Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Week in Review

More goals crossed off in the Palestinian agenda; German elections, technology and currency in 2011; British law’s decay on display; and preparing for war ‘in every direction.’
Middle East
Palestinian leaders have rejected Israel’s suggestion of an “interim peace agreement” after the failure of direct talks between the two sides. In an interview on Monday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time publicly suggested an interim deal that would not have to include the most divisive core issues such as the sovereignty of Jerusalem. An aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made it clear that such an interim agreement was not an option. “Jerusalem is a red line as it is to be the capital of a future Palestinian state,” he said.
At the same time, Israel is trying to fight the growing effort in the West to “delegitimize” the Jewish state, the Telegraph reports. The Israeli Defense Ministry on Tuesday designated the Palestinian Return Center, a campaign group based in London, as a front organization for the militant group Hamas. “[T]he center is involved in initiating and organizing radical and violent activity against Israel in Europe, while delegitimizing Israel’s status as a nation among the European community,” a statement said. “Among other terror-affiliated activities, the center organizes many conferences in various European countries for Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood activists from all around the world ….”
Dissent among Palestinians against Palestinian National Authority policies is not tolerated and is often met with repression and brutal force, according to Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim journalist writing for the Hudson Institute (December 24). The Palestinian Authority has been held up by the international liberal media as the antithesis of the supposedly brutal Israeli security forces. The truth, however, is that the PA is conducting a campaign using violence and intimidation to silence critics and opposition figures—and journalists who would report objectively. Only a quarter of Palestinians in the West Bank believe they can criticize the Palestinian Authority, a recent public opinion poll found. There is also a lack of media freedom in the West Bank, evidenced by the fact that the three major newspapers are controlled by the Palestinian government.
A Commentary article this week reports that over the past six months Tehran has been working hard on one way of undermining America’s ability to conduct military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program: “denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.” The article outlines how Tehran used an intimidation campaign to push Bahrain into announcing in August that it would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements, Commentary says. Last week, Qatar hosted an unprecedented visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation, with the Persian Gulf state announcing its readiness to conduct joint military exercises with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran, which was ratified by the Iranian Parliament this month. Washington’s “latitude to ‘calibrate’ force against Iran is effectively gone,” writes Commentary. The United States finds itself in this position today because—due to its lack of national will—it failed to deal with the “head of the snake” early on.
With seven out of Germany’s 16 states holding elections in 2011, next year could see some dramatic changes in the German government. The public appears to be against German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (cdu); opinion polls suggest only 37 percent of Germans support her government. “The March 27 election in Baden-Württemberg is the most important of the 2011 elections,” according to Spiegel Online. “It is a traditional cdu bastion, having been ruled continuously by the party since 1953. … Opinion polls suggest that the center-left Social Democrats (spd) and the Greens have a realistic chance of ousting the cdu in Baden-Württemberg in what would be nothing less than a political earthquake” (December 28). It looks even worse for the cdu’s coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (fdp). After winning 14.6 percent of the vote in the last elections, the fdp’s approval rating has shrunk to only 3 percent. The fdp’s leader Guido Westerwelle could lose his post. “Chancellor Merkel is deeply concerned that immigration, or more specifically Islam, is becoming a major issue in Germany,” writes the Telegraph’s Bruno Waterfield. “She fears that a German Geert Wilders could spring from within her Christian Democrat ranks to challenge her by emulating the popular and successful Dutch anti-Muslim politician” (December 24). Indeed, there is a void in Germany that a charismatic anti-immigration politician could fill, rising to great popularity. Watch this void closely in 2011.
Germany will develop a “National Cyber-Defense Center” in 2011, Interior Ministry spokesman Stefan Paris said on December 27. “It will work by bundling existing know-how in the area of cyberdefense,” he said. “There has been a sharp rise in so-called electronic attacks on the networks of German government and local authorities,” he told a regular government briefing. “Germany is a very high-tech country with considerable experience and know-how, so of course others will naturally try to get hold of this knowledge—China is playing a large role in this.” The U.S. has already created a Cyber Command Center, and the UK is working to improve in this field. As Trumpet editor in Chief Gerald Flurry has often pointed out, the U.S. is especially vulnerable in the area of cybersecurity.
Five people were arrested for plotting to attack newspaper offices in Copenhagen on December 29. The group planned to enter an office block that housed several papers including Jyllands-Posten—the paper that published cartoons of Muhammad in 2005—and “kill as many as possible of those around,” according to Danish pet security police. “On the basis of the investigation, it is the pet’s assessment that the detainees were preparing a terror attack against a newspaper, which according to the pet’s information was Jyllands-Posten,” they said. “It is likewise the pet’s view that the attack was due to be carried out in the coming days.” Continue to watch for terrorist plots to rouse Europe to act more strongly against the Islamic threat.
Forty-nine percent of Germans want the deutsche mark back, according to a survey recently published by the German Bild newspaper. Only 41 percent said they’d rather stick with the euro. The poll of 1,068 Germans, conducted by YouGov, found that 77 percent of Germans said they had not profited from the euro. If Germany were not already part of the eurozone, only 30 percent would vote to join, and 60 percent would oppose. Sixty-seven percent said they were not sure that euro could survive times of crisis. Fifty-six percent said they feared inflation. A survey conducted earlier in December by Infratest dimap found that 57 percent said they’d have been better off keeping the mark. Continue to watch German attitudes toward the euro.
Italy’s cost of servicing its debt rose to the highest point since 2008 this week. Yields on its 10-year bonds rose to 4.83 percent on December 29. “The poor auction in Rome may be a warning sign that EU leaders offered too little to restore confidence at their Brussels summit two weeks ago,” writes the Telegraph’s international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. “Italy avoided the sort of property bubble seen in Spain or Ireland and has kept a tight rein on public spending under Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti. However, the rise in yields looks ominously like the pattern seen in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain when they first began to lose easy access to the capital markets.” Watch for the euro crisis to continue into 2011.
A bomb exploded outside two court buildings in Athens on December 30. The explosion damaged cars and blew out windows, including those in nearby shops, but no one was hurt. Authorities believe that a far-left or anarchist group is behind the attacks.
China is gearing up for military conflict “in every direction,” Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said in an interview published on Wednesday. “In the coming five years, our military will push forward preparations for military conflict in every strategic direction,” Liang said. “We may be living in peaceful times, but we can never forget war, never send the horses south or put the bayonets and guns away.” China’s party line is that its rise is peaceful, but the scope of its military buildup has many of its neighbors worried, including Japan, which, earlier this month, called China’s expanding military might a “global concern.” Also this month, Beijing announced that it will be launching its first aircraft carrier next year, which is a year earlier than U.S. analysts had forecast. China is also close to unveiling “carrier-killing” missiles which could sink American aircraft carriers from far off. This development will effectively reorder the balance of power in Southeast Asia, which has been dominated by the U.S. since World War ii’s end. We can expect China to make good on Liang’s claims, and to emerge as the dominant player in the region as the U.S. continues its decline.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian former oil tycoon who was imprisoned in 2003 for defying then Russian President Vladimir Putin, was sentenced on Thursday to six more years of jail time. The ruling is viewed as a jab at the credibility of Russia’s current president Dmitry Medvedev, who has vowed to bolster the independence of the nation’s judicial system. Khodorkovsky, who is in the final year of what was originally an eight-year prison sentence, was originally convicted in 2003 for stealing from his own oil company, Yukos. The ruling led to Yukos’s bankruptcy and a dramatic increase in the Putin administration’s control over Russian oil, which greatly boosted his global influence. Shortly after Khodorkovsky’s arrest, Jane’s intelligence firm said, “[I]t is becoming clear that Russia is undergoing a profound political convulsion. This amounts to nothing less than the birth of the Second Russian Republic …. But it will be a country in which President Vladimir Putin controls both the political and economic levers of power” (Nov. 5, 2003). Putin has repeatedly called Khodorkovsky a violent criminal and said that he deserves to be imprisoned for many years. But Khodorkovsky’s supporters claim that he is being punished for saying that the Kremlin uses its power to manipulate Russia’s judicial system. The latest sentence is widely seen as an indication of Putin’s unwavering power over Russia ahead of 2012’s presidential elections, which he is expected to run in. Putin will not risk the possibility that a liberated Khodorkovsky could help rally his political opponents. The ruling reveals that little has changed under Medvedev’s reign despite his pledges to fortify the independence of Russia’s courts. We can expect Putin to continue ruling and manipulating Russia from behind the scenes until his leadership is official once again.
Africa/Latin America
At least 86 people were killed and over a hundred hospitalized in attacks and fighting between Muslim and Christian youths in Nigeria on December 24. A radical Islamic group Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awatu Wal Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombings. The name has previously been used by the radical Islamic group Boko Haram. The group fought government forces last year as it tried to establish sharia law in the nation.
Venezuela’s national assembly used its last few days in office to grant more powers to President Hugo Chávez. They approved Chávez’s request for the power to pass laws by decree for the next year and a half. They passed a law banning nongovernment organizations such as human rights groups, and political parties from receiving money from outside the country. Another law labels anyone who switches political party a “fraud” and puts him at risk of being disqualified from public office. This law makes it harder for anyone to defect from Chavez’s coalition. Posting a message online that aims to “incite or promote disobedience of the current legal order” or “refuse the legitimately constituted authority” could now land you with a fine or see your website taken down. Television station owners must now be in Venezuela when their station re-applies for a broadcast license. This law appears to be targeted at one of the few news networks in the country critical of Chávez: Globovisión. Its owners are in exile in the U.S. “One has to say it clearly: A new dictatorial model is being imposed in Venezuela,” said Ismael García, a former ally of Chávez who now works with the opposition.
The U.S. government built up more debt during 2010’s Congress than in the first 100 congresses put together, according to data published by the U.S. Treasury this week. The current Congress, America’s 111th, accumulated $3.22 trillion of debt—$10,439.64 for every American. cns news reports that “the 111th Congress not only has set the record as the most debt-accumulating Congress in U.S. history, but also has outstripped its nearest competitor, the 110th, by an astounding $1.262 trillion in new debt.” Each congress lasts for two years. America continues to jeopardize its future by getting in more debt than it could ever hope to pay back.
Over a quarter of teens and children in the U.S. regularly take prescription drugs, according to the nation’s biggest pharmacy-benefit manager, Medco Health Solutions Inc. Almost 7 percent take two sets of prescription drugs. “Doctors and parents warn that prescribing medications to children can be problematic,” warns the Wall Street Journal. “There is limited research available about many drugs’ effects in kids. And healthcare providers and families need to be vigilant to assess the medicines’ impact, both intended and not. Although the effects of some medications, like cholesterol-lowering statins, have been extensively researched in adults, the consequences of using such drugs for the bulk of a patient’s lifespan are little understood.”
A study commission by the Fabian Society found that 45 percent of Britons say that EU membership has been bad for Britain. Only 22 percent said it has been good. The study, conducted by YouGov, will be released next year, though preliminary results are already available. Forty-nine percent said EU nations should loosen the ties between them. Twenty-one percent said they should cooperate more closely, and 9 percent said they have the balance just right. British attitudes continue to harden against Europe. Expect the nation to leave or be kicked out soon.
A senior bishop in the Church of England warned on December 25 that the British legal system now discriminates against Christians. The judiciary, said Michael Scott-Joynt, the bishop of Winchester, goes out of its way to protect sexual minorities at the expense of Christians. He gave the example of a relationship councilor sacked by the charity Relate for refusing to give therapy to a homosexual couple. Also in Britain, two Christians are being sued for not allowing two homosexuals to share a room at their bed and breakfast. The owners do not allow any unmarried couples to share a room. The British government is forcing adoption agencies that won’t place children with same-sex couples to shut down. Britain’s moral slide is becoming more and more obvious.
Sixteen-to-twenty-five-year-olds in the UK without a role model of their gender are 67 percent more likely to be unemployed than their peers, according to a report conducted by YouGov and published by the Princes Trust on December 30. Young people in this position are more likely to commit suicide. Almost one in five without a father figure or role model said they used illegal drugs. Only one in 10 with a male role model said they had. Tragically, one third of the men and almost a quarter of the women said they had no position role models in their lives to look up to. The report highlights the importance of a loving family that provides young people with the support and example of their parents.