Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Week in Review

Japan ditches pacifism, the Greeks hit the streets, crisis spreads to Belgium, and the Philippines kowtows to China.
Middle East
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fired his foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, on Monday, replacing him with the country’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, as the interim foreign minister. While a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the sacking would not affect the country’s foreign policy, Stratfor reports that the move indicates a rift within Iran’s ruling elite over the nuclear issue. Mottaki was fired abruptly while on a trip to Senegal, just days after the December 6-7 nuclear talks in Geneva between Tehran and world powers. Some believe that Mottaki’s firing could be related to the release of classified U.S. diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. “Clearly, Iranian foreign policy has failed here and someone needed to pay the price for it,” said Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council in Washington. Political insiders say that there have been fundamental divisions between Mottaki and Ahmadinejad since the 2005 election, but Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had until now refused to allow the president to replace the foreign minister.
A terrorist attack on a Shiite mosque in Iran on Wednesday killed 39 people and injured more than 100 in the worst confrontation between the Iranian government and Jundallah, a Sunni militant group, in three years. The two suicide bombings, carried out during a Shiite religious ceremony, were claimed by Jundallah rebels, who said they were retaliation for the execution of their leader in June. The Iranian government apparently blamed an unnamed intelligence service for masterminding the attack and accused the U.S. and Israel of supporting Jundallah. “America and the Zionist regime (Israel) try to create discord among Shiites and Sunnis by orchestrating such bombings,” Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said. “They should know that such measures will not go unanswered.” America recently listed Jundallah as a terrorist group in a move seen by analysts as a concession to Iran in hopes of reaching an agreement on the balance of power in the region and resolving the nuclear standoff.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has revised his succession plan due to the unpopularity of his son Gamal among the military establishment and the ruling National Democratic Party, according to Stratfor sources. The new consensus candidate for a possible successor to Mubarak, who is in ailing health, is former air force chief and current minister of civil aviation Ahmed Shafiq. This choice may satisfy the “old guard,” who don’t want liberal economic changes in the country that the new guard, which Gamal represents, is calling for. But if this plan eventuates, it may also create a larger backlash against the autocratic regime.
The European Union on Monday reaffirmed its readiness to recognize a Palestinian state but stopped short of recognizing such a state outright. EU foreign ministers released a statement expressing “regret” at Israel’s rejection of a new construction freeze and labeling Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as an “obstacle to peace.” One foreign minister said that recognition of a Palestinian state was under consideration but that “at this stage it’s too early.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has urged the EU to take steps toward recognizing a Palestinian state based upon pre-1967 borders—lands occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. While Europe in some ways may appear to be an objective mediator in the Middle East peace process, its actions consistently belie this notion.
European leaders agreed to amend the Lisbon Treaty to create a permanent eurozone rescue fund at a meeting in Brussels on December 16-17. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the agreement demonstrated a “big piece of solidarity between the states that share the euro.” Stratfor has a different perspective, saying, “Amending the Lisbon Treaty in order to establish a permanent rescue mechanism will complete Berlin’s first phase of redesigning the European Union” (December 15).
Belgium’s AA+ credit rating is likely to fall according to ratings agency Standard & Poor’s, signaling that the financial crisis could be beginning to spread to the heart of Europe. Moody’s warned that Spain and Greece could also have their ratings cut. Standard & Poor’s lowered Belgium’s outlook to negative on December 14. Belgium has not had a government for six months, and is even at risk of splitting up. Belgium’s debt stands at 96 percent of its gross domestic product. The country needs to sort out its deficit, yet without a functional government there is no way it can. Investors fear that with such weak leadership, Belgium will not be able to put together austerity measures tough enough to solve its problems. Stratfor also highlighted Austria as another potential problem. It doesn’t have the national debt that Belgium has—its debt is only 68 percent of gdpbut its banks could be in trouble after over-indulging in the central European credit bubble. Stratfor points out that Belgium and Austria lack the resources that large countries have to tackle their problems. A bigger nation can force its own financial sector to help it out of trouble. Belgium and Austria don’t have that option—they have to go to foreign investors for money. “In good times this is irrelevant,” writes Stratfor, “but when money gets tight and investors get scared, an investor stampede can crush a state’s finances overnight” (December 14). The eurozone, in its common form, cannot handle economic crises in Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Austria. These looming crises will lead to a complete revolution of Europe.
More riots hit Athens on December 15 as Greeks continue to rail against the country’s austerity measures. Between 20,000 and 100,000 (depending on whether you believe the police or the unions) marched through Athens during a 24-hour general strike. Rioters firebombed the Economics Ministry and threw Molotov cocktails, concrete and other projectiles at police. Around 20,000 also protested in Thessaloniki. The EU Observer reports: “The general strike itself has paralyzed the country: Flights are grounded, trains silent and ships stuck in harbors. Schools are closed, rubbish has not been collected, bank workers have been on strike since Tuesday and hospitals are providing minimal services only.” The UK, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Spain also hosted protests and demonstrations. The financial crisis continues to foment social unrest.
WikiLeaks cables from the U.S. Embassy in the Vatican released so far show the power and ambition the Catholic Church has on the world scene. A December 2009 cable on EU voting patterns at the United Nations said that “The Vatican observer was as always active and influential behind the scenes.” A July 2001 cable, providing background on the pope’s visit to the U.S., was titled “The Vatican—The Supranational Power.” “The Vatican is one of very few sovereign entities that have presence and reach in virtually every country of the world,” the cable said. “Although its sovereignty is over limited territory, Vatican teaching and policies can influence the over 1 billion adherents of the Roman Catholic Church.” The same cable also talked about the Vatican’s goal to create a united Europe: “The Vatican would like to see a unified, Christian (i.e. Catholic) Europe. And therefore should be expected to intensify its dialogue with the leading Protestant groups in Germany and Scandinavia. The Vatican will also continue attempts to engage the Russian church and the ecumenical patriarch in Istanbul in an attempt to heal the Latin/Orthodox rift.” While these leaks are not revolutionary, they confirm what the Trumpet has been saying for a long time.
The prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, was an organized crime boss and trafficked in human organs in the late 1990s, according to a draft report published by the Council of Europe on December 14. The report accused Western nations of ignoring these crimes. Thaçi led the Drenica Group that came to dominate the Kosovo Liberation Army (kla) which fought Serbia. “Thaçi and these other ‘Drenica Group’ members are consistently named as ‘key players’ in intelligence reports on Kosovo’s mafia-like structures of organized crime,” said the report. The report supports claims by former prosecutor at The Hague Carla del Ponte that the kla kidnapped Serbs and stole their organs. Del Ponte said she had been prevented from investigating the crime. The report supports what the Trumpet has being saying for years—that the U.S. succumbed to German pressure and backed the wrong side in the Balkans. See our July 27, 2008, article “Karadzic and the Anti-Serbs” for more information on the anti-Serbian propaganda out there.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi survived a no-confidence vote in both the Senate and chamber amid riots in Rome on December 14. He missed being ousted by the lower house by three votes. Gianfranco Fini, Berlusconi’s former ally, triggered the vote by leaving the government to create his own parliamentary group. Three of Fini’s men voted for the government, keeping Berlusconi in power. Ushers had to step in to stop fights breaking out as the voting took place. So Berlusconi is still in power, but he is two votes short in the chamber of the absolute majority needed to guarantee that he can pass legislation.
The European Parliament finally approved the European Union’s budget for 2011 on December 15. The budget had been stalled as meps wanted more say in Europe’s financial planning. The budget accommodates member states’ demands for austerity by increasing the budget by 2.91 percent instead of 5.9 percent (for an institution that is always gobbling more money, this kind of adjustment counts as saving). In return, EU nation leaders agreed to present proposals for the EU to raise its own money in June 2011. Watch for the EU to try to gain the power to tax member states as it grows toward becoming a superstate.
The U.S. lost interest in rooting out Nazis after 1946 and even protected some Nazi war criminals according to a report published by the U.S. National Archives on December 10. The report, based on information declassified in 2005, concluded: “[T]he issue of capturing and punishing war criminals became less important over time.” It stated that “tracking and punishing war criminals were not high among the Army’s priorities in late 1946.” German intelligence declassified earlier in the year also showed that West Germany’s intelligence organization contained many Nazis and war criminals. The reports confirm that postwar Germany was never thoroughly de-Nazified.
On December 10, the Philippines joined the China-led boycott against the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony which honored an imprisoned Chinese dissident. China’s beef was over the Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s peace prize to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese activist who waged a 20-year campaign to bring what the Nobel Committee called “fundamental human rights” to China. Beijing, which sees Liu’s work as a challenge to the Communist Party’s self-appointed right to rule the nation, imprisoned Liu as a dissident in December 2009, and lashed out at the Nobel Committee, and the West in general, calling the decision to award him the prize “an anti-China farce.” In the lead-up to the award ceremony, Beijing announced that any nation that sent a representative to the event would face “consequences.” Most of the 17 other nations that heeded China’s calls to boycott the ceremony were the usual suspects: regimes like Iran and Venezuela that share China’s disdain for Western human rights pressure. But the Philippines is supposed to be a champion of democracy and an ally of the West. The Manila Times blasted President Benigno Aquino iii, saying he made a “painful sacrifice” of the Philippines’ human rights image in order to please Beijing for security and economic reasons. Manila’s kowtowing to Beijing came only three days after the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff traveled to Beijing for high-level meetings that culminated in a military logistics deal between the Philippines and China. Manila is beginning to read the writing on the wall and is positioning the Philippines for the inevitable demise of U.S. foreign policy in Asia.
Japan is poised to shift toward a more assertive military stance involving new advanced weaponry, boosted cooperation with its ally nations, and deployable rapid-response units, Japanese media announced on Monday. Tokyo has considered such a sweeping shift for some time, but rising tensions with China and North Korea have injected new urgency into the discussions. Japanese media reports say that the updated defense program guidelines, scheduled for release this month, will increase the country’s submarine fleet from 16 to 22, add advanced fighter jets to the air force, and will relocate troops from the faded northern threat of Russia to the intensifying threat of China to Japan’s south. The plan also calls for a review of Japan’s three non-nuclear principles, for a lifting of the nation’s arms export bans, and for defensive alliances with the U.S., India, Australia and South Korea. As the current trends persist, Japan’s military will continue to expand, and it will look less and less like a “self-defense” force. And although Japan’s expanding military is, at present, largely a response to threats from other Asian countries, Bible prophecy reveals that the militaries of China, Japan and other powers in the East will soon put aside their differences and unite.
Riots in Moscow and other Russian cities have demonstrated the need to tighten the reins of public order and to increase the power of police forces, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday. Putin’s comments followed a demonstration in Moscow by 5,000 thugs and racists which resulted in injuries for more than 30 people and raised questions about Moscow’s ability to deal with increasing xenophobia in Russia. Putin took the opportunity to lash out at liberals who have criticized him for squelching opposition protests with riot police. “The liberal community must understand the need for maintaining order,” Putin said. But many analysts suspect links between some Russian politicians and various nationalist groups, saying that government hawks might support nationalists in order to justify increases in Kremlin power, and to thwart attempts at opening up Russia’s political system. In late 2011, Russians will vote on a new parliament, and in March of 2012, they will elect a new president. Expect Putin to seek and win another presidential term.
Africa/Latin America
The WikiLeaks cables boosted Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe this week. One leak shows that Mugabe’s chief opponent, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, is a strong U.S. ally, often in touch with the U.S. Embassy. Liesl Louw-Vaudran of the Institute for Security Studies, based in South Africa, said, “For southern Africa, the WikiLeaks Zimbabwe revelations are most significant, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say they could destabilize Zimbabwe. … We are sitting with a very tense situation, very delicate, where we’ve got a dictator now for the last 25 years here in Africa, absolutely insistent that any opposition to him is being instigated by the West. He now has that on paper, and it is very dangerous.” The cables show Tsvangirai’s discussions with the U.S. on how to oust Mugabe—so Mugabe now knows exactly what his opponents are thinking. Some Zimbabwean officials have accused Tsvangirai of treason. The leaks also quote former U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell saying that Tsvangirai is a “flawed figure, who is not readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable judgment in selecting those around him.” The cables also inadvertently released the name of a member of Mugabe’s own party who was giving the U.S. information. The leaks redacted most instances of the individual’s name, but left it uncensored in one location. Now he could end up out of a job, in prison, or worse—dead. The cables have made a mess of America’s efforts to undermine a despotic regime that works closely with China. Politicians willing to turn against their despotic leaders are going to be even less likely to talk with the U.S. now.
Another leaked cable shows the scale of the violence and corruption surrounding Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields. “In a country filled with corrupt schemes, the diamond business in Zimbabwe is one of the dirtiest,” said one cable from November 2008. After one attack by government forces, a cable states that “over 200 bodies turned up at Mutare mortuaries. Many of those bodies arrived with fatal gunshot or dog-bite wounds and were tagged ‘bid Marange,’ or ‘brought in dead from Marange.’ The diamonds are sold to foreign merchants, “including Belgians, Israelis, Lebanese, Russians and South Africans who smuggle them out of the country for cutting and resale elsewhere.” The cable states: “The majority of the diamonds are smuggled to Dubai and sold at the Dubai Multi Commodities Center Authority. The highest quality diamonds are shipped to Belgium, Israel or South Africa for cutting.” The cables also supported claims that the head of Zimbabwe’s central bank, Gideon Gono, pocketed a great deal of money by buying diamonds with Zimbabwe dollars that he had just printed, and then being paid for them in U.S. dollars. The discovery of one of the world’s richest diamond fields should have been a blessing for the country. Instead, with its thoroughly corrupt government, it has been a curse.
On December 14, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez asked the nation’s Congress to give him special powers to decree laws without any input from the Congress for one year. The dictator used the excuse that he needed the power to deal with the damage left by floods and mudslides that destroyed thousands of homes. The real reason is probably the fact that the current legislature is full of Chávez’s cronies, and the one about to take office contains a much larger percentage of his opponents. Next year, he will no longer control the two thirds of the legislature necessary to pass some laws. If he is successful in gaining decree powers, this would be the fourth time that Chávez has been given these powers.
Venezuela received 1,800 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles from Russia in 2009 according to UN arms control data, said a Washington Post article December 11. The Post cites a missile expert from the Federation of American Scientists, Matt Schroeder, saying that the missiles are some of the most sophisticated in the world. “It’s the largest recorded transfer in the UN arms registry database in five years, at least,” he said. “There’s no state in Latin America of greater concern regarding leakage that has purchased so many missiles.” The UN’s database shows that from 2006 to 2008 Russia sold Venezuela 24 combat planes, 44 attack helicopters and 472 missiles and launchers. A State Department cable from Aug. 10, 2009, stated that Venezuela had spent “over $5 billion last year and growing” on weapons from Russia. Continue to watch the growing threat at America’s backdoor.
A massive bipartisan tax package reducing taxes and increasing government borrowing was sent on its way to President Barack Obama for his signature on Friday. The bill will extend the Bush-era tax cuts in addition to reducing Social Security taxes and renewing long-term jobless benefits for the unemployed. In a refreshing change, the Democrat leadership abandoned a trillion-dollar spending bill with over 6,000 pork barrel earmarks at the last minute after intense bipartisan fighting. Nevertheless, even the bill the president received, if signed into law, will increase the national debt by an astounding $858 billion and throw Social Security even deeper into the red.
Approval of the American Congress has hit an all-time low according to the latest Gallup poll, taken on December 10-12. Only 13 percent said they approved of the way Congress is doing its job. These shocking figures are proof that, as is prophesied in Isaiah 3, the United States is becoming bereft of high-quality leadership. For more information on this trend, see our article “Is America Governable?
Crime has made headlines in the U.S. this week. Police in Los Angeles have released 180 photos of unidentified women who might have all been murdered by the same man. The suspect, a former sanitation worker and police garage attendant, was arrested in July and is believed to have killed 10 women. When arrested, scores of photos were found in his home, pictures that might have been taken from the women’s homes by a serial killer. The investigation is only the most recent example of the horrifying crime extant in America.