Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Week in Review

Riots in Egypt, problematic democracy in Israel, the pope’s past, confidential diplomatic disclosures gone viral, what really happened with the Fed, and the ‘repeal amendment.’

Middle East
The most disturbing revelation made in the latest round of U.S. Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks “is the extent to which both the Bush and Obama administrations have concealed Iran’s war against the United States,” according to Lee Smith writing for Tablet (November 29). The diplomatic papers reveal that most every major leader in the Middle East has been pleading with the United States to do something about the primary source of state-sponsored terrorism. The New York Times also reported that Saudi Arabia’s powerful King Abdullah angrily expressed his disapproval of the Bush administration for disregarding his advice against the Iraqi invasion. Prior to the war in Iraq, Abdullah said, the U.S., Saddam Hussein and Saudi Arabia had collectively kept Iran in check. But by knocking out Saddam, the U.S. had unwittingly handed Iraq over to Iran as a “gift on a golden platter.” As regular Trumpet readers would know, we were talking about the likelihood of Iraq falling to Iran as early as 1994. The WikiLeaks make it abundantly obvious that America, by turning a blind eye to the primary source of terror—even actively working to conceal Iran’s war against the U.S.—has had its pride in its awesome power broken.
Riots erupted throughout Egypt this week, resulting in at least eight deaths and scores of injuries, over speculation that the country’s government rigged the November 28 election to drive out lawmakers belonging to its only real rival, the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) party. Although the MB is officially banned in Egypt, its candidates run as independents, and it is the largest political opposition to President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (ndp). The ndp won its largest share of the legislature in 15 years in the election, while the MB was obliterated, going from 88 seats to zero. Although the government has defended the integrity of the elections, its refusal to allow international organizations to observe them has hijacked its credibility. Egyptian security forces arrested more than 1,000 MB activists in a nationwide crackdown in the days leading up to the election. The Muslim Brotherhood announced on Wednesday that it will boycott runoff elections scheduled for December 5 in protest of the rigging, but it has not abandoned its quest for power in Egypt. MB candidate Sobhi Saleh said the Brotherhood hopes the rigging will discredit the ndp in the long term, and draw more Egyptians toward the MB. Eighty-two-year-old Mubarak is reported to be terminally ill, and will likely be unable to run in the presidential elections less than a year from now. Will his successor be able to maintain Egypt’s stable dictatorship and its suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood?
On November 22, Israel’s Knesset passed a law to prevent an Israeli government giving up East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights without a significant number of people supporting it. The national referendum law means that this territory can only be given away if approved by two thirds of the Knesset. Unless 80 out of the 120 Knesset members approve such a land giveaway, the deal must be approved by a majority of voters in a national referendum. “The new law makes it extremely unlikely that any government can surrender any of the land covered by the law, barring a drastic shift in political leanings against the growing nationalist mood,” writes (November 23). The Trumpet has long predicted that Israel would not give away East Jerusalem in a peace deal. Rather, the Bible indicates that the eastern part of the city will be violently taken over by the Palestinian Arabs.
More evidence personally implicating Pope Benedict xvi in the Roman Catholic child abuse scandals emerged this week. It involves a case in 1980 where a priest was transferred to Munich, then under the jurisdiction of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, after sexually abusing boys in Essen. It is common Catholic practice to simply relocate priests that commit this kind of crime, rather than punish them in any meaningful way. The head of personnel in Essen wrote to Ratzinger and called him over the phone, telling him that “there is a risk which has prompted us to immediately remove him from the parish,” and that “an official complaint has been lodged by members of the parish.” The priest was then allowed to go on abusing children, and received a fine and suspended sentence for this in 1986. The Catholic Church claims that Ratzinger did not know that the priest was allowed to continue working with children. However, evidence released on November 29 indicates that the Catholic Church is lying. On July 31, 1980, the child-abusing priest wrote a letter headed, “For the personal attention of His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,” asking to be promoted from an assistant priest to a full priest. Witnesses confirm that the letter was delivered. In the letter, this priest detailed the work he was doing—even including copies of the church newspaper, where he wrote about his numerous projects that involved young children. The priest said that Ratzinger responded to the letter. If this is true, the pope knew that this known, unpunished child abuser had unfettered access to young people again.
Switzerland voted to automatically expel foreigners who are convicted of certain crimes on November 28. The measure—put forward by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party—was supported by 52.9 percent of those voting. Amnesty International said that Sunday was a “black day for human rights in Switzerland.” Regardless of the morality of the decision, it shows that Switzerland is moving to the right.
An Anglican parish in Calgary has become the first in Canada to announce that it will return to Roman Catholicism. Known for being a conservative and traditional church, the 70-member congregation St. John the Evangelist voted on November 21, with 90 percent in favor of the move. The parish will try to hold on to its church building. Continue to watch for Anglicans moving to Catholicism.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised Europe’s single currency while criticizing the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency in Berlin on November 26. “As you know, there are currently problems in Portugal, Greece and Ireland, and the euro is a bit unsteady, but the euro is a stable world currency,” he told business leaders. “We have to get away from the overwhelming dollar monopoly. It makes the world economy vulnerable and unbalanced.” Putin went so far as to say that he believed Russia may one day join the euro. “The rapprochement of Russia and Europe is inevitable,” he said. Putin’s latest statements follow on from an agreement between Russia and China to abandon the U.S. dollar in favor of using their own currencies for bilateral trade, announced by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russia’s Putin on November 23. Expect Russian foreign policy to reflect both a fear of Germany and a desire to draw close to what Moscow sees as the next superpowers.
On Saturday, China and Vietnam held their first-ever bilateral strategic defense dialogue. Chinese and Vietnamese officials said the talks are an important step in the direction of building confidence and enhancing bilateral defense cooperation between the two countries. The two sides agreed to boost collaboration in the areas of naval and border guard forces, and military science research and training. They also announced plans to establish a hotline between the Defense Ministries of the two nations. Only a few months ago, Vietnam’s concerns about China’s mushrooming power and belligerency were prodding it to develop a closer relationship with the United States. Back in August, predicted that Vietnam edging toward the U.S. wouldn’t last long. “Vietnam and the other nations of Southeast Asia will soon … abandon the sinking U.S. ship, to instead support Beijing’s ascendancy … as they recognize the reality of Washington’s crumbling power,” we wrote (August 12). Saturday’s defense talks show that Vietnam’s alignment is already shifting.
Beijing hosted the chairman of North Korea’s parliament, Choe Thae-Bok, this week, in response to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula that flared up when the North launched a deadly attack on South Korea last week. While China’s initial response to Pyongyang’s attack was muted, it is now calling for emergency talks among the leaders of the nations in the six-party talks. Washington and Seoul say the talks can’t be resumed until Pyongyang makes concessions over its recent attacks against South Korea and shows itself to be prepared for nuclear disarmament. North Korea’s belligerency, which the West has often rewarded in the past, is likely Pyongyang’s latest attempt to obtain aid from the international community. China’s calls for the emergency talks suggest that Beijing wants Pyongyang to accomplish this goal. China’s view of North Korea as a strategic buffer against the U.S. has prompted it to defend North Korea, and to increase aid to Pyongyang. The Institute for Science and International Security, a U.S.-based think tank, has said that North Korea either obtained uranium enrichment technology in China or used it as a transshipment point. When viewed alongside the significant economic cooperation between China and North Korea, the political cooperation between the two sides takes on even greater importance.
China’s inroads into Africa are gaining considerable momentum, and the trend comes at the West’s expense. West. On Saturday, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping signed several major deals in Angola. On Monday, he concluded a two-day visit to Botswana during which he forged millions of dollars’ worth of energy development and infrastructure deals. In Ethiopia on Wednesday, Chinese investors opened a $27-million leather-goods facility, and launched initiatives to build an airport hotel and a cement factory nearby. Thursday saw Sudan sign deals with Chinese investors that will quintuple its current wheat production. And this has not been an unusual week. China claims to have over $1.5 billion invested in African nations, to employ some 300,000 Africans (in Africa), and to have constructed 37,000 miles of roads. These numbers substantially exceed those of any other nation. Last year, China overtook the United States to become South Africa’s largest trading partner, and Chinese-African annual trade numbers exceeded $100 billion for the first time in 2010. China’s accelerating drive for resources is intensifying the global scramble for the planet’s wealth. As China devours a quickly growing piece of the African pie, Europe will take notice and move to tighten its grip on and expand its own supply channels in Africa.
European and African nations made no progress in ironing out their differences over free-trade deals between the two continents as they met in Tripoli on November 29 and 30. Europe has been trying to persuade Africa nations to sign Economic Partnership Agreements since 2002. These agreements would give Europe greater access to trade with the continent. Expect Europe and other powers to continue to work hard to gain access to Africa’s rich natural resources.
The news has been buzzing this week with revelations from a cache of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables leaked to Australian Julian Assange, who published them on a website called WikiLeaks. The collection includes a quarter-million confidential messages between Washington and 270 of its embassies and consulates around the world, which candidly describe such sensitive issues as Middle East strikes, Russian and Afghan corruption, North Korean weakness, Chinese hacking and European diplomats. On the heels of unflattering comments revealed about Chancellor Merkel and her administration, one German columnist called the leak “a diplomatic Waterloo” in which “even a technological superpower like the U.S. has not been able to keep these evaluations secret.” About 11,000 of the cables are classified “secret,” and 9,000 are “noforn,” not to be shared with foreign governments. Many list the names of diplomats’ confidential sources, such as foreign lawmakers, military officers, activists and journalists, often labeled, “Please protect,” or “Strictly protect.” Some of the WikiLeaks documents could compromise U.S. intelligence efforts, and they all lay bare a world of diplomatic relations and efforts that relies heavily on confidentiality and trust. The massive leak will probably spook sources and impair the efforts of the U.S., already somewhat unpopular on the world scene, and its diplomats, whose essential function is building trust and gaining insight and perspectives on foreign countries, the Wall Street Journal reported. Assange has yet to publish thousands more of the documents, and he has promised to target a major American bank in a forthcoming “megaleak.” U.S. and foreign diplomats are scrambling for damage control, claiming that the revelations will not affect relations. One commentator opines that the pile of exposed secrets is the work of an opportunist who purposefully included juicy gossip tidbits that have nothing to do with altruistic transparency. The fallout from the episode is likely to irreparably damage America’s already beleaguered international reputation.
Meanwhile, as it deals with the fallout of a nuclear-sized security breach explosion, the Pentagon’s computer systems are still only about 60-percent secure. A Pentagon spokesman said Sunday that 60 percent of Defense Department computers have software capable of “monitoring unusual data access or usage.” The statement came just hours before WikiLeaks published its scores of sensitive diplomatic cables, which were possibly stolen by a low-level 23-year-old soldier with nothing more than a cd and a memory stick.
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve disclosed details of 11 emergency programs and more than 21,000 transactions it made from December 2007 to July 2009. The details, which the Fed resisted giving but Congress required, show that the scope of the bailouts is much greater than was previously known. The New York Times reports that Citigroup came to the Fed 174 times in 13 months, and corporations like Caterpillar, General Electric, McDonald’s and Verizon relied on the Fed. Some of the nation’s largest companies used the Fed for bailouts or to try to make a profit off the situation. The central bank also found itself supporting small business, auto, student and credit card loans through one of its programs. At the end of 2008, the Fed racked up $1.5 trillion in outstanding credit. From March 2008 to May 2009, the Fed extended a total of almost $9 trillion in short-term loans to 18 financial institutions. It also appears that powerful individuals with connections to the failing banks directly benefited from the bailouts, the Times reported.
Federal Reserve data also shows that foreign central banks, companies and financial institutions also benefited from the Fed programs. The European Central Bank and nine other central banks drew heavily on the Fed’s currency swap lines, allowing them to relieve pressures in their markets. American subsidiaries of giant foreign banks like bnp Paribas, ubs, Mizuho Securities, Sumitomo and Royal Bank of Scotland also received bailouts from the Fed. Bloomberg reported that the Fed may be the “central bank of the world” due to its cumulative $74.5 billion ubs bailout, twice as big as its largest domestic bailout of Citigroup. Barclays Plc received another $47.9 billion in an overnight loan program.
Following on the heels of “tea party” anger before and during last month’s mid-term elections, Republicans on Capitol Hill have proposed nothing less than a constitutional amendment to check the expanding powers of the federal government. The “repeal amendment” would give state legislatures the power to veto federal laws. Supporters of the bill say it will protect the states’ rights specified in the 10th Amendment, and the government’s stimulus program, bailouts and health-care law are reasons why it is needed.