Latest articles of Chiara Trincia Road to Ruin2013-01-09T17:19:56Z<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/photos%2F2013%2F01%2Fe5a30322b9a25246.jpg" alt="Roads to Ruin- Syria " width="300" height="300" /></p> <blockquote> <p>Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad, David W Lesch, Yale University Press, $28.00.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">David W Lesch, a historian specializing in the Middle East, is among the handful of Westerners to have gained exclusive, private access to one of the world&rsquo;s most elusive and despised leaders: Bashar al-Assad. An informative and personal account, <em>Syria</em> tracks the early rise of the young ophthalmologist &ndash; once nicknamed &ldquo;The Hope&rdquo; &ndash; before a deluded decline,culminating in one of the bloodiest repressions in recent history.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">An easy read, the book showcases the sympathy brought about by the author&rsquo;s former proximity to Assad, though he remains clear and carefully nuanced when charting the internal transformation and foreign power-play that accompanied the decline of the regime. Lesch is particularly successful in his description of the violent turn that has commanded international attention over the last year and a half, documenting the behind-the-scenes activities of a man who did not so much change the system as be himself changed by it.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Unsurprisingly, Lesch&rsquo;s outlook for Syria is as dire as his disappointment: a failed state with extremist elements situated on Middle East fault lines. Ultimately, the book offers an insightful look into a nation caught in a tragically inevitable downwards spiral. &ldquo;When a domestic threat appears, there is a push button response of quick and ruthless repression,&rdquo; Lesch writes. &ldquo;The real story&hellip; would have been if Bashar had not pressed that button.&rdquo;</p> <p>- CT</p> <p><span><a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Subscribe</a>&nbsp;or order a copy of&nbsp;</span><em><a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">The Global Journal.&nbsp;</a></em></p>Romney and Obama's Foreign Policy: What's in a Name?2012-09-03T18:24:04Z<p style="text-align: justify;"><img style="vertical-align: top; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/photos%2F2012%2F08%2F726409d2350ecaaf.png" alt="Romney" width="485" height="341" />Diplomatic gaffes on culture as a determinant of economic performance aside, Mitt Romney&rsquo;s recent trip to Israel was perhaps one of the most revelatory moments in this year&rsquo;s race to the White House.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Sure, the Jewish vote is important &ndash; it holds the power to determine swing states like Florida &ndash; as was, no doubt, the courtship of donors like Sheldon Adelson. But Jewish voters only make up 2-4 percent of the American electorate, and have consistently leant left since FDR&rsquo;s time; even in the wake of Eisenhower&rsquo;s defeat of Hitler, Republicans only managed 40 percent of the Jewish vote in 1956, and Obama garnered 78 percent of the vote in 2008. What Romney&rsquo;s visit to the Holy Land really showcased was the rhetorical arm-wrestling and political maneuvering that has come increasingly to dominate this presidential race, as a result of an absence of substantive divergence between the two candidates on foreign policy.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">After all, the facts speak for themselves. Romney&rsquo;s suggestion that there is a need to &ldquo;repair relations,&rdquo; with Israel &ndash; likely in reference to Obama&rsquo;s frosty relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu &ndash; adds little to what is already an enduringly enormous commitment to the country and its security. The current administration allocated more than $200 million in 2010 for the Iron Dome defense system &ndash; a &ldquo;game-changer,&rdquo; in the words of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta &ndash; and the House of Representatives has passed an authorization bill sanctioning an extra $680 million for 2013. There&rsquo;s also the $3 billion in aid expected to flow to Israel this year, and an additional $70 million from pre-programmed 2012 funds.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Despite Romney&rsquo;s openly uncompromising stance on Iran, he has pledged full support for tighter sanctions and diplomatic isolation, like Obama, and both have put militaristic options on the table. National Security Advisory Committee Co-Chair, Mich&egrave;le Flournoy, has termed it &ldquo;incredibly robust,&rdquo; while first pledging to tighten a noose through non-military options aimed at changing Iran&rsquo;s &ldquo;calculus.&rdquo; It was only in early August that the Administration passed a new sanctions bill &ndash; following those signed into law last year targeting Iran&rsquo;s central Romney and Obama&rsquo;s Foreign Policy: What&rsquo;s in a Name? bank &ndash; adding penalties to those that aid Iran&rsquo;s petroleum, petrochemical, shipping, insurance and fi nancial sectors, with specific reference to the National Iranian Oil Company. Following criticism of an early withdrawal date, Romney has also now accepted Obama&rsquo;s 2014 deadline for removing American forces from Afghanistan, a decision confi rmed in early May by NATO. On Syria, the two candidates also ultimately find themselves on the same page, isolating and pressuring the regime while supporting &ndash; but not arming &ndash; the rebels. Obama in fact allegedly signed an order earlier this year authorizing the CIA and other agencies to support Syrian rebels in toppling Assad, apparently collaborating with a secret command center run by Turkey and its allies. The State Department has also acknowledged setting aside $25 million in in &ldquo;non-lethal&rdquo; assistance for the Syrian opposition.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Enter then, the power of rhetoric. Romney&rsquo;s assertive &ldquo;I love this country, I love America, I love the friendship we have,&rdquo; in Israel was a statement on who was the better, more outspoken friend; his &ldquo;American century,&rdquo; a sharp juxtaposition to Obama&rsquo;s &ldquo;new era of engagement&rdquo;; his definition of Russia as the US&rsquo; &ldquo;number one geopolitical foe,&rdquo; a s&eacute;ance for the ghosts of the Cold War, pitting himself and his adversary in a battle of strength on who is more capable of defending America against apparent enemies.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The fact is, this race&rsquo;s foreign policy debate is not dominated by a defining issue, like Afghanistan or Iraq, allowing tone to take on singular importance. Bruce Jentleson, an analyst with ties to President Obama, told NPR that Romney&rsquo;s strategy was now to portray himself as &ldquo;very tough,&rdquo; and a man who, as he announced before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in late July, should not be the choice of American voters if they didn&rsquo;t &ldquo;want America to be the strongest nation on earth.&rdquo;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The debate has also served as a platform for political maneuvering. In particular, it has served to expand Romney&rsquo;s voter base and reconcile different political streams: that of his identity as a religious minority with Christian conservatism &ndash; whose adherents he desperately requires &ndash; and, secondly, that of the neoconservative inheritance of his predecessor with the hunger for moderate realism. Romney&rsquo;s subsequent defense of his remarks in Israel via an op-ed in the National Review, where he attributed American freedom to being &ldquo;endowed by our Creator with the freedom to pursue happiness,&rdquo; seemed aimed at winning the support of the religious right. Israel, too, is identified with a culture premised on individual freedom, while Palestine &ldquo;deserves&rdquo; but lacks it, evoking the language of the post-9/11 Bush era. &ldquo;The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free...&rdquo;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">To read the full report,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">subscribe or order a copy of The Global Journal.</a></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;">by Chiara Trincia</span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;">(Photo &copy; Reuters)</span></p>UN Finances Improve Despite Member non-Payment2011-10-12T14:14:25Z<p>The United Nations has confirmed that the overall UN financial situation seems to have improved this year, despite the world economic downturn and despite non-payment by some of the UN&rsquo;s biggest contributors, notably the United States.</p> <p>Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Management, Angela Kane told the UN General Assembly&rsquo;s Fifth Committee that &ldquo;The financial indicators for 2011 show improvements in some areas even though the global financial climate has of course worsened.&nbsp;</p> <p>Kane listed the 18 States that had paid their dues: Australia, Canada, C&ocirc;te d&rsquo;Ivoire, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, St. Kitts and Nevis, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland and Thailand. She noted however, that unpaid assessments have increased to $4.3 billion .</p> <p>&ldquo;To maintain financial health it remains as critical as ever for Member States to pay their financial obligations to the UN in full and on time [and] I urge all Member States to do that,&rdquo; reiterated Kane, &ldquo;despite the difficult economic climate.&rdquo;</p> <p>The US Ambassador for UN management and reform, Joseph Torsella, complained in a recent speech to the UN&rsquo;s budgetary committee about the 2% rise in its 2012-2013 budget, stating that it was not &ldquo;a break from business as usual but a continuation of it.&rdquo; Earlier the US objected to the fact that average UN salaries have risen &ldquo;dramatically,&rdquo; and that too few of the organizations&rsquo; 10,000 salaried posts are being cut.</p> <p>US Congress has already trimmed $200 million from its annual contribution to UN peacekeeping, reflecting its reluctance to being the UN&rsquo;s single largest funder with 23% of the overall budget. The US has been in arrears in the past but the Obama administration paid $750 million in back UN dues in 2009.</p> <p>&nbsp;At a separate event in Geneva, UN General Assembly President Joseph Deiss was asked whether the UN financial improvement means it may no longer be so dependent on the United States. &ldquo;The UN needs the US. It is not a question of money,&rdquo; he responded, adding that by the same token the US also realizes it cannot be effective in today&rsquo;s interdependent world without the UN.</p>Russia Blames West for Failed WTO Bid2011-10-12T13:12:08Z<p>After 18 years of negotiations, Russia&rsquo;s ongoing battle for accession to the WTO (World Trade Organization) rages onwards as Swiss-mediated talks with Georgia fail.&nbsp; Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pointed the finger at the US and the EU, rather than Georgia, for blocking its entry.</p> <p>According to Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kapanadze "The talks have failed," and cited irreconcilable differences over customs checkpoints in the two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.&nbsp; Russia recoginezed both as independent states after the 2008 war while Georgia considers them an integral part of its territory. Kapanadze further remarked, "If Russia&rsquo;s position remains unchanged, I see no reason to convene the next round of negotiations."</p> <p>The diplomatic skirmish seemed to deepen when Putin blamed the US and EU for the delay, remarking that the issue was now &ldquo;purely political,&rdquo; and that &ldquo;everything,&rdquo; had been done from Russia&rsquo;s side to facilitate negotiations. Putin already alleged that the West was to blame for the deadlock last week at a Moscow business forum, where he remarked, "I have a question on this: do our main partners want Russia to be a WTO member or not? No need to hide behind the Georgian question, if they want to, then they can do it very quickly.&rdquo;</p> <p>The accusations came despite a statement by the office of US Vice President Joe Biden which affirmed &ldquo;US support for Russia&rsquo;s accession to the World Trade Organization,&rdquo; and &ldquo;the successful conclusion of ongoing talks between Russia and Georgia.&rdquo; Although the US blocked Moscow&rsquo;s entry after the 2008 Georgia-Russia war, its position has eased considerably since President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009.</p> <p>Russia remains the largest economy outside of the WTO, with accession talks ongoing since 1993. Georgia has been a member since 2000 and like all 153 members, has the right to veto any new entrant and effectively has the power to block consensus. It could thus continue to stall Russia's accession should tensions remain unresolved. &nbsp;</p>Call for Urgent Action to Guarantee Food Security2011-10-11T12:50:11Z<p>According to the latest world hunger report from the Rome-based FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), international food prices and volatility will continue to increase over the next decade without increased investment in agriculture and concerted action from world governments.</p> <p>The report, &ldquo;<a rel="nofollow" href="">The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011&rdquo;</a> (Oct.10), written jointly with the WFP (World Food Program) and IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), &nbsp;states unequivocally that &ldquo;high and volatile food prices are widely expected to continue in the future&rdquo; as population growth and increased demand for biofuels increases pressure on the market.</p> <p>In addition to rises in population and demand, it said that climate change is likely to bring about higher price volatility, as extreme weather events disrupt the food production chain and bring about large-scale crises, such as the ongoing situation in the Horn of Africa. Price volatility in turn affects the production and investment capacity of smallholder farmers, the mainstay of agriculture and food security particularly in the most vulnerable regions, like Africa.</p> <p>The FAO report emphasizes that government action is key to stabilizing international food security and stresses the need for &ldquo;a transparent and predictable regulatory environment,&rdquo; Kostas Stamoulis, economist and Director of FAO&rsquo;s Agricultural Development Economics Division, remarked that &nbsp;&ldquo;Governments should avoid unilateral trade measures which aggravate the situation in international markets, which make prices high and more volatile&rdquo;. He called for greater international coordination and more predictable policies.</p> <p>&nbsp;The report also notes that &ldquo;In the long term, investment in agriculture and improving resilience among farmers remain key to providing sustained access to food for all and reducing vulnerability to price volatility and natural disasters such as drought.&rdquo; &nbsp;Particularly true in light of climate change, the report notes that investment in disease-or-stress-resistant crop varieties and the construction of irrigation and drainage system can reduce the risk faced by extreme weather events, and that governments must focus on &ldquo;more sustainable management of our natural resources, forests and fisheries,&rdquo; which are critical for domestic and international food security.</p> <p>The FAO estimates there were 925 million &nbsp;hungry people worldwide in 2010 and notes &nbsp;even if the Millenium Development Goal of halving the world&rsquo;s hungry by 2015 were to be achieved, some 600 million would still be undernourished, a situation which it said is&nbsp; &ldquo;never acceptable&rdquo; and makes concerted action even more urgent.&nbsp;</p>WIPO DG Francis Gurry: Newspapers Going Extinct2011-10-07T08:32:28Z<p>What is the future of printed media? Are we heading towards the disappearance of the traditional newspapers&nbsp;or a re-birth of the printed media through the digital world by the use of technology&nbsp;? Francis Gurry, head of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, seemed to have a clear answer this week (Oct. 3), stating that "In a few years, there will no longer be printed newspapers as we know it today." &nbsp;</p> <p>Gurry continued, "It's an evolution. There's no good or bad about it. There are studies showing that they will disappear by 2040. In the United States, it will end in 2017," adding that in the United States there are already more digital copies of newspapers sold than paper ones, and bookshops are decreasing in cities. Gurry cited revenue as the central issue, asking&nbsp;"How can editors find revenues to pay those who write these articles?" and noting that "the copyright system must be safeguarded as a mechanism to pay these writers."</p> <p>Already last year, the New York Times reported a 9% decline in average weekday circulation, no doubt as a result of a changing culture influenced by the advent of the Ipad, Wikileaks, Twitter and Facebook.&nbsp;</p>New UN Expert Created for Transitional Justice2011-10-01T00:31:02Z<p>At the close of its 18th session (September 29), the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution creating a Special Rapporteur to help states deal with gross violations of human rights in transitional justice situations such as the recent Arab revolts.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>The 3-year mandate of the Special Rapporteur would gather information, promote good practices, conduct country visits and make recommendations to the Human Rights Council on a yearly basis.&nbsp; It would specifically address the reluctance to act on politically-sensitive situations of transitional justice created when old regimes are being overthrown and new governments and justice systems are formed.</p> <p>The resolution for the &ldquo;promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence&rdquo; was introduced by Switzerland, Argentina and Morocco and co-sponsored by some 75 other nations. &nbsp;</p> <p>Switzerland, which has been active on the issue for several years, called it a &ldquo;major achievement&rdquo; and emphasized that &ldquo;the new special procedure will contribute to the fight against impunity, that it will enable the States to fulfill their obligations better and, above all, that it will be a channel allowing the voice of the victims to be heard and guaranteeing that their rights be respected.&rdquo;</p> <p>Supporters hope that the resolution will correct a gap within the UN system and particularly the Human Rights Council, which has had a spotty record of holding nations accountable for gross human rights violations.</p> <p>Argentina&rsquo;s representative, Alberto Dumont, called the mandate an important measure for his country &ldquo;given its history and experience,&rdquo; a message echoed by several other Latin American states. &nbsp;</p> <p>Russian delegate Alexey Goltyaev offered a contrary view, saying the Special Rapporteur&rsquo;s work would have to be carefully confined to &ldquo;the context of justice in transition periods,&rdquo; and should operate &ldquo;strictly at the request of states,&rdquo; emphasizing the importance of national rather than international measures to establish truth and create guarantees of non-recurrence.</p> <p>Cuban representative Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez was even more critical, seeing a double standard whereby &ldquo;developed countries looked at issues of reparation only when it came to developing countries, while they imposed silence concerning violations carried out by their own authorities.&rdquo;</p>India Launches Epic Identification Program to Defeat Poverty2011-09-20T08:03:00Z<p><span>The world&rsquo;s second fastest-growing economy has embarked on a project of colossal proportions as it seeks to lift over 400 million Indians out of poverty and enfranchise a population of 1.2 billion through a sweeping fingerprint and iris-scanning program, a challenge of magnitude not unlike that of governing the globe&rsquo;s biggest democracy.</span></p> <p><span>The project is a number-based system known as Aadhaar, generating a 12-digit ID which, along with a<span> </span>thumbprint, can be used as a form of identification all over the country and provides access to welfare payments, bank accounts and cellular phones, a revolutionary step for the village-based identity system. It had not only stifled migration, but punctured the taxonomy of caste, kin and religion which has almost always defined Indian identity.&nbsp; Aadhaar represents a step in creating not only an individual, but a national identity.&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span>Billionaire software mogul Nandan M. Nilekani, appointed to head the ambitious project two years ago, told the New York Times,</span><span> &ldquo;It is a road that in some sense connects every individual to the state.&rdquo;</span></p> <p><span>The identity project, which will take a decade to complete and is budgeted at $326 million for next year, will become the world&rsquo;s largest biometric database, dwarfing the US-Visit visa program, which contains information on 100 million people.&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span>To achieve the goal of lifting millions of Indians out of anonymity and disenfranchisement, the system will have to scan 2.4 billion irises and collect 12 billion fingerprints.</span></p> <p><span>The Aadhaar system has attracted some disquiet related to the possible dystopian abuse of identification information by a state already carrying out extensive wiretapping and surveillance to monitor terrorist activity. The project has however attracted support from India&rsquo;s political elite, including Prime Minister Singh and Mrs. (Sonia) Gandhi, who both attended the inauguration ceremony. Gandhi purportedly overruled the worries of the National Advisory Council to this effect, stating to a member &ldquo;No, we are going ahead with the idea,&rdquo; reports the New York Times.</span></p> <p><span><br /></span></p>China Says it Expects Yuan Convertibility by 20152011-09-12T12:12:03Z<p>China may have a convertible&nbsp; currency by 2015 according to reports in the state-run press and comments made to European Union officials in Beijing. If it happens, it would mean that the yuan would become fully convertible by 2015, in a move that will likely boost the flailing euro and dollar currently struggling with the under-valuated Chinese currency. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Davide Cucino, the head of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, reported at a press conference (September 8) that Chinese officials informed the European business community in Beijing that the yuan would attain &ldquo;full convertibility&rdquo; by 2015 in a gradual process.</p> <p><img style="float: left; margin: 5px;" title="Pr. David Li Daokiu" src="/s3/cache%2F79%2F62%2F7962583a04c6a1f085c99635aeb01a73.jpg" alt="Pr. David Li Daokiu" width="421" height="580" /></p> <p>Adviser to the Chinese Central Bank Li Daokui confirmed Friday (September 9th) at a trade fair in southeastern Xiamen that while the timetable is to be determined, it is &ldquo;quite possible,&rdquo; for the yuan to reach full convertibility by 2015, adding that &ldquo;there should be big progress,&rdquo; in this regard.</p> <p>While the convertibility timeline has found believers among Asian currency experts, Western financial experts are skeptical, warning that China has made such promises before.&nbsp;Monish Mahurkar of the Asian Development Bank said it is &ldquo;not beyond imagination,&rdquo; that the yuan would become at least partially convertible by 2015.&nbsp; John Lee, adjunct professor at the Centre for International Security Studies, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that &ldquo;Promises of full currency liberalization are designed to deflect American and European angst about China's currency policies ahead of the Group of 20 meeting next month,&rdquo; and that &ldquo;Beijing is in no position to deliver.&rdquo;</p> <p>The yuan is held within strict margins by the People&rsquo;s Bank of China and set at a daily trading rate each morning, a policy which has long prompted criticism from Europe and the United States who say it affects their respective exports. The yuan has also limited conversion for investment purposes, and a fully convertible currency would mean it could become a reserve currency alongside the dollar and euro and a major player in global trade. A convertible yuan is a condition the US and Europe are demanding of&nbsp; China before the yuan can join to the International Monetary Fund&rsquo;s currency basket.&nbsp;</p>Switzerland Refuses to Hand Over Bank Data to US2011-09-08T16:17:45Z<p>Switzerland has decided it will not hand over private bank data to the United States as demanded in a letter to the Swiss government published in two Swiss newspapers on August 31 from US Deputy Attorney General James Cole.</p> <p>Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey who also holds the rotating post as Swiss president this year, said &ldquo;No bank client data has been transferred to the United States. Switzerland will not give any other details on the ongoing negotiations.&rdquo; She added that any transfer of information on banking clientele would be &ldquo;based on existing legislation," or the double taxation agreement between the two countries.</p> <p>Earlier, Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf suggested a solution for resolving US concerns could be found &ldquo;based on existing fiscal agreements between the US and Switzerland or on recent agreements with Germany and the United Kingdom.&rdquo;</p> <p>The two agreements, finalized in August, would call for Swiss banks to levy a withholding tax on income earned on the assets of foreign account holders while getting around a requirement for an automatic exchange of information.&nbsp; A new double taxation agreement between Switzerland and the US is pending approval by Washington.</p> <p>Last year the Swiss parliament approved a deal permitting Swiss banking giant UBS to provide the names of some 4,500 US citizens suspected of hiding millions of dollars to avoid paying US taxes.</p> <p>But Swiss bankers are concerned about the possibility of another UBS-type deal and have called for a universal treaty binding all countries. &ldquo;The solution must be globally applicable, definitive and in line with current Swiss laws,&rdquo; said Patrick Odier, chairman of the Swiss Bankers Association.</p> <p>&ldquo;The US must recognize that legal certainty is something Switzerland must guarantee,&rdquo; he said, referring to Swiss bank secrecy laws that require banks to share information in cases of serious criminal acts or tax fraud but not tax evasion.</p> <p>The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority has calculated that banking secrecy has helped Switzerland build a $2-trillion offshore financial industry, $20-30 billion from US citizens.</p>