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America on Edge

Disabled People Find No Help From Education Department over Burdensome Student Loans

February 14th 2011

Social Topics - Scott Creighton
Scott Creighton examines his files

Tina Brooks can’t sit or stand for more than half an hour before the pain in her lower back becomes intolerable. She suffers severe headaches and memory loss, and she has lost most vision in her left eye. Five doctors and a judge from the Social Security Administration have all determined that she is fully disabled and unable to work.

A former police officer and mother of two, Brooks fractured a vertebra in her back, damaged three others in her neck, and suffered a concussion when she fell 15 feet down a steep rock quarry while training for bicycle patrol. Even though Social Security approved her disability claim, she has been mired for more than five years in an unsuccessful struggle to persuade the Department of Education to accept that she is too disabled to work again ­— and to forgive the $43,000 that she borrowed in federal student loans. Read more ..

Egypt After the Revolt

Ideas for U.S. Middle East Policy in the Wake of Egypt's Revolt

February 14th 2011

Egypt - Bye bye Mubarak

The winds of change that first began to blow in Tunis and turned into a tornado in Cairo will have an impact elsewhere in the region. It is a mistake, however, to view the Middle East as a series of dominoes waiting to fall. The domestic context in each country is the dominant factor determining the stability or instability of a particular regime, and each country's situation is quite different from the next.

Apart from the intensive focus on promoting the development of a democratic Egypt that continues to view itself as a partner with the United States, the following themes should guide U.S. policy in the uncertain period ahead. Read more ..

Revolt in Egypt

Middle East "Days of Rage" Unlikely to Set Latin America Alight

February 6th 2011

Latin American Topics - Inca woman

Recent explosions of protest in Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan have unsettled even the most self-assured governments around the world. Many countries with minimal economic and diplomatic ties to these nations—whose civic core is now erupting—are apprehensive. Their discomfort is not necessarily traceable back to any fiscal or trade interruptions caused by the Middle Eastern protests, but rather from uprisings that obviously cannot be contained by state boundaries.

This raises the question of whether these infectiously inspiring revolutions will endure. Will they be muzzled within the region, or will the seeds of these protests be widely dispersed? How will they affect Latin America, where there are plenty of have-nots among a population that is growing at a rapid tempo? Should the world expect the 52-year reign of the Castro brothers to be overthrown in the streets, or that Hugo Chávez’s legacy be shortened due to civilian unrest? Doubtful—at least in Latin America. Read more ..

Egypt in Revolt

The Egyptian Revolution Will Affect Israel’s Security

February 6th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Mitchell Bard

The impact of unrest in Egypt on Israel’s security will not be known until it is clear who will be leading the country. Whatever his failings as a leader within Egypt, Hosni Mubarak faithfully upheld the peace treaty with Israel. If, however, Mubarak is replaced by someone who does not keep the country’s treaty commitments, Israel’s security will be endangered.

Since signing the peace deal with Egypt in 1979, Israel has reduced the percentage of its GDP devoted to defense spending by nearly a third—from 23 percent in the 1970s to 9 percent today. 479 Israel also significantly reduced the number of soldiers stationed on its southern border and has been able to focus its strategic planning on other threats. Peace with Egypt has contributed to the economic growth of Israel and also was a catalyst for other peace negotiations. Psychologically, the treaty also showed Israelis that peace with an Arab Muslim state is possible.

A change in regime could easily lead to the reversal of these trends. While Mubarak fulfilled the letter of the peace treaty, he was never fully committed to its spirit. The media, military and general public were never conditioned to accept Israel as their neighbor. The Egyptian media in particular has often been critical of Israel to the point of anti-Semitism and the military has consistently directed war games against Israel.

If the next leader of Egypt reneges on the treaty, Israel will find itself essentially surrounded by enemies—the same position it was in for the decades following independence. A potentially belligerent Egypt would join the threats currently posed to Israel from Hamas in Gaza; Syria, who remains formally at war with Israel; and Lebanon who, has become essentially an Iranian proxy dominated by Hezbollah. Jordan is also facing unrest and its future is uncertain. Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

Lack of Contract Oversight Puts Billions At Risk

February 6th 2011

Politics - contracts oversight

The cost of federal contracts in 2010 totaled $535 billion.

Federal agencies are increasingly reliant on contractors but many struggle to manage them and therefore expose billions in taxpayer dollars to fraud, waste and mismanagement.

The Government Accountability Office identified management weaknesses and internal control deficiencies as roadblocks to contractor oversight. The watchdog also found problems with the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Pentagon’s contract management office. The agency experienced conflicts of interest between auditors and contractors, insufficient audit testing, and inadequate supervision. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia’s Pragmatic President Santos Burnishes the National Image

February 6th 2011

Latin American Topics - Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia

Since arriving at the presidential office on August 7, 2010, newly inaugurated Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has sought to revise many of Colombia’s flawed diplomatic relationships, boasting in a number of instances a complete turnaround from the policies of his predecessor Álvaro Uribe. Under Uribe, U.S.-Colombian relations were immeasurably strengthened while Bogotá’s commercial and diplomatic ties with both Venezuela and Ecuador were essentially severed. In contrast to President Uribe’s envenomed foreign policy style and his not-to-be-denied hauteur when it came to tutoring Colombia’s Latin American neighbors in the intrinsic superiority of all things Colombian, Santos maintains a surprisingly level-headed manner of acquitting himself. Read more ..

The Arab Revolts

Is King Abdullah of Jordan Next?

January 30th 2011

Arab Topics - Jordan protest sheikh

Initial and hopeful analysis stemming from the deadly riots that toppled Tunisia’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali—who had been relatively friendly to US and EU interests—are growing more cautious as news comes of violent disturbances in Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan. Elliot Abrams, a former National Security adviser to President George W. Bush, for example wrote in a weekend op-ed that the regime change in Tunisia and its prospects in Egypt are a vindication of the doctrine of that Arabs too may aspire to democracy. Reports from on the ground in Egypt and Tunisia are less hopeful. Linking the three inflamed countries is the global Muslim Brotherhood. Read more ..

Egypt in Revolt

Egypt’s Internet Blackout

January 30th 2011

Arab Topics - Cairo Internet Cafe

The Egyptian Government has become the first in the world to turn off its the internet. As of January 28, almost all internet servers in Egypt are offline. Homes, businesses, foreign embassies, and Egyptian government departments are without internet access. Text messaging services (SMS) have also been turned off.

The move aims to prevent the Egyptian people from protesting, and Egyptian officials have specifically called on people not to congregate in public places after prayers. Renesys notes that the shutdown is reminiscent of efforts in Iran and Tunisia to slow the internet or shut down some main internet connections. The real purpose however is more in line with a “government crackdown on peace, goodwill, and social media.” It aims to discredit, disrupt, and ultimately censor anti-government protest. Read more ..

Inside South America

Guyana’s Departing President Leaves Legacy of Perpetual Violence and Incompetence

January 30th 2011

Latin American Topics - Bharrat Jagdeo

Stagnation, violence, corruption, arch-sectarianism, and unfettered crime—this is the heritage that Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo will bequeath to his country. Now that Jagdeo has announced that he will not seek a third term in the upcoming August election, he may well ask, as a New York mayor once did, “How did I do?” The answer, in this instance, must be: “terribly.” Chosen by former President Janet Jagan to succeed her in office, and supposedly held in high esteem by Guyana’s founding father, the illustrious Cheddi Jagan, Jagdeo could only receive the lowest of marks from any independent evaluation. Through his tolerance of crime, racism, and dismal social progress, President Jagdeo has turned in a fifth-rate performance as president of one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. As the Guyanese use every strategy, legal and illegal, to flee the dysfunctional country, Jagdeo will go down in history as a man who did almost nothing for his nation while in office. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama’s State of the Union and U.S. Foreign Policy

January 25th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Flag

U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver the State of the Union address tonight. The administration has let the media know that the focus of the speech will be on jobs and the economy. Given the strong showing of the Republicans in the last election, and the fact that they have defined domestic issues as the main battleground, Obama’s decision makes political sense. He will likely mention foreign issues and is undoubtedly devoting significant time to them, but the decision not to focus on foreign affairs in his State of the Union address gives the impression that the global situation is under control. Indeed, the Republican focus on domestic matters projects the same sense. Both sides create the danger that the public will be unprepared for some of the international crises that are already quite heated. We have discussed these issues in detail, but it is useful to step back and look at the state of the world for a moment. Read more ..

Haiti on the Edge

Haiti on the Brink of Going Back to the Future with Baby Doc Duvalier

January 24th 2011

Caribbean - Baby Doc Jean Claude Duvalier

The world recently marked the first anniversary of the tragic earthquake that ravaged Port-au-Prince, killing upwards of 300,000 Haitians, destroying more than 250,000 homes, and displacing more than 1.3 million people. The earthquake in Haiti was by far one of the most unforgiving natural disasters of the past century (with property damage estimated at up to $14 billion), and has led to one of the most comprehensive international humanitarian relief responses ever undertaken. Within a few weeks of the earthquake, national governments, international agencies, charities, and well-intentioned individuals reached out from their homes and overseas, pledging several billions of dollars in emergency assistance. A portion of the funds are now being devoted towards rehabilitation and future reconstruction efforts. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Did Israel Illegally Demolish a Palestinian National Landmark in East Jerusalem

January 24th 2011

Israel Topics - Demolition of the Shepherd Hotel
Demolition of the Shepherd Hotel

Among Israel’s detractors is a widely held and circulated myth meant only to drive a wedge deeper between Israel and those she seeks for international support that claims Israel illegally demolished a Palestinian national landmark in East Jerusalem.

The facts however, when presented—but even more, when actually reviewed—support a very different scenario.

On January 9, 2011, Israeli crews began demolition work on the Shepherd Hotel building in the Sheikh Jarrah community of Jerusalem to make way for the planned construction of a Jewish housing project. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insists the hotel is a historic national landmark and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat claims that Israel is illegally demolishing the hotel as part of their attempt to “ethnically cleanse Jerusalem from its Palestinian inhabitants, culture and history.” Read more ..

Guns in America

Firearms Vendors Raise Millions for NRA

January 24th 2011

Congressional issues - Glock with 31-round mag

MidwayUSA is a Missouri company well known among gun enthusiasts for its firearms accessories: the company website boasts that the firm stocks “Just about everything for shooting, reloading, gunsmithing, and hunting.”

These wares include high-capacity magazines similar to those used in the Arizona shooting spree that enabled the accused assailant to kill six people and wound 14 others—including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords—by rapidly firing a fusillade of shots without pausing to reload.

Over the last two decades, MidwayUSA has done just about everything to help the National Rifle Association flourish financially.

In 1992 MidwayUSA developed a fundraising tactic to boost the NRA’s fortunes, dubbed “Round-Up,” that has yielded $5.7 million for the NRA’s lobbying operations. The MidwayUSA money drive asks customers to “round up” the total of each order to the nearest dollar or higher. Then the company donates the difference to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, a lobbying arm of the gun rights group. Read more ..

Tunisia on Edge

The Breakdown in Tunisia is an Object Lesson for Similar Police States

January 18th 2011

Africa Topics - Tunisia riots

On January 14, President Zine al-Abadine Ben Ali of Tunisia stepped down after days of worsening riots and, coincidentally, one day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bluntly criticized Middle Eastern leaders during a speech in Qatar, where she accused them of tolerating "corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order." In Tunis, it was announced that Prime Minister Muhammad Ghannouchi has taken over as interim president. Ghannouchi said Ben Ali was "temporarily unable to exercise his duties." (Arab television stations report that he has flown abroad.) Ben Ali, who had ruled for twenty-three years, had earlier promised to step down when his term ends in 2014 and hold parliamentary elections within six months. Now the Arab world is watching to see which other regime might be vulnerable and what the U.S. response will be. Read more ..

Edge on Security

Democracy and Stepping Up Congressional Security

January 18th 2011

Congressional issues - DC Capitol police officer

Following the January 8 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Federal District Judge John McCarthy Roll and 17 others in Tucson, Arizona, discussion has focused on the motivations and ideology of the accused shooter, Jared Loughner. While it was important to make a quick assessment of Loughner’s profile in order to evaluate the possibility of an organized threat, all the available evidence (though not conclusive) indicates that he acted alone.

For the most part, discussion of the event has not touched on a re-evaluation of security for members of Congress.  

A common mindset of politicians and their staffers is that better security will limit their accessibility and thus hinder their ability to do their job (and win elections). In fact, there are a number of measures that members of Congress and other public officials can institute for better security without limiting accessibility. While staying in a secure facility would be the safest, it isn’t a realistic option. What is realistic — and effective — is the prudent employment of protective intelligence as well as some measure of physical protection on the move.

A Look at the Threat

While there have been approximately 20 assassination attempts against U.S. presidents, four of which were successful, attacks on members of Congress and local judges are much more rare. There have been only five recorded attempts against members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including the attack on Gabrielle Giffords. And two of those five attacks resulted from disputes between representatives (one of which was a duel in 1838). But there are also many more threats voiced against public officials, which should never be ignored. The majority are issued by what we call lone wolves — individuals acting on their own rather than with a group. Read more ..

Border War

Mexico's President Calderon Tries to Put a Positive Spin on a Deadly Narco-War

January 18th 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexico Drug War Casualty

In its second-to-last year in office, the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon is on a public relations offensive to counter a ceaseless barrage of criticism over the conduct and progress of the so-called drug war. In response, Calderon administration officials-echoed by Washington-are increasingly claiming victories in various operations against organized crime.

Interviewed on Mexican television, Mexico City's new point man for public relations, Alejandro Poire, put a positive spin on the balance of power between the Mexican state and several large criminal organizations.

Of 37 wanted crime family capos, 17 have been captured and four killed, said Poire, who serves as technical secretary for Mexico's National Security Council. "If something marked 2010, it was the systematic capture of these criminals," Poire said. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Drawing a Distinction Between Blasphemy and Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan

January 18th 2011

Asia Topics - Pakistan blasphemy protest

It is common to say that a law is introduced to provide remedy for a mischief. What is the mischief that section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) provides a remedy for?

The issue of Tauheen-i-Risalat (insult to Muhammad) first raised heads in the 1920s when a publication in Lahore by a Hindu publisher Raj Pal agitated some segments of Muslim population. Raj Pal was prosecuted under Section 153A, which provided punishment for acts (words, either spoken or written, visible representations, or otherwise) that promoted feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes. He was convicted and sentenced by the Sessions Court at Lahore. The conviction was, however, set aside by the high court with the opinion that though Raj Pal’s act may have outraged religious feelings of Muslims it did not fall within the definition of Section 153, and that another legal provision was needed to be incorporated to remedy the mischief (Raj Pal versus The Emperor: AIR 1927 Lahore 250). Raj Pal was later murdered in 1929 by a man named Ilm Din. Read more ..

Islam Against Copts

Geopolitical Implications of Islamist Attacks on Christians in Egypt

January 10th 2011

Christian Topics - Coptic Christian blast

Over recent days, Christian churches have been attacked in at least two countries — Nigeria and Egypt — while small packages containing improvised explosive devices were placed on the doorsteps of Christian families in Iraq. Attacks against Christians are not uncommon in the Islamic world, driven by local issues and groups, and it is unclear whether these latest attacks were simply coincidental and do not raise the threat to a new level or whether they indicate the existence of a new, coordinated, international initiative. There is a strong case to be made for the idea that there is nothing new in all of this. Read more ..

Sudan on the Edge

Obama’s Southern Sudan Policy

January 10th 2011

Africa Topics - Omar Bashir of Sudan
President of Sudan Omar Hassan al-Bashir

Southern Sudan’s mostly Christian population has been under genocidal attack from the Islamist-dominated North. Wikileaks has shed new light on the Obama administration’s diplomatic activities on this crisis.

According to Wikileaks cables, in December 2009, the U.S. warned Sudan to stop transshipments of Iranian arms to Hamas in Gaza for use against Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The cables however, did not discuss that Sudan was also transferring Iranian arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill American and coalition forces. Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

Following START, whither America-Russian Relations?

January 3rd 2011

Russian Topics - Dmitry and Barack buddies

Late last year, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which had been signed in April.

The Russian legislature still has to provide final approval of the treaty, but it is likely to do so, and therefore a New START is set to go into force. That leaves two questions to discuss. First, what exactly have the two sides agreed to and, second, what does it mean? Let’s begin with the first. The original START was signed July 31, 1991, and reductions were completed in 2001. The treaty put a cap on the number of nuclear warheads that could be deployed. In addition to limiting the number of land- and submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and strategic bombers, it capped the number of warheads that were available to launch at 6,000. The fact that this is a staggering number of nuclear weapons should give you some idea of the staggering number in existence prior to START. START I lapsed in 2009, and the new treaty is essentially designed to reinstate it. Read more ..

Sudan on Edge

South Sudan Referendum Still on Track, If Khartoum Allows It

January 3rd 2011

Africa Topics - Sudan demonstration

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is a set of protocols signed in January 2005 between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan. 

It is facilitated through a regional effort by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development and the international community, namely the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway. The agreement aimed at ending the second Sudanese civil war, develop democratic governance in the country, and share oil revenues on an equitable basis. The agreement also set a timetable by which southern Sudan would conduct a referendum on its future. So how effective has the CPA been in achieving its intended objectives? Read more ..

Brazil and Palestine

The Logic Behind South American Countries’ Support for a Palestinian State

December 27th 2010

Latin American Topics - da silva and abbas
José Inázio Lula Da Silva and Mahmoud Abbas

In December, Brazil recognized the creation of a Palestinian state (with pre-1967 borders) while the U.S was making serious efforts to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together. The creation of a Palestinian state has been supported not only by President Barack Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush but also by every Israeli Prime Minister in the last decade including the current one, Benjamin Netanyahu. This move, was followed by Argentina and Bolivia; most likely, Uruguay will follow early next year. However, Brazil’s leadership and initiative in this endeavor is clear. Read more ..

Wikileaks on the Edge

WikiLeaks Revelations Do Not Come Close to Changing the Rules of the Game

December 27th 2010

Politics - Julian Assange WikiLeaks

Julian Assange has declared that geopolitics will be separated into pre-“Cablegate” and post-“Cablegate” eras. That was a bold claim. However, given the intense interest that the leaks produced, it is a claim that ought to be carefully considered. Several weeks have passed since the first of the diplomatic cables were released, and it is time now to address the following questions: First, how significant were the leaks? Second, how could they have happened? Third, was their release a crime? Fourth, what were their consequences? Finally, and most important, is the WikiLeaks premise that releasing government secrets is a healthy and appropriate act a tenable position?

Let’s begin by recalling that the U.S. State Department documents constituted the third wave of leaks. The first two consisted of battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. Looking back on those as a benchmark, it is difficult to argue that they revealed information that ran counter to informed opinion. I use the term “informed opinion” deliberately. For someone who was watching Iraq and Afghanistan with some care over the previous years, the leaks might have provided interesting details but they would not have provided any startling distinction between the reality that was known and what was revealed. If, on the other hand, you weren’t paying close attention, and WikiLeaks provided your first and only view of the battlefields in any detail, you might have been surprised. Read more ..

The EU on Edge

Europe to Take a Perilous Next Step

December 27th 2010

Europe Topics - EU flag

Europe is on the cusp of change. An EU heads-of-state summit December 16 launched a process aimed to save the common European currency. If successful, this process would be the most significant step toward creating a singular European power since the creation of the European Union itself in 1992 — that is, if it doesn’t destroy the euro first.

Envisioned by the EU Treaty on Monetary Union, the common currency, the euro, has suffered from two core problems during its decade-long existence: the lack of a parallel political union and the issue of debt. Many in the financial world believe that what is required for a viable currency is a fiscal union that has taxation power — and that is indeed needed. Read more ..

Edge on Immigration

Beyond the DREAM Act: Getting Immigration Reform Right

December 27th 2010

Mexican Topics - US Border Patrol arrest

Last weekend, the United States Senate voted not to proceed to a final vote on the House-passed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. This bill would have given legal permanent resident status to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and who agreed to attend college or enter the military. In this way the bill would have granted amnesty to around 2.8 million illegal immigrants inside the U.S.

Now that Congress has rejected the “amnesty” strategy once again, it is time for the Administration to put this unrealistic approach aside once and for all and begin a serious, practical, and honest approach to fixing America’s broken borders and flawed immigration system. Pushing the issue off on the next generation or using immigration as a tool to win votes through amnesty is not only irresponsible but wrong in terms of national security, the rule of law, and economic prosperity.

Not a New Problem

The number of illegal immigrants inside the U.S. topped off at around 12 million. Since the recent economic recession began, numbers have decreased to around 10.8 million. In 1986, the U.S. attempted to handle the issue by granting amnesty to the 2.7 million illegal immigrants inside the U.S. at that time. This amnesty, however, worsened the illegal immigration problem, encouraging more individuals to cross the border illegally and stay in the U.S Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Latin American Nations and the Geopolitics of State Recognition: Palestine, Caucasus, Kosovo and Taiwan

December 21st 2010

Latin American Topics - Hugo Chavez and PLO flag

In 2008, Russia fought a five-day war with Georgia, an independent nation in the southern Caucasus, which gained its independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union. While the details of the incident remain controversial, it is generally agreed that Georgia was the aggressor. One critical consequence of the conflict was that two Georgian separatist regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, were recognized relatively quickly as independent states by four countries: Russia, the Pacific island of Nauru and the Latin American countries of Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Why were Venezuela and Nicaragua persuaded to recognize the two separatist states and what is the likelihood of a subsequent Latin American wave of recognition taking place? The experience of South Ossetia and Abkhazia may help highlight two distinct factors involved in the recognition process:

First, although there is no recognition policy in effect, Latin American states tend to extend recognition to states outside the hemisphere principally based on a closely-felt geopolitical sense of national interest as opposed to a clear understanding of the merits and facts of a given conflict or transition. Second, due to forces of globalization, Latin American countries are now extending ties to areas of previously little interest.

Border War

Northern Mexico Citizens Increasingly Fed-up with Government Impotence in the Face of Narco-violence

December 21st 2010

Mexican Topics - Juarez protesta

December on the US-Mexico border is a time of family, faith and fiesta. Every year, thousands pay homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe. While throngs jam international bridges for holiday shopping excursions, lively gatherings of friends and family on both sides of the border enjoy tamales, posole and festive times. But in Ciudad Juarez, the month of December also is a time of funerals, fear, frustration and fury. Roaring, non-stop violence related to the so-called narco war continues to claim lives right up to the holidays. Read more ..

Middel East Peace

Beyond the Freeze Deal: A New Agenda for U.S. Efforts on the Peace Process

December 13th 2010

Israel Topics - Obama Netanyahu Abbas1

The recent announcement that the Obama administration has ended efforts to negotiate a ninety-day extension of Israel's moratorium on West Bank settlement construction is more opportunity than embarrassment. After twenty-two months of near-fruitless efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian negotiations conditioned on a total cessation of Israeli settlement activity, the administration can finally focus its efforts on the substance of its diplomatic mission -- to test the tantalizing proposition that the current Israeli and Palestinian leaderships may be closer to agreement on the core issues at contention than is commonly recognized. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Anwar Ibrahim’s Islamic Agenda

December 13th 2010

Arab Topics - Anwar Ibrahim

The list of prominent U.S. admirers of Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s former Deputy Prime Minister, on trial for corruption and sodomy, is impressive. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, former President of the World Bank James Wolfensohn, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Letters of support on his behalf praise his leadership and fight “for international justice, peace and development.” Strangely, these prominent figures fail to notice that Anwar’s fight is not for democracy, justice and peace according to Western principles. Instead, his call is for democratization “on the platform of Islam.”

It is Anwar’s constant advocacy of Islamic rule that led the Qatar-based spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf Qaradawi, to join the defenders of the Malay politician. Read more ..

The Roadway’s Edge

Medical Cards for Drivers Easy to Get—and Easy to Ignore

December 13th 2010

Transportation Topics - Rest Stop DOT clinic

Trucker Bob Caffee needed a medical card fast. His U.S. Department of Transportation medical certificate was to expire in two days, and he was in Southern California, halfway across the country from his regular doctor in Missouri.

So Caffee did what many drivers do: He headed to one of the medical clinics that have sprung up at truck stops across America.

The clinic in Ontario, Calif., where Caffee stopped is housed in a small, rundown building next to a Travel Centers of America truck stop. A sign advertises “DOT Physicals” next to a picture of a red truck.

“You go in there, and there’s a little girl sitting behind the desk, and you say, ‘I need a DOT physical,’ and she says, ‘OK, come back here and I’ll call the doctor,’” Caffee said. Read more ..

Israelis and Palestinians

Palestinian Public Opinion: Tactically Flexible, Strategically Ambitious

December 13th 2010

Palestine Topics - Hamas at Press Conference

Amid the latest setback in the peace process -- the ongoing failure to agree on a "peace talks for settlement freeze" deal -- Palestinian public opinion trends reveal unexpected flexibility on short-term tactics, but also troubling long-term intentions. Five public opinion polls of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians taken by five different reputable pollsters in October-November 2010 show a very mixed picture.
On the positive side, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the Palestinian public backs a resumption of peace talks with Israel, even without preconditions. Surprisingly, support for rejectionist actors such as Hamas or Iran is very low by recent standards. And several polls show that a majority of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians would accept a two-state peace solution with Israel, with half even willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one.

At the same time, when asked explicitly about whether a settlement freeze should be a precondition for resuming direct negotiations, Palestinians are widely in support. Moreover, although a majority of them claim to back a two-state solution, an even larger majority clearly continue to harbor irredentist claims over pre-1967 Israel as well. These findings raise questions about whether the Palestinian Authority (PA) is leading or following public opinion -- and whether peace talks, even if they can be renewed, will ever result in an agreement grounded in enduring popular acceptance. Read more ..

Iran in Latin America

The Growing Influence of Iran on Latin America's 'New Left' Governments

December 6th 2010

Latin American Topics - Ahmadinejad and Chavez
Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

As concern grows in Washington over the potential threat that Iran poses to the United States and its allies, scant attention has been given to the Islamic Republic’s expanding influence in Latin America. In the past year, a number of events revealed Iran’s increasing links to the region, most of which have been economic in nature, although political gambits have also proved important. While Iran’s increased involvement in Latin America may have the potential to present a threat to U.S. security, such threats may be overstated and not a justified concern.

Despite what those seeking to demonize the Latin American left would have the U.S. public believe, the security implications of an Iranian presence in the region may well be minimal. Rather, the relationship is more likely to challenge Washington’s ability to exert itself abroad. Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Israel is Not Alone in Feeling Threatened by Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

December 6th 2010

Iran - Iranian nuclear faciilities

In light of the thousands of secret documents and cables released by the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks in late November, it is clear that Israel is neither alone in its concern over the Iranian government’s budding nuclear weapons program, nor in its desire to see that program destroyed. Western media outlets have consistently harped on deep concerns over the Iranian march toward becoming a nuclear power, however much of the Arab world also feels threatened by Iran and harbor similar, if not more extreme, views towards confronting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

While most nations in the Arab world continue to state publicly that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the greatest threat to the region, the WikiLeaks cables tell a different story. The leaked documents, many of which detail meetings between U.S. diplomats and high-ranking officials in Arab governments, expose how many Arab states in the Middle East feel threatened by the prospect of a nuclear Tehran and are advocating for military action. As Mustafa El-Labbad, director of the Al-Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo, notes, WikiLeaks unveiled to the world that “the official stance in the Middle East, led by Saudi Arabia and including Egypt, Jordan, UAE, and Bahrain is that Iran—Israel—poses the main threat to the region.” Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Signs of Hope and Contradiction in Africa

December 6th 2010

Africa Topics - China Gabon amity

In January 2011, the people of southern Sudan are to vote in a referendum whether or not they want a separate country of their own or remain united to the North as one country, now known as Sudan. Will this be the last country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain its independence, exactly 55 years after its first “independence” from a colonial power? For most southern Sudanese, the Khartoum government has treated them as colonial subjects, or worse: abducted into slavery, the region left undeveloped, its resources extracted with little of the profits returning to the South; fierce and cruel civil wars; ensuring the main tribes are kept disunited, little say in power-sharing, massive flight of refugees, and human rights violations.

This year, 2010, about 20 African countries –most of them former French colonies, and Somalia- celebrate their 50th independence anniversary. Within the next three years much of Anglophone Africa would follow suit, with the notable exception of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which declared its own kind of independence, UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) from Britain, under the White rule of Ian Smith, and the country called itself Rhodesia, until Robert Mugabe took over in 1980. South Africa was the last with a majority Black population to become independent in 1994 with Nelson Mandela as president, holding out the hand of reconciliation to its sizable, powerful and educated White minority. Read more ..

Immigration on the Edge

Innovative Thinking May Resolve the Labor-Business Divide on US Immigration

November 29th 2010

Mexican Topics - US Border Patrol arrest

In May 2008, a massive immigration raid took place on the Postville, Iowa-based kosher slaughterhouse Agriprocessors, Inc. The result of the raid was the apprehension of nearly 400 people, most of whom originally hailed from a small town in Guatemala called San José Calderas. One of the largest such roundups in the history of U.S. immigration enforcement, the Postville raid led to the shutdown of the facility and the imprisonment of some of the plant’s senior management, constituting a large economic blow to the entire community.

Two years later, the repercussions from the raid are still visible in the Iowa community. Postville Mayor Leigh Rekow acknowledged that the city “is still dealing with some of the negative issues in the past.” In April 2010, Postville’s infamous slaughterhouse took on a new persona; reopening under Canadian ownership, the rebranded “Agri Star” plant now employs 560 people. Read more ..

Border War

The Geopolitics of the Narco-Wars just South of America's Border

November 22nd 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexican SWAT
Mexican naval infantry

The regional differences in Mexico's drug war make little sense to Americans. Until October 24, when gunmen massacred 14 patients at a Tijuana drug rehab clinic, Baja California, a hotbed of violence in 2009, had started to stabilize during 2010. The Rio Grande, in contrast, has gone from mostly tranquil to normally uncontrolled. Consider the recent story of David and Tiffany Hartley, a married couple, who had moved to the border from Colorado three years earlier for a job in the oil industry. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Saudi Cleric’s Assurances about Peaceful Islam Do Not Concur with Historical Record

November 22nd 2010

Islamic Topics - Mecca Hajj
Muslims circumambulate the Kaaba at Mecca

In his midday sermon on November 15 to millions of Muslim pilgrims gathered on the plain of Arafah for the annual Hajj to Mecca, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh called for religious moderation and affirmed that Islam prohibits terrorism, extremism, and injustice. In the United States, Nihad Awad of the Council on American Islamic Affairs welcomed the cleric’s words, saying “It is extremely significant that such a prominent Muslim leader would offer a clear statement condemning terrorism and religious extremism during the largest Islamic gathering in the world and on the most important day on Islam's spiritual calendar.”

In a press release, Awad was quoted, “The importance of the Grand Mufti's statement is made even more significant given the fact that it was delivered in the same spot as the last sermon offered by the Prophet Muhammad.” Making reference to terrorism wrought by Muslim extremists, Awad added, “This statement from Islam's spiritual capital should put to rest once and for all the false claim that Muslim leaders do not condemn terrorism.” Awad urged Muslim leaders in America and worldwide to incorporate the Grand Mufti's statement in prayers to be offered on November 16 to mark the end of Hajj. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Waiting for Iran’s Response to NATO Missle Defense Shield

November 22nd 2010

Iran - Iranian Qiam missile launch
Iranian Qiam missile launch

The new “Strategic Concept” that NATO is expected to adopt at its Lisbon summit this weekend offers the advantage of an early initial capability to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian ballistic missile threat, even though—in deference to Turkish sensibilities—NATO is not expected to identify Iran as the source of the threat. For now, the Islamic Republic is unable to reach targets in Eastern Europe, but that could change as early as 2012 if Tehran decides to commence production of the medium-range Sajjil-2 missile. And because the NATO concept hinges first on the deployment of ship-based missile systems to the eastern Mediterranean, followed later by the deployment of land-based interceptors, it entails certain vulnerabilities that Iran could exploit in the near term. Read more ..

The Transportation Edge

Economics and Safety Collide in Airplane Repairs

November 15th 2010

Transportation Topics - Damaged Airplane

In 1991, a mechanic at a Turkish repair shop overhauled an engine on a U.S. passenger jet and missed a crack in the engine.

Four years later, on the evening of June 8, 1995, 57 passengers on ValuJet Flight 597 heard a loud bang as the plane sped down a runway in Atlanta. Shrapnel from the damaged engine ripped through a fuel line. The engine and cabin caught on fire. One crew member suffered serious puncture wounds from the shrapnel, and another crew member and five passengers suffered minor injuries.

Thousands of mechanics from all over the world work on U.S. commercial airplanes. Foreign repair stations are located in Canada, Mexico, countries in Central America and Asian countries such as China. Domestically, airplanes are repaired at large facilities in Mobile, Ala., Greensboro, N.C., and Everett, Wash., among many others. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

The Future of Democrats Rises and Falls with Obama's Popularity

November 15th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Flag

Whether Democrats retake the House majority in 2012 will depend in no small part on the popularity of President Obama.

Republicans won control of at least 60 seats on Election Day but more than half of those are in districts the president carried in 2008.

The performance of a party’s presidential candidate is usually a good indicator of its chances in a district’s House race. With that in mind, the incoming class of Republican freshmen will be particularly conscious of Obama’s approval numbers for the next two years, as will Democratic strategists. 

"House Democrats have a plethora of pick-up opportunities in 2012 in Republican-held seats that President Obama won,” said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Targeting districts based on presidential electoral performance is a proven strategy. Read more ..

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