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March 18, 2013

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New Risks for U.S. Nuclear Power

March 15, 2013 by

President Barack Obama announces the nominations of Dr. Ernest Moniz (far left) as Energy Secretary to replace Steven Chu in the East Room of the White House, March 4, 2013. Lawrence Jackson/White House

In the past month, the White House has conveyed mixed messages about the president’s position on nuclear energy. Once praised at the highest levels as part of a wise “all of the above” energy strategy, commercial nuclear power was omitted from the State of the Union. Meanwhile, the president’s choice for Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, supports a nuclear renaissance in America.  As the White House refines its message on climate change for this congressional session, it should push nuclear power to the fringes of its energy policy.

Civilian nuclear power in the United States faces a new cluster of dangers unique to the 21st century energy market. These risks to public safety, considered alongside economic costs and waste management issues, render nuclear power an option of last resource for solving the climate crisis.

First, the current U.S. fleet of nuclear plants is more vulnerable than ever before to cyber security threats.  In the past decade, hackers have ritually mocked the U.S government and corporate standards for internet security. In 2011, hackers broke into the security division of EMC, an IT security firm used by the NSA, CIA, the Pentagon, the White House, and the Department of Homeland Security. The security firm called the attack “extremely sophisticated.”

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New York City Continues to Surprise Me

March 14, 2013 by

New York’s Finest, NYPD Officer

I’ve lived in New York City most of my life and I’ve heard all the stereotypes. If you visit New York City, it can be described as invariably cold, distant, harsh, and uncaring and all too willing to take advantage of the unwary. Further, the general consensus is that the NYPD, said to be New York’s finest, cannot be relied on. As a New Yorker, I can see the truth in some of this, but this past weekend showed me that the stereotype is overhyped.

Flash back to the last time I lost my wallet in Tokyo in 2012. In chic and trendy downtown Tokyo, ironclad public honesty among civilians and police officers is the rule rather than the exception. Even so, I would never have believed that a civilian would turn in a foreigner’s lost property until it happened to me. Nor would I have believed that I would have a brush with the martial underpinnings of the government and emerge unscathed.

Distraught after I discovered I was without my pocketbook and more importantly, my passport, I was directed to the police station, a stately, spotless grey granite edifice that was almost as elegant as the local hotels and restaurants. Although I was a foreign visitor - no make that a “foreign guest” and supposedly to be made welcome in Japan - the cop on duty was no pushover. I was grilled for thirty-five minutes as to my name, origin, time of arrival in Japan, time of estimated departure from Japan, purpose in Japan, and – key question - why I lost my wallet. He gave me the impression that it was a huge hassle – even a personal dilemma - for him. How could I have lost my wallet? Was it not the receptacle of very important information, including my passport? And once again - how could I have done such a foolish thing and how was it I could not explain it? Did I not understand that the police of Tokyo had many more important things to do than to run after foreigners and deal with their foolish ways?

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Understanding Hugo Chávez’s Legacy

March 11, 2013 by

Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez in Fort Tiuna, Venezuela in 2011. Image via government of Venezuela

In early December 2001, I was searching through my files looking for a column topic. At the time I was writing on foreign policy for the San Francisco Examiner, one of the town’s two dailies. A back page clip I had filed and forgotten caught my attention: on Nov. 7 the National Security Agency, the Pentagon, and the U.S. State Department had convened a two-day meeting on U.S. policy vis-à-vis Venezuela. My first thought was, “Uh, oh.”

I knew something about those kinds of meetings. There was one in 1953 just before the CIA and British intelligence engineered the coup in Iran that put the despicable Shah into power. Same thing for the 1963 coup in South Vietnam and the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende in Chile.

Hugo Chávez had reaped the ire of the Bush administration when, during a speech condemning the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, he asked if bombing Afghanistan in retaliation was a good idea? Hugo Chávez called it “fighting terrorism with terrorism,” not a very good choice of words, but, in retrospect, spot on. The invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent Iraqi War have been utterly disastrous for the U.S. and visited widespread terror on the populations of both countries. Upwards of a million Iraqis died as a direct and indirect effect of the war, five million were turned into refugees, and the bloodshed is far from over. Much the same—albeit on a smaller scale—is happening to the Afghans.

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Peace in the Sudans: The U.S. Needs it as Much as the Sudanese

February 25, 2013 by

Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers in South Sudan. Hannah McNeish/IRIN

In Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir has ruled for 24 years with an oppressive fist. He has acted on and furthered serious religious, ethnic, and racial tension by attempting to clear out the regions of South Sudan and Darfur. Although he has been indicted by the International Criminals Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes, he continues to rule by killing, starving, and ethnically cleansing people that he does not see as his equals. There are stories of people who hide in the mountainous border regions of Sudan and South Sudan as drones fly above, starving and living in constant fear of President al-Bashir’s government.

Their fate is tied to the decisions of the Sudanese government, and unexpectedly this has a direct impact on the everyday lives of Americans. Even if Americans don’t constantly live in fear of their government, or even need to take the time to consider the benefits of lasting peace between the Sudans, they must consider a change in U.S. policy for the region in terms of their own benefit.

The connection of the lives of the destitute Sudanese to that of the average American is one indispensible natural resource: oil. With the recent secession of South Sudan, the region’s supply of oil is in the south, while the infrastructure necessary to export the oil is in the north. There is also continued conflict over contested regions near the borders, particularly in the Nuba Mountains, which are said to be rich with oil deposits. Omar al-Bashir continues to justify racial hatred by terrorizing the people of the Nuba Mountains with air strikes, bombs, and other attacks. These actions only further complicate and volatilize an already unstable situation, worsening conditions for citizens by misallocating precious resources.

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Telling the Story of American Solar

February 15, 2013 by

Brianna Bacon, right, and Lizzie DeLeonibus, left, of Maryland look out over Florida International University’s solar thermal collector system at West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The American solar PV installation industry has cause to begin the year with gusto as firms continue to enjoy cheap panel supplies from abroad and develop new leasing and third party ownership models that expand their potential customer base dramatically. The third quarter 2012 was its third largest on record for installers and the residential market enjoyed its best quarter ever. Barack Obama used his second inaugural address and his fifth State of the Union address to beatify the cause of climate change reform, encouraging solar advocates soliciting federal support.

Just last week, General Motors announced a partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association, an alliance with global implications. “We negotiate rates with entire countries around the world,” said GM renewable energy manager Rob Threlkeld. “We plan to have a significant impact on driving the rates for solar electricity to a place where they are competitive with fossil fuels for electricity.”

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John Brennan and the New Americanism

February 10, 2013 by

We should regain for ourselves the faith of our founding fathers in the dignity of man and bend every effort to see that the rights which they cherished are denied to none in our time.

– Willard B. Spalding, “Americanism”, The Phi Delta Kappan, Apr. 1946

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in questioning John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nomination for the role of CIA director, showed the delicate foot tapping currently taking place in the Senate. The issue was, as ever, the program that is emblazoned on John Brennan like a conspicuous coat of arms. Yes, we are having a nice chat about drones and the handiwork of their operators, which we should expect if the questioner is the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “One of the problems is, once the drone program is so public, and one American is caught up, people don’t know much about this one ‘American citizen’ – so called.”

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Chuck Hagel’s Confirmation Hearing: Neocons Search for Relevance

February 5, 2013 by

President Barack Obama and former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. Image via WBUR

Chuck Hagel’s going over at the hands of Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee was more than an argument over political and policy differences; it was another spasm in the efforts of neoconservatives to define U.S. security policy in their own image.

Chuck Hagel, a Republican former two-term senator from Nebraska, had once been considered one of the neoconservatives’ own, at least for a while. After joining the Senate in 1997, he quickly became one of Republican Sen. John McCain’s more avid wingmen. He helped run the Arizonan’s 2000 campaign for the party’s presidential nomination. Hagel also voted for the 2002 resolution to authorize U.S. action against Iraq, the precursor to the March 2003 invasion.

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Clan Federalism and Somalia’s Future

February 5, 2013 by

Colors of the Kulmiye Party in Somaliland in 2010. Photo by Charles Roffey/Flickr

Secession. Clan-based federalism. Unitary decentralized politics. These independent natures that permeate clan rivalries inside Somalia have ruined the trust and moral principles among its people. Creating a formidable obstacle to recovery of the lost nation, the separation of clans on key issues threatens to divide Somalis who share a common culture, territory, and religion. African federalism has shown to fail due to a lack of commitment to democratic values and obstruction of the central government authority. The signs of many problems associated with clan federalism like violent minority dissent against a dominant clan are now visible in territories such as Puntland. Rather than solving the problems of bad governance, clan federalism expands the state’s flaws, frustrates national reconciliation, and annuls citizenship rights and obligations.

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Europe’s Perpetual Crisis

February 2, 2013 by

Defaced Bank of Greece sign referencing austerity demands being made by Germany. Milos Bicanski/Getty Images via Foreign Policy.

Back in the 1960s, the U.S. peace movement came up with a catchy phrase: “What if the schools got all the money they needed and the Navy had to hold a bake sale to buy an aircraft carrier?” Well, the Italian Navy has a line of clothing, and is taking a cut from a soft drink called “Forza Blu” in order to make up for budget cuts. It plans to market energy snacks and mineral water.

Things are a little rocky in Europe these days.

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A Failure of Diplomatic Security

January 30, 2013 by

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, on Jan. 23, 2013. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“The Secretary of State is responsible for the overall coordination and supervision of all United States Government activities and operations abroad…. The Secretary of State must protect all United States Government personnel on official duty abroad….”

– President George W. Bush, January 2002, (Excerpts-Letter of Instruction to U.S. ambassadors)

As former United States ambassador to three island nations in East Africa, I had a number of attack threats to deal with during my service from 2002-2005. I am appalled that Secretary Hillary Clinton would minimize the importance of the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens stating: “What difference at this point does it make”. Madam Secretary, a U.S. ambassador is dead—you were his boss, and should have had security measures in place to minimize the risk of a fatal attack. A chief of mission knows there are risks serving in conflicted areas, but with the on-going jihad against the United States, the State Department needed to be better prepared to protect the diplomatic troops.

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The Discourse of the ‘Arab Spring’ has been Misused

January 23, 2013 by

A reductionist discourse is one that selectively tailors its reading of subject matters in such a way as to only yield desired outcomes, leaving little or no room for other inquiries, no matter how appropriate or relevant. The so-called Arab Spring, although now far removed from its initial meanings and aspirations, has become just that: a breeding ground for choosy narratives solely aimed at advancing political agendas which are deeply entrenched with regional and international involvement.

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Mali Intervention and Chickens

January 17, 2013 by

A young mujahid in Timbuktu. May Ying Welsh/Al Jazeera

“It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts.”

– Charlie Marlow from Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

The vision that Conrad’s character Marlow describes is of a French frigate firing broadsides into a vast African jungle, in essence, bombarding a continent. That image came to mind this week when French Mirages and helicopter gunships went into action against a motley army of Islamic insurgents in Mali.

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The U.S. Aided Mohamed Morsi’s Rise to Power in Egypt

January 17, 2013 by

“Morsi has usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh, a major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”

– Mohammed ElBaradei

The Obama Administration supported the Arab Spring uprisings, which led to regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was deposed and found a new home in Saudi Arabia. In Egypt Hosni Mubarak was deposed and imprisoned. In Libya Islamists hunted down and killed Muammar Gaddafi. However in the aftermath of the regime changes, neither of the countries has seen stability or a better quality of life for their people.

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Gérard Depardieu, Vladimir Putin and the Tax Man

January 17, 2013 by

French actor Gérard Depardieu. Photo by Tommaso Masetti

What will a man do to avoid tax? Become Russian for one, or the cultural ambassador for Montenegro, the prelude to obtaining another means of escaping the homeland’s rapacious tax regime. France’s Gérard Depardieu, having failed to teleport himself via a spaceship timed to arrive at the world’s end, decided to do something distinctly terrestrial – adopt a new citizenship.

The bogeyman here is François Hollande, the French president who won the general election on a platform stacked with promises of increased taxation for the super rich, notably his 75 percent on those earning more than a million Euros. The grand and conspicuously aggrandised Depardieu took issue with it. How dare his talent be treated this way? The creators are always attacked by mindless managers and paper pushers.

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Blood Sport Returns to Afghanistan

January 10, 2013 by

Afghan President Hamid Karzai addresses the media at a news conference with former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec 13, 2012

Human rights are not revered in Afghanistan. Last November, President Karzai signed off on the execution of 16 prisoners on death row. Despite an international outcry by human rights activists and organizations, Kabul went forward and hanged 14 people on November 20th and 21st. While the death penalty is supported by a majority of Afghans, that does not make it morally righteous. Executions in Afghanistan came to a halt several years ago. But under mounting political pressure, President Karzai has charted a new course in dealing with the rise in communal violence throughout the country.

By resuming the death penalty this week, President Karzai has managed to kill three birds with one stone: appease hardliners, distance himself from perceived outside influence, and demonstrate his relevance to a society that regards him as the ineffectual Viceroy of Kabul.

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