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Showing posts from January 23, 2013

Geopolitical Hotspots in 2013


In the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution, the world will be watching very keenly to see what character the new government adopts. Recent trends suggest that Islamism, as opposed to secularism, is preferred by the majority in Egypt. Presently, nominally-Islamist Egyptian leaders are making a concerted effort to curry favour among secularists by moderating their views, but as their position stabilizes, a more aggressively Islamic government may form, which could complicate relations with Israel and cause significant unease throughout the United States and Western Europe.


As rebel forces in Syria have gained and held ever-growing swaths of territory in their struggle against the Assad regime, government's retaliations have become increasingly intense. Eyewitness reports from escaped refugees suggest an aggressive terror campaign on the part of the Assad regime, targeting adults and children alike with brutal violence and torture. If this pattern were to continue and draw…

The Slow and Steady Rise of the Chinese Yuan

“Chinese citizens welcome US President Barack Obama's re-election, saying it would benefit bilateral relations,” reported China’s official news agency Xinhua in November. Any Chinese optimism surrounding Obama’s victory was surely not a reflection of the President’s handling of Sino-American relations, but relief at the election of the lesser of two evils. Mitt Romney’s eagerness to make the “China threat” a key part of his campaign and vow to label Beijing a “currency manipulator” on his first day in office elicited a scornful response: “If scapegoating and vilifying China are merely campaign tricks... it is time for whoever the president-in-waiting is to tone down his tough rhetoric and adopt a more rational stance,” read a Xinhua editorial. While Obama has yet to accuse China of manipulation, he has come close. In February 2010, with the renminbi exchange rate hovering around 6.8 to the dollar as it had since Obama’s inauguration, the President stated that the US needed “to mak…

Iran-Azerbaijan Relations: Minor Dispute, Far-Reaching Consequences?

A lot has been said recently about Iran-Azerbaijani relations, which is interesting because many people assume that the relationship between these two countries doesn’t have much of an impact on the world stage. Of course, this assumption is wrong, and Iran-Azerbaijani affairs actually influence a wide variety of issues, from global energy supply to the potential for an Israeli strike on Iran.

Iranian and Azerbaijani leaders have often espoused the motto of ‘one nation, two states,’ quite like the Turkish and Azerbaijani political leaders who constantly refer to the strong bonds that exists between their respective peoples. Much has been written about the ‘natural’ relations between these two states, and many feel that the idea has been manipulated in order to play on historical and ethnic ties, rather than reflecting some kind of spontaneous expression of real solidarity.

Relations between Baku and Tehran date back to when independent Azerbaijan was once apart of the neighbouring Iran…

Russia defends adoption ban, denies plans for mass evacuation from Syria

MOSCOW — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow had no intention of beginning an evacuation of its citizens in Syria. He also defended acontroversial ban on American adoptions, citing the reported abuse and death of some Russian children adopted by families in the United States.

Lavrov, speaking at an annual news conference summing up the year in foreign policy, said Russia has not received similar reports of mistreatment of Russian children adopted in European countries. Therefore, he said, those adoptions will continue. He spoke optimistically, however, about future relations with the United States, saying Russia wants constructive dialogue and cooperation with Washington even as he stressed that any acts Moscow considered unfriendly would be met with a stern response.

Although 77 Russian citizens who had been living in Syria arrived in Moscow Wednesday on two Russian flights from Beirut, Lavrov declined to describe their departure as an evacuation. He said …

Unbelievable photos of how bad Beijing’s air has gotten

Chinese children are being forced to stay inside and there’s been a spike in hospital visits as Beijing has clouded over with some of the worst smog in history. And now, we have an aerial representation of Beijing’s respiratory problems, courtesy of NASA. Here’s what the air above China looked like on 
Jan. 3:


And here it is on Jan. 14:

It doesn’t sound pretty:

The top image shows extensive haze, low clouds and fog over the region. The brightest areas tend to be clouds or fog, which have a tinge of gray or yellow from the air pollution. Other cloud-free areas have a pall of gray and brown smog that mostly blots out the cities below.

At the time that the Jan. 14 image was taken, ground-based sensors at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing reportedly found levels of the smallest, most dangerous types of particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, at 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air. According to World Health Organization guidelines, any air with more than 25 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic meter is…

Map: What Europeans think of the EU (Brits really don’t like it)

How negative is British public opinion toward the European Union? It’s pretty grim: according to the most recent Eurobarometer survey, from May 2011, more Brits believe that the European Union is bad for their country than those who think it’s a good thing. In every other country in the union – even Greece! – poll respondents were more likely to call EU membership good for their country.

To give you a sense of just how deeply Euro-skeptical the U.K. has become, I’ve mapped out the Eurobarometer data, which you can see at the top of this page. For the data, I took the percentage of poll respondents who call EU membership “good for their country” and subtracted the percentage who say membership is bad. The U.K., again, is the only country with a negative outcome. Every other country seems to at least grudgingly accept that membership is worth the costs, with respondents in several countries endorsing it by a wide margin.

British Prime Minister David Cameron could only hold off British…

Clinton defends handling of Benghazi attack

Secretary of state offers detailed account of attack on US consulate in Libya that left four Americans killed.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has defended her handling of the September 11, 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

Speaking in a congressional testimony on Wednesday, Clinton offered her first detailed account of the first days after the attack, saying she directed the US response from the State Department.

"I take responsibility," Clinton said, echoing comments she first made in a TV interview on October 15 and stressing that she has accepted all of the recommendations of an independent review panel that ultimately held lower-level officials responsible.

"Nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer,
stronger and more secure," she added.

Her testimony had been delayed for health reasons.

She said that she had not seen requests for additional security for the US mission in Bengh…

Netanyahu in coalition talks after narrow win

Israeli prime minister pledges to form a broad government that will focus on socioeconomic issues.
Israeli politicians have started negotiating over the shape of their next government after prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party won a narrower-than-expected victory in parliamentary elections on Tuesday.

His party, along with its allies in the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, took 31 of 120 seats, according to a near-final tally of votes. That makes it the single-biggest bloc, despite losing 11 of its previous seats.

In a brief statement on Wednesday, Netanyahu promised that the next government will focus chiefly on socioeconomic issues.

"The Israeli public wants me... to put together a government which will include three big changes internally: a greater sharing of the burden [of military service], affordable housing, and changes in the system of government," Netanyahu said.

"We will focus... on putting together a government along these three principle…

Pakistan to probe death in graft scandal

Pakistan top judge orders investigation into death of official probing a corruption scandal involving prime minister.

Pakistan's top judge has ordered the Supreme Court to investigate the death of an official probing a corruption scandal involving the country's prime minister.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who is hearing the corruption case, ordered another bench on Wednesday to probe Kamran Faisal's death, following a report from the court's registrar listing the doubts of his friends and family that Faisal had committed suicide.

"The office is directed to place this case before another bench on January 24 for further proceedings," Chaudhry told the court.

He described Faisal's death as "shocking" and said that his family, friends and colleagues were not satisfied with the current investigation, being carried out by police and a government-appointed commission.

Kamran Faisal was found dead last Friday in a government hostel just days af…

Three volcanoes erupt in Kamchatka Peninsula

Three volcanoes in Russia’s Kamchatka continue to send steam and ash into the air while lava flows down their slopes. Volcanic activity on the peninsula has dramatically intensified. Aviation authorities issued an orange security level in the area.

The volcanoes Shiveluch, Kizimen and Plosky Talbachek are erupting in different parts of the peninsula simultaneously, causing dozens of local earthquakes, as the vibrations accompanying the eruptions of the giants continue to increase.

The biggest and most active is Shiveluch, Kamchatka’s northernmost volcano and 3,283 meters high. Over the last days it made several eruptions of gases, steam and ash, the highest of which reached the 4,900m above sea level. Unceasing earth tremors send avalanches down its slopes. Sensors installed near the volcano are registering high seismic activity with, active gas generation and thermal anomalies.
Activity of Shiveluch started to grow back in 2009 when its dome split with a fissure 30 meters deep.

A mere 45…