the clerical regime in Iran, Hezbollah's main sponsor, will survive. With mounting pressure in the form of U.S. and EU sanctions, a devalued currency, a secret war waged, it seems, by the Americans, Israelis, and perhaps internal adversaries, the Iranians are reduced to making threats—like closing the Strait of Hormuz—that if acted upon could spell the regime's demise. Read more ..

Edge of the Border

Both the U.S. and Mexico face Grassroots Movements and Political End Times

January 17th 2012

Social Topics - Occupy Los Angeles homies

It's full-tilt political boogie in the US and Mexico. Media in both nations are saturated with interviews, profiles and satires of the candidates. Cable blasts virtually nonstop news of the Republican primaries and the ones for president and Mexico City mayor south of the border. In 2012 the neighboring countries will experience national, local and state elections in extraordinary times. In the year 2000, the last time major US and Mexican elections coincided, the results led to jarring and even unimaginable events in both countries.

For the US, the elections take place amid an uneven economic recovery, the historic erosion of the middle class, the clash between austerity and social safety net politics and the sharpening contradictions between the costs of projecting military power abroad while satisfying growing needs at home. Dramatized by foreign policy critic Ron Paul’s showing in early Republican primaries, some of these issues are even gaining traction on the right. As in Mexico, a new year’s gush of gasoline price hikes and other rises in the cost of living greeted the populace. Welcome to the Cost of January. Maybe the end of the Mayan calendar later this year augurs big surprises, after all. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

British Newspaper Publishes Detailed Account of Alleged Mossad Assassination of Iranian Nuke scientist

January 16th 2012

Iran - Car carrying Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan

A British newspaper has published an article, purporting to be the testimony of an Israeli source, describing the assassination last week of Ahmadi Roshan, an Iranian nuclear scientist, as a Mossad hit.

The UK Sunday Times, which has published alleged exposes of Israeli covert activities before, wrote that "It was a classic assassination mission for Israel." According to YNet, the Times then proceeded to give a detailed, play-by-play account of the assassination itself. Israeli Mossad agents gathered in small groups to observe key locations across Tehran. The agents monitored Roshan's every move from an improvised control room in a safe house nearby. Just before 8 am, an Israeli observer reported the objective had left via an intercepted message. Then the assassins' commander made the final decision, telling agents who were standing by with a motorcycle in a hidden garage to "go."

At around 8:20 am, the agents tracked down the scientist's car, The Sunday Times reported. The masked man made sure the passenger was in fact Roshan before proceeding to attach a magnetic bomb to the vehicle, intended primarily to injure Roshan. Nine seconds later an explosion was heard. The scientist was killed instantly. The driver was badly injured and died in the hospital later that day. Read more ..

Israel and Arabs on Edge

Differences Within Parties -- Not Just Between Them

January 16th 2012

Palestine Topics - Prime Minister Salam Fayyad  and PA President Mahmoud Abbas
PM Salam Fayyad  and PA Pres. Mahmoud Abbas and other PA leaders

After 16 months of no negotiations, Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Amman last week and again this week. Yet, the question remains whether these talks represent a new opening or if they are merely a tactical instrument for each side to perpetuate recriminations?

If it is only about tactics, these talks will enable the Palestinians to rebut the Israeli claim regarding the Quartet's 90-day clock for both sides to present a map on borders and security because there are no direct meetings between Israel and the Palestinians. On the other hand, should the Palestinians walk away from the table, this will enable the Israelis to repeat what they have always said, namely that the Palestinians' refusal to stay at the negotiating table is the source of the impasse.

The idea of talks having only tactical value or something more meaningful depends on a deeper question. At the core, there are internal policy debates within both Israeli and Palestinian policy circles on the value of making any concessions to each other when each side is absolutely certain that no territorial breakthrough will occur during 2012. These quiet domestic debates occur within Palestinian and Israeli policy circles, and not just between them. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Can Jack Lew Do for Obama What AmeriCorps Did for Clinton?

January 13th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Jacob Lew

When the son of an Israeli Irgun member, left the White House to run for mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel left a void not quite filled by his replacement Bill Daley.  In many respects Daley was not able to fill the shoes for the President.  He could not get the respect of those he needed on the Hill and even within the Administration to be an effective advocate for Mr. Obama.  So when Daley seemingly abruptly resigned this week, there was no hesitation before New Yorker, and perennial Washington insider Jack Lew, and someone identified as an Orthodox Jew, was called on to step in.

Lew makes for an interesting choice for Mr. Obama, as he is one who has the respect of both sides.  He comes with impressive credentials stemming from his days working for Democratic Congressman Joe Moakley and the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill.  More recently, he was an executive at Citicorp where he ran a group that made alternative investments, such as hedge funds, credit swaps and other creative financial mechanisms that people such as the President say has hurt the economy. 

Lew served as Clinton's Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and also served as a member of the National Security Council.  A feature that might be helpful for Mr. Obama is that while at OMB, the U.S. budget saw a surplus for three years in a row.

Lew is an accomplished man with good intution, and he understands budgets and fiscal prudence. Maybe that’s why he was chosen. Going into what may be a harsh re-election campaign, Mr. Obama may be seeking to bolster his credibility among those who feel he has not done a good job on the economic front. As someone who designed Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps, a program that helped and continues to create jobs, opportunity, hope and civic pride, perhaps Lew was brought in to develop the next best thing for a struggling administration. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

A Chance for Guatemala to Produce Effective Progress towards Good Governance

January 11th 2012

Latin American Topics - Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala
Guatemalan president-elect Otto Perez Molina

In a rare push to promote indigenous rights in his country, outgoing Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom promised during his campaign to create a government that would seek to unite the ethnically and culturally diverse nation. Following his 2007 electoral victory, he announced, “My objective is to convert Guatemala into a social-democratic country with a Mayan face, with a corn tamale scent, and with the natural beauty that God gave us. It will be a pure Guatemalan social democracy that strengthens the nation’s unity and identity.”

But the level of violence in Guatemala has since suffocated such rhetoric; the country today has the seventh highest rate of violent deaths in the world. In what will undoubtedly be a dramatic political shift from moderate left to hard right, Otto Pérez Molina will take over as president on January 14, 2012. The new administration can either keep up with the progress being made on peacemaking and reconciliation in the areas of indigenous and human rights or all but dismiss the issue as it tackles Guatemala’s notorious security problem. Read more ..

Edge on The Caribbean

Renowned attorney Announces Presidential Bid and offers Road to Rule of Law for Dominican Republic

January 11th 2012

Latin American Topics - Guillermo Moreno Garcia

Guillermo Moreno García, who served as Attorney General of the Dominican Republic from 1996 to 1997, also was a presidential candidate for the Movement for Independence, Unity and Change (Movimiento Independencia, Unidad y Cambio – MIUCA) during the country’s 2008 elections. After his defeat in those elections, Moreno García created his own leftist party, Alianza País, and will run for the presidency again in the upcoming 2012 elections. His supporters hope that his various accomplishments will cast his candidacy in a positive light and raise his popularity.

Perhaps one of Moreno García’s most noticeable achievements was his involvement in the Orlando Martínez case. A famed Dominican journalist, Orlando Martínez Howley was killed on March 17, 1975 during the rule of former President Joaquín Balaguer (1960-1962, 1966-1978, 1986-1996). This president’s second term became known as the “12 years of Balaguer,” a very dark era in Dominican history due to Balaguer’s totalitarian inclinations. Orlando Martínez Howley was just one of hundreds of young people killed or “disappeared” during this period. Although General Joaquín Pou Castro participated in this violent crime against Martínez, neither he nor the other involved perpetrators were persecuted at the time. In fact, justice began to be acheived only when Dominican Republic opinion forced Balaguer to jail the murderers. But in a matter of weeks, the government released the detainees and even promoted them. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Assessing Obama’s Africa Policy, Looking at 2012 and Beyond

January 11th 2012

Africa Topics - Obama in Africa

The Washington-based Brookings Institution said Africa, to benefit from development opportunities in 2012, must prioritize regional integration efforts and manage a growing youth population. The public policy organization said the continent will have to increase the profile of organizations, such as the African Union, to sustain advancements in public health and increase the African voice in global governance. Wednesday, the group’s Africa Growth Initiative hosts a discussion to identify top priorities for Africa for the coming year and beyond.

Senior Fellow Mwangi Kimenyi, director of the Africa Growth Initiative, said, if re-elected in November, President Barack Obama must take a pro-active policy position that encourages more engagement with Africa. “What we are seeing is sort of what we may call a decline of the United States in Africa because it is being edged out slowly by China, Brazil, Russia, and others.  And so, we would like to see President Obama take a very pro-active policy position with regards to Africa,” he said. Kimenyi said Obama, in his first term, maintained funding for programs initiated and promoted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, including HIV and AIDS treatment and research funding. He also said while the president introduced his own initiatives, such as the Feed the Future program and the Global Climate Initiative, such initiatives are small in scale and scope. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

US Leadership Needed as Iranian President Ahmadinejad courts Latin American Leftists

January 10th 2012

Venezuela Topics - Chavez and Ahmadinejad
Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez and Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

President Barack Obama’s authorization of the expulsion of the Venezuelan consul general from that country’s consulate office has further deteriorated relations between the two countries. Although the Obama administration has not been explicit as to the reason for the expulsion, the action is within Washington’s legal right. This decision makes it even more apparent that Washington is unwilling or unable to implement policies that will constructively influence Latin America.

The White House’s latest decision displays the hard truth that President Obama’s approach is to deal with left-leaning hemispheric regimes with a hard-line political agenda of ridicule rather than through constructive policy-making in the region. His administration’s attitude seems to be that no hemispheric issue has the potential to be a compelling factor in the next US presidential election. However, votes could be picked up from rightist exile groups coming from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela among other disaffected conservatives, who hold passionate thoughts on their personal political agendas. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

On Budget, Santorum Looks to Out-Cut Them All

January 9th 2012

Politics - Santorum
Rick Santorum

Republican White House hopeful Rick Santorum is proposing cuts to the federal budget that are firmly to the right of Republicans in Congress and his rivals for the GOP nomination. Santorum’s goal of cutting $5 trillion in federal spending over five years exceeds any budget-cutting proposal put forward by the congressional GOP. He would cut federal spending faster and deeper than the budget plans from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the conservative House Republican Study Committee. The cuts in Santorum’s budget even trump Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has proposed eliminating four Cabinet departments.

The House-passed 2012 GOP budget would cut spending by over $1 trillion over five years, while the RSC would cut it by $2.3 trillion and Paul’s would cut it by $3 trillion, when compared to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) baseline. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, has tried to distinguish himself from his rivals for the GOP nomination with his budget plan. But the approach also carries political risks, as his plan would almost certainly require immediate benefit cuts for current retirees, leaving him vulnerable to charges that he would destroy the safety net for seniors.

Mitt Romney, who beat Santorum in the Iowa caucuses by only eight votes, has said he supports a “cut, cap and balance” plan that would bring spending down to 20 percent of the economy from the current 24 percent.
This plan puts him in line with the numbers in the House-passed budget, which was the basis of the House’s “cut, cap and balance” bill this summer. The House budget gets to 20 percent over 10 years by cutting $5 trillion. Candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is also polling strongly in the GOP race, has released a full budget proposal that would eliminate five Cabinet departments, but that four-year plan would rack up only $4.1 trillion in cuts by 2016, compared to the CBO baseline. Read more ..

Research News

Americans Say R&D Essential to Reviving America

January 9th 2012

Science - Research and Development Chemistry

The new edition of America Speaks, a compilation of public opinion polls commissioned by Research!America, demonstrates increasing public support for research and innovation to improve health, create jobs and boost the economy. However, nearly 60% of Americans don't believe we are making enough progress in medical research, and 54% don't believe the U.S. has the best health care system in the world.

These polls reveal notable themes in Americans' views on health research and the country's global competitiveness. For example, 77% agree that the U.S. is losing its competitive edge in science, technology and innovation.

Despite these findings, many Americans (86%) believe that advances in science have benefited society and have helped make life easier for most people. A vast majority (91%) also believe that research and development are important to their state's economy. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Presidential Candidates Outspending Super PACs

January 8th 2012

Politics - mitt romney

The “super PACs” backing various presidential contenders spent at least $12.9 million last year to help their favorite White House hopefuls — that’s a lot, but it represents only a fraction of the amount spent by the candidates themselves.

Through the end of last September, the campaigns of Democratic President Barack Obama and Republicans Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Fred Karger, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Buddy  Roemer, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain combined amounted to $74 million.

That’s according to an analysis of campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics. Read more ..

Inside South America

Whither the Latin American Left in View of Ailing Chavez of Venezuela

January 7th 2012

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez sick
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez spent a long absence from his country in Cuba earlier last year, opponents and sympathizers alike wondered about his future as his nation’s undisputed commander in chief. But mounting speculations about the exact nature and implications of his ailment proliferated. Later, it began to circulate that Chávez was suffering from an advanced case of colon cancer after information was made public by the Spanish media. After his health circumstances became known, Chávez pledged to the nation that he would continue ruling Venezuela “until 2031.” In fact, he boasted that he would consider the years between 2020 and 2030 to be his “golden decade.”

The question now is whether Chávez was just being waggish or whether he realizes that his ultimate fate is not necessarily in his hands. Many experts are asking whether Chávez’s health will permit him to keep the Bolivarian Revolution nimble, with some arguing that Chávez won’t be able to accomplish all of his visions. This is because he may have “only…two years to live,” and he may be physically unable to run for the presidency, possibly even for the 2012 electoral cycle.

Indeed, Chávez’s current health condition has fostered many questions about the expectations of his left-leaning constituency in Venezuela, a cohort that already has presented some socioeconomic problems to his leadership within the country’s widely accepted ideological bounds, some of these had helped spawn no shortage of previous diplomatic blunders and triumphs abroad. The country’s traditional concerns for the poor have centered on whether the delivery of promised benefits would continue rather than be aborted by a precipitous oil earnings. Nevertheless, a rabidly anti-Chávez Wall Street Journal, insisted that his cure for Venezuela’s past and current maladies has always been for Chávez to “deepen the socialist revolution: socialism, socialism and more socialism. We have to deepen the struggle and defeat the vices of the past that still persist among us: violence, insecurity, corruption, selfishness, individualism.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Santorum Looks for Staying Power

January 6th 2012

Politics - Santorum
Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum’s near victory in Iowa has bought his campaign a second look. Now he must prove he’s not Mike Huckabee 2.0. Like the former Arkansas governor who emerged unexpectedly from the political backwoods to trounce the establishment candidates in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, Santorum has both serendipitous timing and the strength of the evangelical movement to thank for his dead-heat finish opposite Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s caucuses. But if Santorum has his way, the parallels will stop there.

Huckabee finished a distant third in New Hampshire’s primary with only 11 percent, and eventually faded from the race. The former governor was unable to score strong results outside the conservative Iowa caucuses and the South as he battled Romney and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who went on to become the eventual GOP nominee. Santorum, a two-term senator from blue-state Pennsylvania, thinks he’s different.

Eager to stave off misgivings that his appeal is as limited as Huckabee’s was four years ago, Santorum in a victory speech in Iowa used his earlier Rust Belt victories as proof positive that voters of all stripes will gravitate to his working-class message. “If we have someone who can go out to western Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and Indiana and Wisconsin and Iowa and Missouri, and appeal to the voters that have been left behind by a Democratic Party that wants to make them dependent instead of valuing their work, we will win this election,” Santorum told supporters on Tuesday while the last of the caucus votes were still being tallied. It was a reminder to a national audience now paying attention to Santorum that he won races in Pennsylvania territory that was inauspicious for a Republican — and won by sizable margins. To prove he has staying power, and to establish a feasible path to the nomination, Santorum will have to have to prove he can assemble a solid ground game in states where he has spent far less time, and with far fewer resources, than Romney. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Wealth of Tea Party House Members Exceeds that of other Republicans

January 5th 2012

America Themes - Tea Party Caucus
House Tea Party Caucus

Their politics may differ. But both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement have laid claim to representing the interests of the middle class, whose economic frustrations helped spur the groups' establishment and growth.

So which side's congressional lawmakers come closest to embodying that wide swath of the U.S. population? Or, in Occupy terms, which side is closer to the 99 percent?

Neither the members of the House Tea Party Caucus nor those of the House Progressive Caucus -- whose views most closely align with the Occupy Wall Street movement -- are remotely middle class, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics of congressional personal financial disclosure forms covering 2010, the most recently available data. The members of the House Tea Party Caucus are especially wealthy, the Center's research shows. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Gallup: Republican Race 'Most Volatile' Since Polling Started

January 4th 2012

Politics - Voting

The lead for the GOP presidential nomination has changed seven times says a new Gallup poll report which calls the Republican race the "most volatile for the GOP since the advent of polling." The Gallup report says this is the first time since 1964 where the GOP front-runner spot has seen so many changes. Gallup counts four front-runners and seven lead changes since polling began in May with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry all holding front-runner status at different stages in the contest. Gallup adds that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin both tied current front-runner Mitt Romney for the lead at early stages of the race. Both Huckabee and Palin however eventually declined to run for the nomination.

Looking for historical parallels, Gallup says the current GOP race most resembles the Democratic race for the 2004 nomination when Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle all took turns as the front-runner. In that race, the holder of the Democratic top spot changed nine times throughout Gallup's 2003 polling. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

‘Super PACs’ Spend $13 Million on Early Primaries, Romney Top Beneficiary

January 3rd 2012

Money - US Paper Money

New outside spending groups, dubbed super PACs, that can accept unlimited donations from corporations and wealthy individuals, spent $12.9 million in Iowa and other early GOP battleground states through New Year’s Day, according to an analysis of federal data. The top beneficiary was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. A total of $4.6 million was spent to help the nominal front-runner, the vast majority for ads torpedoing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Second was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who benefited from $3.7 million in outside spending.

According to analysis of Federal Election Commission data,12 outside super PACs spent money, mostly on advertising, with the intention of electing or defeating a GOP presidential candidate. Ten have not yet reported their donors. The two that have did so last summer. The upshot is that voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, all of whose contests will be held this month, won’t know who is paying for much of the advertising they see until after their votes are cast. The next reports on donors aren’t due until January 31, the day of the Florida primary. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Obama – Good for Israel, Even for Those who Don’t Think He Is

January 1st 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama AIPAC

For anyone who may have not been paying attention lately, President Barack Obama has been making greater attempts to demonstrate just how dedicated he is to Israel and therefore, for Jews in America.  The debate rages on as to whether Obama has been the best or the worst president for Jews as far as Israel is concerned, and in this election year we can be assured of one certainty; both sides will make the claim that benefits their own candidate for the White House, but what is the true and what is hyperbole?

To best answer the question, first we need to separate how good Obama is for the Jews versus how good he might be for Israel.  The two need to be divided, as without Israel Jews have little else to set themselves apart as Americans and voters as any religious group or any national group within our union.

Jews, like Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Moslems and all others, want religious freedoms. As a community, Jews seek social justice just as many advocate groups do, advocating for laws regarding welfare, education, and similar matters.


The 2012

Unlimited Presidential Fundraising: The Curse Of Steve Forbes

December 31st 2011

Money - Dollar Bills

It all started with Steve Forbes. Up until 1996, there were practical restraints on fundraising for a presidential race. In the primaries, the Federal Election Commission provided matching funds to candidates if they stuck to spending limits, both per-state and overall. Any candidate who wanted an influx of public funding had to limit the outflow, too.

In the general election, each major party's nominee took public funding with the proviso that he couldn't raise any money on his own. Sounds like a good deal, but the candidates haven't always been happy about it. They felt hamstrung by the spending limits in small but important early-voting states as well as the overall primary spending restrictions. Still, as recently as 1996, Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican Bob Dole ran for president while raising a mere $35 million each in campaign contributions. However, during the same election, Forbes refused matching funds so he could reach into his very deep pockets during the GOP primary. The billionaire put more than $37 million of his own money into his campaign. Read more ..

China and Latin America

China Seeks to Drive the Industrialization of Latin America

December 31st 2011

Latin American Topics - ollanta humala peru
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala speaks at China/Latinamerican Summit

On November 21, the Peruvian capital, hosted the fifth China – Latin America Summit, in which for two days were discussed a roster of urgent topics involved in order to achieve further development in terms of commerce and trade between China (PRC) and Latin America.  The Summit was attended by over a thousand business leaders and public officials from the PRC and from all of the Latin American countries.  Since the world financial crisis of 2008, Chinese corporations have devoted special attention to diversify their investment potential throughout South America in particular.
According to Mr. Zhang Wei, the Vice President of the Chinese Council of International Trade Promotion (CCPIT), in 2010 China and Latin America, reached record levels of USD 183 billion in inter-regional trade and commerce.  In the coming years, Chinese business hope to have a wider grasp and a more comprehensive investment expansion strategy in high production areas such as energy, infrastructure, mining and telecommunications.  It is believed that with the help of this year’s end gathering, Chinese business activists will reach a record level of their investments thrust, with growth pointed at an upwards of USD 22.7 billion.  Read more ..

Broken Banking

Whistleblowers Ignored, Punished by Lenders, Dozens of Former Employees Say

December 29th 2011

Finance - Wells Fargo

Darcy Parmer ran into trouble soon after she started her job as a fraud analyst at Wells Fargo Bank. Her bosses, she later claimed, were upset that she was, well, finding fraud. Company officials, she alleged in a lawsuit, berated her for reporting that sales staffers were pushing through mortgage deals based on made-up borrower incomes and other distortions, telling her that she didn’t “see the big picture” and that “it is not your job to fix Wells Fargo.” Management, she claimed, ordered her to stop contacting the company’s ethics hotline. In the end, she said, Wells Fargo forced her out of her job.

Parmer isn’t alone in claiming she was punished for objecting to fraud in the midst of the nation’s home-loan boom. iWatch News has identified 63 former employees at 20 financial institutions who say they were fired or demoted for reporting fraud or refusing to commit fraud. Their stories were disclosed in whistleblower claims with the U.S. Department of Labor or court documents. “We did our jobs. We had integrity,” said Ed Parker, former fraud investigations manager at now-defunct Ameriquest Mortgage Co., a leading subprime lender. “But we were not welcome because we affected the bottom line.” Read more ..

Inside Washington

Hollywood, Pro-Israel lobby, Unions Seek Exemptions from Ban on Lobbyist Gifts

December 29th 2011

Money - US Paper Money

Associations representing Hollywood studios and the pro-Israel lobby are among the powerful Washington groups seeking exemptions from a new ethics rule prohibiting federal workers from attending events sponsored by lobbyists.

The proposed rule takes aim at Washington’s influence industry by prohibiting all federal workers—career and political appointees of the executive branch—from going to widely attended gatherings sponsored by lobbyists or groups registered to lobby. In addition, they wouldn’t be able to accept social invitations or small gifts from those on K Street.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) argued that the rule could prevent federal workers from attending its movie screenings, while the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) argued it could keep people from visiting its popular annual meeting. A major union for public workers argued that unions should be exempt because the law would otherwise depress union membership. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

White House Casts Obama as Warrior for the Middle Class

December 29th 2011

Presidential - Obama Campaign 2012

President Obama’s latest makeover casts himself as a middle class warrior, a campaign theme his team thinks will resonate with voters in 2012.

After struggling to find a winning message, Obama has amped up his role as defender of the middle class and been rewarded with his highest bounce in the polls in months.

Just this week, for example, a Gallup poll revealed that more people viewed him favorably than unfavorably for the first time since July.

Observers say it’s no coincidence, crediting Obama’s sharpened populist pitch-- where he unveiled the American Jobs Act and stood his ground during the payroll tax extension stalemate – as a major part of his spike in popularity.

To be sure, congressional Republicans who bickered and botched that end-of-year debate deserve some credit for the president’s bounce. Read more ..

Inside Brazil

Brazil Surpasses Britain as Sixth-Largest Economy in the World

December 29th 2011

Brazil - Brazil slum baby

A leading economic research group says Brazil has overtaken Britain as the world's sixth-largest economy. The London-based Center for Economics and Business Research says Britain lost out to the South American country in 2011 and will likely slide further as faster-growing economies such as Russia and India surge ahead.

After a tough recession and a banking crash, Great Britain has fallen to 7th place, behind larger and faster-growing Brazil. The South American country expanded at a three percent rate in 2011 and is projected to grow five percent in 2012. Economist Armando Castelar says the new ranking is unimportant, but he adds it is a confidence builder for Brazil. "The position is more about statistics than economics," he says.  "The economy is what really matters.  "But," he adds, "it has a psychological effect that helps with attracting investments," Castelar said. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Hamas Says Talks are Just a Stage to Total Step-by-Step Israeli Destruction

December 28th 2011

Palestine Topics - Abbas Haniyeh

At a ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh said that Hamas may work for the “interim objective of liberation of Gaza, the West Bank, or Jerusalem,” but that this “interim objective” and “reconciliation” with Fatah will not change Hamas’s long-term “strategic” goal of eliminating all of Israel:

“The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers [Israel] … We won’t relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine.”

In his speech, Haniyeh also promised that Hamas will “lead Intifada after Intifada until we liberate Palestine—all of Palestine, Allah willing. Allah Akbar and praise Allah.” Read more ..

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