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Israel on Edge

“Nakba Day” is Just the Beginning

May 18th 2011

Syrian Issues - Nakba Protests

May 15th’s events on the northern border caught IDF off guard, and Israel must learn lessons quickly, ahead of September.

Events that involve enraged masses have a dynamic of their own, especially in the Middle East. They are akin to molten lava, shot out from the belly of a volcano with unexpected force and a destination unknown.

This is what Sunday’s “Nakba Day” events—that even the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Lebanon never intended to see spin out of control—have demonstrated.

The IDF and police, who recognized the volatile potential, geared for escalation with mass deployments and crowd-control measures—despite the PA’s repeated calming messages; but when spirits are fervid, serious incidents can take place where you least expect them to—the normally quiet Syrian border. Read more ..

Guatemala on Edge

Guatemala Finds Difficulty in Shaking off a Violent Past as Elections Loom

May 18th 2011

Latin American Topics - Guatemalan army and protesters

On March 16, 2011, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon demonstrated his support for Guatemala’s peace process by announcing a $10 million contribution from the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund. The contribution aimed to help Guatemala address its human rights issues and strengthen its justice and security system. The occasion also provided an opportunity for the United Nations to work with the country’s civil society to end the country’s military hostilities and resolve lingering tensions left over from the country’s 36-year civil war. In his speech, Ban commended Guatemala on its recent peacebuilding efforts and its longstanding commitment towards implementing the 1996 Peace Accords. The Peace Accords in reality are a collection of eleven agreements that outline Guatemala’s commitments to the observance of human and indigenous rights, socio-economic reforms, and the restoration of democracy.

Even with years of attention by the United Nations, Guatemala continues to be far from achieving the stability envisioned in the original peace agreement. As Guatemala approaches the fifteen year anniversary of the Peace Accords this December, the country remains just as far from implementing the Peace Accords as it had been when the agreement was first signed. The Peace Accords supposedly marked a new era of democracy and rule of law for Guatemala, but the country still has yet to meet most of the sweeping development goals outlined in the agreement. While the Peace Accords have barely managed to stall Guatemala from falling back into a full scale civil war, it has failed to bring the country any closer to a democratic and egalitarian society. Read more ..

Palestine and Israel

Does Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation Pave the Way to Peace Negotiations with Israel?

May 18th 2011

Palestine Topics - Hamas-Fatah handshake

In uniting for the first time since 2007, Hamas and Fatah, rulers of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, respectively, have theoretically made negotiating a final peace deal with Israel more realistic. Previously, Israel negotiated exclusively with Fatah, which, even if willing to do so, could not sign an agreement that would end the conflict because Hamas opposed peace with Israel.

The reconciliation pact, signed in Egypt on May 4, 2011, joins the two leading Palestinian parties in a caretaker government until long overdue parliamentary elections can be held. Former President Jimmy Carter and others contend the pact “will help Palestinian democracy and establish the basis for a unified Palestinian state … that can make a secure peace with Israel.” Practically, however, the reconciliation agreement does little to create the framework for a democratic Palestinian state and makes peace with Israel virtually impossible to achieve. Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

April Jobs Report: Showers, not Flowers

May 9th 2011

Economy - People lined up for jobs

In April the economy added 244,000 jobs and the unemployment rate rose to 9.0 percent, the first increase in four months. While the household survey was gloomy, the payroll survey showed decent growth. Revisions to earlier job reports were + 41,000 jobs in February and + 5,000 in March.

The April Report

The household survey reported that while the labor force participation rate remained flat for the fourth straight month, the unemployment rate rose by 0.2 percent, from 8.8 percent to 9.0 percent. The unemployment rate grew because of an increase in those unemployed as well as a decline in the number of workers reporting employment.

The household survey had shown a sharp decline in the unemployment rate from 9.8 percent in November to 8.8 percent in March. The unemployment increase in April is hopefully a convergence of the two labor surveys since the household survey has been extremely optimistic on the state of the labor market. This report is likely a return to a trend of slightly slower growth in the labor market that has been reflected in the payroll survey’s job growth over the last quarter. Read more ..

Hamas and Fatah

Will PA-Hamas Reconciliation Threaten Other Palestinian Commitments?

May 8th 2011

Palestine Topics - Hamas-Fatah handshake

On May 4, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas is slated to sign a reconciliation agreement with Hamas leaders in Cairo, a development first announced last week. The move will mark an end to the period of estrangement between the two factions, which began in summer 2007 when Hamas expelled PA security services and Fatah officials from Gaza. Given their acrimonious past, the extent to which the parties will work together going forward is questionable.

The Agreement

At the core of the agreement is a commitment by an interim government of technocrats, affiliated with neither Fatah nor Hamas, to pave the way for PA elections in May 2012. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis

May 8th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syrian security forces

Syria is clearly in a state of internal crisis. Protests organized on Facebook were quickly stamped out in early February, but by mid-March, a faceless opposition had emerged from the flashpoint city of Daraa in Syria’s largely conservative Sunni southwest. From Daraa, demonstrations spread to the Kurdish northeast, the coastal Latakia area, urban Sunni strongholds in Hama and Homs, and to Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus.

Feeling overwhelmed, the regime experimented with rhetoric on reforms while relying on much more familiar iron-fist methods in cracking down, arresting hundreds of men, cutting off water and electricity to the most rebellious areas, and making clear to the population that, with or without emergency rule in place, the price for dissent does not exclude death. (Activists claim more than 500 civilians have been killed in Syria since the demonstrations began, but that figure has not been independently verified.) Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Medical Device Industry Lobbies to Dodge Health Law Excise Tax

May 2nd 2011

Health/Medicine - medicine and money #2

Like many other interest groups, the medical device industry met with White House officials in the run-up to the health care battle in Congress. But while insurers, pharmaceutical firms and even the American Medical Association made agreements trading their support for specific concessions, the device makers were not able to close a similar deal.

As a result, the final health care reform bill included a 2.3 percent excise tax on device makers that’s expected to produce $20 billion over a decade to help pay for expanded health coverage.

That’s the law—or so it would seem.

But in Washington, it’s never over until it’s over. And like other medical interests who are scrambling to influence the implementation of health care reform, medical device makers are showering cash on friends in Congress and working the halls, hoping that one of five bills that would overturn the excise tax might actually make it into law. Read more ..

Edge on Health Care

Health Insurance Corporate Profits Spiked Despite Dire Predictions

May 2nd 2011

Health/Medicine - medicine and money

If I had stayed in the insurance industry, my net worth would have spiked between 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 27 and 4 p.m. Thursday, April 28—and I wouldn’t even have had to show up for work.

I’m betting that just about every executive of a for-profit health insurance company, whose total compensation ultimately depends on the value of their stock options, woke up on Good Friday considerably wealthier than they were 24 hours earlier. Why? Because of the spectacular profits that one of those companies reported Thursday morning.

Among those suddenly wealthier executives, by the way, are the corporate medical directors who decide whether or not patients will get coverage for treatments their doctors believe might save their lives.

UnitedHealth Group, the biggest health insurer in terms of revenue and market value, earned so much more during the first three months of this year than Wall Street expected that investors rushed to buy shares of every one of the seven health insurers that comprise the managed care sector. In my view, it would be more accurate to call it the managed care cartel.

UnitedHealth is always the first of the big seven to announce earnings every quarter, so investors consider it a bellwether. If UnitedHealth exceeds Wall Street’s expectations, as it has been doing consistently, investors assume that the other six will do likewise. Sure enough, all seven—Aetna, CIGNA, Coventry, Health Net, Humana, United and WellPoint—saw their stock prices close Thursday afternoon at or near 52-week highs. Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Environmental Lobby Uses Green to Promote Causes

April 27th 2011

Environment Topics - Earth Day (Hands Holding Planet)

On the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, the global celebration of all things green, Washington was once again a target of environmental activism, as environment-focused special interest groups tried to sway Congress to support their efforts. But even the biggest green thumb can’t deny that the legislative landscape for environmental groups has changed dramatically during the past year—and not in a manner favorable to their causes.

A congressional effort to pass comprehensive climate change legislation went down in flames early in 2010 after environmental groups found themselves thoroughly out-lobbied, mainly by electric utilities and the oil and gas industry. And since watching independent voters turn to Republicans in droves during the 2010 election—and the House of Representatives subsequently flip from blue to red—Democrats in the 112th Congress have hardly uttered the words “cap” and “trade” in the same sentence (unless, of course, it was coupled with the word “oppose”). Read more ..

The Military Edge

Iran, Iraq, and America's Next Move

April 27th 2011

Iran - Iranian clerics and sailors

The United States told the Iraqi government last week that if it wants U.S. troops to remain in Iraq beyond the deadline of Dec. 31, 2011, as stipulated by the current Status of Forces Agreement between Washington and Baghdad, it would have to inform the United States quickly. Unless a new agreement is reached soon, the United States will be unable to remain. The implication in the U.S. position is that a complex planning process must be initiated to leave troops there and delays will not allow that process to take place.

What is actually going on is that the United States is urging the Iraqi government to change its mind on U.S. withdrawal, and it would like Iraq to change its mind right now in order to influence some of the events taking place in the Persian Gulf. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Assad’s Taqiyya Against his Own People

April 25th 2011

Syrian Issues - Day of Rage in Syria Urged

Although the origins of al-Taqiyya are found in fundamentalist dogma regarding propaganda, Ba’athists and other authoritarian regimes in the region have used the practice for decades. In short, once widespread opposition to his one-party regime became evident, Assad needed to shield himself from international retribution. In an effort to buy time, the Syrian dictator announced that he would cancel “emergency law” which forbids demonstrations and limits free speech.

Assad’s lack of credibility immunizes Syrian protesters to his “Taqiyya.” No deception will convince them that the Syrian President’s intentions are good. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Democrats Desperately seek Their own Rove

April 25th 2011

Travel - Laguna Beach Resort
Laguna Beach Rsort

For chastened Democrats, ‘a lesson and a beating’; Republicans hone tactics that brought in secretive millions last year

The palatial Montage resort in sunny Laguna Beach provided a luxurious spot for wealthy liberal donors to relax and listen to pitches from Democratic activists seeking big bucks.

Little wonder that leaders of four fledgling Democratic groups aiming to raise tens of millions for the 2012 elections flew out west earlier this month to woo dozens of donors and advisers to the rich. Read more ..

Egypt After the Revolt

Increasing Concern Over Connections between Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's Leading Presidential Contender

April 18th 2011

Egypt - Mohamed el-Baradei headshot
Mohammad ElBaradei

Mohammad ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winning diplomat and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an April 4 interview with the Al-Watan Arab newspaper that, “if Israel attacked Gaza we would declare war against the Zionist regime.” ElBaradei is a leading candidate in the September Egyptian presidential election, and was touted as a reformist during the revolution that swept dictator Hosni Mubarak from power. ElBaradei elaborated that “In case of any future Israeli attack on Gaza—as the next president of Egypt—I will open the Rafah border crossing and will consider different ways to implement the joint Arab defense agreement.”

Last year, ElBaradei publicly expressed support for the “Palestinian Resistance,” including Hamas violence against Israel, saying that Gaza was the “world's biggest jail,” and explained that Palestinian violence was the only path open to the Palestinian people because “the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence.” In the Al-Watan interview, ElBaradei added, “Israel controls the Palestinian soil and there has been no tangible breakthrough in the process of reconciliation because of the imbalance of power in the region and the situation there is a kind of one-way peace.”

Last week, Gaza Palestinian militants launched a mortar attack at Israel, and Israeli forces killed an armed Palestinian near the Israel-Gaza border. Pressure has been mounting along Israel’s border with the coastal enclave in recent weeks, as Gaza militants and Israeli forces traded blows in what some fear are signs of a large-scale military escalation. And Israel is still reeling from the murder of a rabbi and members of his family by Palestinian terrorists in March. Rabbi Ehud Fogel, along with his wife and two children were repeatedly stabbed by a pair of teenaged Palestinian assasins who stole into their home in the middle of the night. Read more ..

Battle for Bahrain

Iran Casts Shadow over Reform in Bahrain

April 18th 2011

Bahrain Topics - Bahrain enraged protesters

On April 11, President Obama dispatched his national security advisor, Tom Donilon, on a three-day trip to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). During the trip, the United States will likely discuss the crises in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, as well as the situation in Bahrain, where last month both Saudi Arabia and the UAE acted against U.S. wishes by sending forces to support the government of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The Gulf leaders will focus on the growing threat posed by Iran. The issue is straining an otherwise excellent regional security relationship.

Bahrain’s State of Emergency

The timing of the visit places a highly unflattering spotlight on the leadership in Bahrain, where a month ago authorities declared a state of emergency after weeks of rioting by members of the majority Shiite Muslim community, whose protests targeted the lack of economic opportunities and political freedoms under the Sunni Arab monarchy. Read more ..

Edge on Food Safety

U.S. Food Safety Labs May Not Have Capacity to Handle a Crisis Like Japan's

April 18th 2011

Farming - FDA food safety lab

As Japan struggles with a radiation emergency, the network of laboratories in charge of keeping nuclear contamination out of American food is coming under fire for being unprepared and understaffed.

The Department of Agriculture inspector general found that while the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has provided training and equipment, and established protocols for the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), it has yet to implement it.

After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush signed a presidential directive to protect food supplies. FERN is the national laboratory network charged with responding to biological, chemical, or radiological contamination of food—essentially the front line in making sure Americans’ food is safe to eat in case of an emergency. Read more ..

Egypt After the Revolt

Prospects for Post-Mubarak Egypt: An Early Assessment

April 18th 2011

Egypt - Bye bye Mubarak

It is already a truism of Egypt’s post-Mubarak politics that liberal activists were responsible for the takeoff of the revolution but, so far, Islamists and the military have been defining the landing. That is to say that the spark of revolutionary activity came largely from secular youth, who rather ingeniously organized the massive protests that caught the regime—and themselves—by surprise on Police Day, January 25. Islamists were slow to the fray. However, sensing an opportunity, Islamists grabbed it. When, over the next ten days, the regime tested the option of using real military force to quash the protests, the protestors’ most effective and best organized manpower came from two sources—first, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies and second, the well-oiled machines of soccer fan clubs and soccer team security forces. Only the former, of course, had a strategic political agenda, and from the moment the Islamists committed themselves to the fight, their goal has been to capture, exploit and inherit the revolution. Read more ..

Edge on Environment

Peruvian Presidential Election May decide Amazon Future

April 11th 2011

Energy / Environment - Oil spill Maranon River Peru
Oil spill on the Maranon River, 2011.

The enormous segment of Amazonian rainforest that covers over half of the country has always been an issue of contention for Peru due to the number of indigenous tribes that inhabit it. As early as the 16th century, the Peruvian Amazon has been linked to the world market, providing such products as timber, rubber, and quinine to an increasing global market. Ever since the region first became an attractive venue for resource extraction, the government’s economic ambitions have wantonly grown in spite of the ecological importance of preserving the Amazonian rainforest for Peru, its neighbors, and the international community. Read more ..

Kenya on Edge

International Criminal Court Investigation of Kenyans is Perceived as Mixed Blessing

April 11th 2011

Africa Topics - Kenya anti-Ocampo protesters

Airport send-offs were common in Africa in the 60’s and 70’s, when some lucky young man had received a scholarship to study abroad: the U.S.A, the U.K. or somewhere in the eastern Bloc of Cold War times.

The extended family would turn out to wish him Godspeed; there would be speeches in the departure area, even traditional dancers. But this was before 9/11; and now that air travel is much more common, and subject to checks the moment you reach the terminal buildings, such treats have become quite rare. Nowadays they seem reserved for political figures returning from exile, or Kenyan athletes loaded down with medals returning from the Olympic or Commonwealth Games. Read more ..

Arab World Unrest

The Arab Revolutions: An Israeli Perspective

April 4th 2011

Arab Topics - Bahrain enraged protesters

Israel has been watching the ongoing upheaval in the Arab world with steadily growing concern. While they hope to see a happy, democratic end to the popular eruptions of protest and discontent against dictatorial regimes, Israelis are bracing themselves for a series of less optimistic outcomes.

A different Middle East is emerging, one that may be temporarily called "square-ocracy," or the transfer of power from governments to masses of demonstrators in the streets. Rulers are bowing to popular demands, fearing the fate of former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. But it is still unclear who will lead these countries in the long term, in which direction they will move, and what type of "freedom" will emerge. An extended period of uncertainty and instability may lie ahead, forcing Israel to cope with a highly volatile environment and reassess some of its longstanding assumptions about the nature of its relationships with some neighboring states. Read more ..

Edge on American Politics

Reagan's Magic Mandate Gave Americans Just what They Ordered

April 4th 2011

History American - Reagan and flags

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

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

After Egypt's Revolt

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

April 4th 2011

Arab Topics - Suez canal ladies

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

Israel and Palestine

Greater Cooperation by Israeli and Palestinian Security Increases Safety at Checkpoints

April 4th 2011

Israel Topics - Qalqiliya checkpoint Israel
Qalqiliya checkpoint, Israel

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

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

The Edge of War

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

March 30th 2011

Presidential - FDR

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

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

Australian Edge

Taking Australia Prime Minister Gillard to School in Washington

March 28th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Julia Gillard and Barack

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

The Obama Edge

Obama in Latin America: In the spell of Richard Nixon

March 28th 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Edge of Terror

Examining Muslim Student Group Gateways to Jihad?

March 21st 2011

Terrorism - Arab terrorist
Anwar al-Awlaki

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

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

The Obama Edge

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

March 21st 2011

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

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

Energy Security

Japan and its Dependence on Persian Gulf Petroleum

March 21st 2011

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

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

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

The Geography of Oil

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

Edge of Terror

The Failing Of Humanity When An Israeli Is Killed

March 17th 2011

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

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

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

The `Obama Edge

Obama's Mis-steps in Latin America

March 14th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Chavez

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

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

Turkey on Edge

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

March 14th 2011

Turkish Topics - Turkish Flags

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

Souring Rhetoric

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

Edge of Arab Unrest

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

March 14th 2011

Arab Topics - Bahrain enraged protesters

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

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

Egypt After the Revolt

Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi - In his own Words

March 7th 2011

Egypt - Qaradaqi in Cairo
Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi speaks in Cairo

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

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

The Battle for Libya

Libya Air Strikes Prompt Debate on No-Fly Zone

March 7th 2011

Military - F-35

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

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

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

The Battle for Libya

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

February 28th 2011

Military - F-15E Refuels
F15e Refuels

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

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

Islam on Edge

The Future Role of Islam in Nations Torn by Uprisings

February 28th 2011

Islamic Topics - Pakistan antiblasphemy rally
Rached Ghannouchi returns to Tunisia

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

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

Colombia on Edge

Colombia Militarizes its Drug Conflict and Risks Resembling Mexico

February 28th 2011

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

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

Battle for Libya

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

February 28th 2011

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

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

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

Edge of the Uninsured

An Illuminating Expedition to the World of the Uninsured

February 21st 2011

Social Topics - Uninsured patient bracelets

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

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

Argentina on Edge

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

February 21st 2011

Latin American Topics - Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

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

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

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