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Archive | July, 2013

France Steps up Pressure on Qaddafi

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo by Michael Wuertenberg

As NATO members express increasing dissatisfaction with the progress of military actions against Qaddafi, France has acknowledged that they are directly arming the Libyan rebels. France’s Colonel Thierry Burkhard told Al Jazeera that France had dropped machine guns, assault rifles and RPG’s along with other items in the Nafusa Mountains in Western Libya.

This development illuminates the stark contrast among NATO member states, some of whom are reconsidering their commitment to the mission against Qaddafi. Other nations, however, have decided that in order to facilitate Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s downfall, a more robust effort is necessary. “We began by dropping humanitarian aid: food, water and medical supplies,” Col. Thierry Burkhard was quoted by AFP news agency.

As the Libyan mission drags on into its fourth month, NATO member states have thus far been reluctant to become fully engaged with the rebels. This is partly due to the realities on the ground. NATO cannot be seen as playing a direct hand in Qaddafi’s downfall despite the fact that NATO warplanes have pounded Libyan ground assets for months. Rather, the mission must be seen as an attempt to protect civilians as authorized by the U.N. authorized no-fly zone. However, this lack of engagement has not gone unnoticed by the rebels on the ground. Frequently, when the rebels have been surrounded and have faced certain defeat only then have NATO warplanes intervened. Within NATO this development has generated raised eyebrows. Hans Hillen, the Dutch defense minister warned of “mission creep”.

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Securing Japan’s Clean Energy Future

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Police officers in Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture. Photo: Warren Antiola

Police officers in Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture. Photo: Warren Antiola

As Japan recovers from the spring tsunami and Fukushima nuclear station disaster, it plans for a clean energy future. It is tempting for its energy industry officials to categorize all the lessons of the nuclear crisis as specific to the atomic energy industry. Accidents happen, however, in all complex energy production systems. Accidents in the most abstruse technology systems, from commercial airplanes to tankers to space shuttles to nuclear plants, can overwhelm even the most conscientious designers and operators.

As Japanese clean energy hardware makers Toshiba, Panasonic, and Sharp expand production and design prototypes to meet a new national demand for renewable energy, they should heed one of the lessons of the nuclear industry: keeping it simple keeps it safe.

In Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies, Yale sociologist Charles Perrow posits that modern technology systems contain so many connected, interactive parts that accidents are inevitable and natural during their operation. Thus he calls these events “normal accidents.” For certain, corporate malfeasance in the nuclear industry—falsification of safety records, for example—is still culpable when it occurs.

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Robert Gates Offers a Blunt Assessment

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Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates responds to a senator’s question as he testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing regarding his confirmation in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 5, 2006

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is scheduled to retire at the end of the month and on the heels of his retirement he has not been shy about continued engagements in Libya and Afghanistan and warning against the dangers of gutting the Pentagon budget. “I’ve spent my entire adult life with the United States as a superpower, and one that had no compunction about spending what it took to sustain that position,” Gates told Newsweek. “It didn’t have to look over its shoulder because our economy was so strong. This is a different time.”  “To tell you the truth, that’s one of the many reasons it’s time for me to retire, because frankly I can’t imagine being part of a nation, part of a government…that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.”

Despite initially opposing U.S. involvement in Libya during closed-door meetings with the president, Gates has pushed back at critics who claim that U.S. involvement is illegal. In addressing critics on Capitol Hill who have suggested that President Obama is in violation of the War Powers Act, Gates argues that U.S. engagement is limited in scope as to not have violated the letter and intent of the law. “I believe that President Obama has complied with the law consistent in a manner with virtually all of his predecessors,” Gates said while appearing on Fox News. “I don’t think he’s breaking any new ground here.”

Gates defends U.S. engagement on the grounds that soon after the U.S. became involved it handed over operational control to NATO. “When this operation stated…we were at war in Iraq still, we had 50,000 troops in Iraq, we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, we have 24,000 people engaged in Japanese earthquake relief - we have a number of commitments around the world.” “So, the arrangement and the understanding that the president had with our key allies from the very beginning was the U.S. would come in heavy at the beginning, establish the no-fly zone and then hand off the operation to our allies - and that we would recede into a support role.” Gates continued, “From our standpoint at the Pentagon, we’re involved in a limited kinetic operation…If I’m in Qadhafi’s palace, I suspect I think I’m at war.”

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Political Expediency May Forfeit Reform in Somalia

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A woman walks through the deserted streets of Bakara Market in central Mogadishu, Somalia. Bakara was a strategic stronghold of the Islamist group Al-Shabaab until their sudden withdrawal from the city. Stuart Price/UN

A woman walks through the deserted streets of Bakara Market in central Mogadishu. Stuart Price/UN

The worst thing that could happen to Somalia at this critical juncture — in its recovery from two decades of bloodshed and chaos — is to disrupt the momentum of security improvement and to derail the reformation process lead by Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and his cabinet. And that is exactly what the Kampala Accord has inadvertently done. But, who would have ever thought that the torpedo factor would come in the form of an accord, its inadvertent nature notwithstanding! The Kampala Accord is the byproduct of the International Contact Group for Somalia’s 19th meeting held in Kampala, Uganda.

On one hand, the accord endorses a one year extension to all the Transitional Federal Institutions and endorses the postponement of elections from this August to August 2012; on the other hand, it forces the Prime Minister and his government out.

According to the accord, the Prime Minister would resign within 30 days and the President would select a new Prime Minster. This portion of the accord is what has caused profound public outrage in Somalia and in the Diaspora as well as in refugee camps in Kenya. Immediately after the controversial accord became public, thousands of civilians from all walks of life and hundreds of members of the armed forces took their outrage to the streets.

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Italians Tire of Berlusconi

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Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reacts during a press conference following a ministers' council on July 22, 2011 at Palazzo Chigi in Rome. Berlusconi's Fininvest company will pay a court-ordered fine of 560 million euros ($793 million) to a rival media group but said on July 21 it will also make a second appeal against the ruling.  Andreas Solaro/AFP

Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reacts during a press conference following a ministers’ council on July 22, 2011 at Palazzo Chigi in Rome. Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a rebuke of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italians went to the polls and voted against renewing nuclear power and privatizing water resources, both strongly supported by the Prime Minister. Further, Italians, increasingly tired of allegations leveled at Mr. Berlusconi, overturned a law that would have granted the 75-year-old immunity from prosecution.

Moreover, despite Berlusconi’s best efforts to discourage a high voter turnout, 56 percent of the Italian electorate voted. Previous referendums had failed to meet the necessary legal quorum of 50 percent voter turnout. Additionally, Berlusconi, who holds providence over Italian media, relegated the impending referendum to second tier importance.

The referendum comes on the heels of defeat for Berlusconi backed mayoral candidates in Milan and Naples. Because Italian media largely ignored the referendum and the prime minister himself urged a boycott it fell on supporters of the poorly funded campaign to gin up support by relying on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

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The Return of California’s Gunbelt

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Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor fighter jet. C. Atkeison/Flickr

The world watches as California attempts to fill a nearly $10 billion budget gap, address an unemployment rate of 12 percent, and otherwise correct its economic course; when the Golden State economy weakens, the entire U.S. economy suffers. California’s current economic collapse is far worse than the downturn the state endured from 1990-1991 in terms of duration and job loss. Nevertheless, early 1990s economic shifts, especially in southern California’s defense industry, established important trends for today’s economic forecasters and political analysts eager to map the state’s future.

Until the 1990-1991 recession, California hosted the largest military-industrial complex in the country and Los Angeles was its epicenter; since 1958, the state’s share of the nation’s top defense contracts averaged about 22 percent. The recession roughly coincided with the Cold War’s end, when the George H.W. Bush administration slashed Pentagon spending, leading to mass layoffs. Three hundred thousand California manufacturing jobs, many in the aerospace industry, vanished.

The entertainment industry, embracing film production, film tourism, and supporting services, had grown rapidly during the 1980s; so did Silicon Valley. Many skilled workers dislocated from the defense sector moved to these booming industries.

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OPEC Ministers in Vienna at an Impasse

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Opal Queen oil tanker docked. Photo by Tom Wahlin

Opal Queen oil tanker docked. Photo by Tom Wahlin

Amid the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa and rising global oil prices, OPEC ministers in Vienna failed to arrive at a consensus about crude production levels. This was the first time in 20 years that an OPEC meeting failed to produce an agreement. “It was one of the worst meetings we’ve ever had,’’ said Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister. “We were unable to reach an agreement.’’

With oil trading above $100 dollars, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar had lobbied to increase output but were opposed by Venezuela and Iran. The Saudi led proposal was to increase daily oil output by 1.5 million barrels to 30.3 million barrels. Venezuela and Iran fear that by increasing daily output global prices will fall.

Geopolitics was largely responsible for the OPEC ministers’ failure to produce an agreement, specifically, the Iranian-Saudi disagreement over the ongoing turmoil in Bahrain.  Bahrain, which is ruled by Sunnis, invited Saudi security forces into the country to help squelch an insurrection. This angered largely Shiite Iran. The fact that Saudi Arabia was unable to persuade the other OPEC ministers surprised some.

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Second EU/IMF Economic Bailout Likely for Athens

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Greek riot police during a demonstration. Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

Amid dissent from his own government and continued protests in Athens, Prime Minister George Papandreou instructed the Ministry of the Interior to prepare for the possibility of a referendum on further cutbacks. “I am prepared, for the great changes that we are putting forward, to use even the institution of a referendum, for the broadest possible consent or opinion,” the prime minister told his cabinet ministers during a lengthy meeting.

Further cutbacks are strongly opposed by a significant number of Greeks across the political spectrum but especially by members of Papandreou’s PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) party. For the past two weeks, protests have been ongoing outside of Greece’s Parliament in Athens further pressuring the government to come up with a solution. Greece’s economy was severely damaged at the start of the global economic recession. Its overreliance on tourism and shipping was especially precarious given the connection of these industries to the global economic landscape.

However, despite the inconvenience that the cutbacks are causing, they are necessary in order to receive more financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund and Eurozone states. As frustrating as the cutbacks are they have yet to produce the intended result, which is to right a sinking Greek economy. Many Greeks are increasingly alarmed that the Greek debt crisis was not solved after the first IMF/EU bailout despite assurances from the government that short-term pains would be sufficient.

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The Viking in Corporate America

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Traders work in the oil options pit at the New York Mercantile Exchange. Richard Drew/AP

With just cause, a recent spate of journalism has deplored the absence of culpable Wall Street executives in federal jail cells across America. Major investment banks perpetrated systemic fraud against the public and wrecked consumer confidence in the credit and housing markets, contributing to the 2008 financial meltdown; yet, their most complicit leaders still do business, uncounted, uncharged, and unpunished.

Government regulators and lawyers often explain the delayed justice. Legal cases against major investment banks, they hold, require sharply drawn lines of evidence; common-law fraud claims, for example, require demonstration of criminal intent. Federal regulators, moreover, hate to approve bailouts to big banks and watch that recovery money pay legal fees rather than create new jobs. Prosecutorial zeal against mortgage-bundling banks also discredits the efforts of well-intentioned federal housing officials to boost home ownership rates.

Historically, few executive corporate malefactors have evaded justice as skillfully as the class of 2008. Enforcement and punishment has waned since the late 1980s, when prosecution of banks responsible for the saving and loan crisis sent more than 800 officials to jail. Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse records that in 1995, bank regulators referred 1,837 cases to the Justice Department; in 2006, that tally declined to 75; from 2006 to 2010, an average of 72 cases a year have been referred to Justice for prosecution. The 2002 Enron meltdown resulted in a twenty-four year jail sentence for company president Jeffrey Skilling.

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Rock the Casbah: Algeria and the Arab Spring

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Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika casts his ballot in May 10th's legislative election.  Image via Magharebia

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika casts his ballot in May 10th’s legislative election. Image via Magharebia

Algeria has largely avoided the type of unrest witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen. This could all change due to the slow pace of promised reforms by Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Earlier this decade Algeria faced an uncertain future after emerging from years of a civil war that began in the 1990s and resulted, by some accounts, in the killing of over a 100,000 people. Algeria still faces the difficulty of dealing with groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which has been known to rely on attacks against the government officials and others seen as pro-Western.

Andrew Hansen writes in the Council on Foreign Relations, “Terrorist activity in North Africa has been reinvigorated in the last few years by a local Algerian Islamist group turned pan-Maghreb jihadi organization: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A Sunni group that previously called itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), the organization has taken responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks in the region, declared its intention to attack Western targets, and sent a squad of jihadis to Iraq. Experts believe these actions suggest widening ambitions within the group’s leadership, now pursuing a more global, sophisticated, and better-financed direction.”

One of the largest problems facing Algeria and the likely cause of unrest in the streets is unemployment for the country’s youth. While Mr. Bouteflika did lift the 19-year-old emergency law, many would contend that unless more is done, Algerians under the age of 30, who make up 70% of the population, will take to the streets en mass and demand more structural changes.

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NATO Mission in Libya Extended Another Ninety Days

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NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

The NATO bombing campaign continued following a failed bid by South African President Jacob Zuma to broker a peace deal on behalf of the African Union. Both sides, NATO and Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, are recalcitrant in their positions and therein lies the dilemma for Western nations and the increasingly isolated Libyan leader.  According to Mr. Zuma, Qaddafi was prepared to accept the African Union sponsored ceasefire but would not step down as demanded by the rebels and Brussels. “He is ready to implement the road map,” said President Zuma.

In Benghazi, Fathi Baja, the foreign minister for the Transitional National Council said of Qaddafi’s position, “We refuse completely. We don’t consider it a political initiative, it is only some stuff that Gaddafi wants to announce to stay in power.”  Further underscoring the resolve of Qaddafi to remain in power, following his meeting with Mr. Zuma, Qaddafi’s chief spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, offered a blunt response to NATO and the rebels based in Benghazi, “We say: ‘Who are you to say the Libyan cannot choose Muammar Qaddafi?…We will never give in.”

Qaddafi’s hardening resolve to remain in power and increasing isolation is the result of over three months of the increasingly effective NATO bombing campaign which has denigrated Qaddafi’s military. At the same time, rebels have begun to coordinate their campaign against government forces. Additionally, Qaddafi has seen a number of his key government officials resign or leave Libya. The Libyan ambassador to the European Union, Al Hadi Hadeiba, defected along with his staff. Libya’s oil minister and former Prime Minister, Shokri Ghanem, defected and in March, Moussa Koussa, Qaddafi’s foreign minister fled to the U.K.

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