December 31, 2011

The Week in Review

December 30, 2011 | From
Iran threatens the world’s oil supply, Syria faces civil war, democracy gets stifled in Greece, Nigeria sees another religious massacre, and the euro stumbles into a new year.

Middle East

Iran to deepen military ties with Iraq: Iran is “ready to expand its military and security ties with Iraq,” Iran’s chief of staff of the armed forces, Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, said December 25, according to Agence France-Presse. Firouzabadi praised the “forced departure” of America that he said “was due to the resistance and determination of the Iraqi people and government.” Last month, a delegation of Iraqi military leaders under the army’s chief of staff, Gen. Babaker Zebari, traveled to Iran to examine areas where the two militaries could cooperate. Meanwhile, the sectarian division between Sunnis and Shia in the wake of America’s pullout is playing into Iran’s hands. It gives Iran further pretext for getting involved in Iraq’s internal affairs. The Trumpet has forecast for decades that Iran would take over Iraq. Now that American troops have left the country, expect Iran to quickly take charge.
Iran commences war games in Strait of Hormuz: Warships and submarines spread out across the wide stretch of water from the Strait of Hormuz to the Gulf of Aden last Saturday as the Iranian Navy kicked off 10 days of war games. The military drill, dubbed “Velayat-e 90,” has raised concerns over a possible closure of the world’s most strategic oil transit choke point in the event of any future conflict between Tehran and the West. The commander of the Iranian Navy, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, said on December 22 that the war games would be conducted off the coasts of India, Pakistan, Oman, Yemen and northern Somalia. The purpose of the maneuvers, he said, was to display the prowess of Iran’s armed forces and to demonstrate the navy’s capacity to provide security for vessels sailing on the open seas. Some analysts and diplomats, including a number of Iranian lawmakers, believe that these exercises are less about demonstrating Iran’s capacity to keep the seas open and more about demonstrating Iran’s capacity to close down the Strait of Hormuz. Hormuz is one of the world’s most important oil choke points, with a daily flow of about 15 million barrels passing through it. While there are many who doubt that Iran actually has the military capacity to keep the Strait of Hormuz closed for an extended period of time, it must be remembered that when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, global oil prices more than doubled on the mere expectation of future shortages.
Syria bombings expose nation on the brink of civil war: At least 20 people were killed Monday as government tanks rolled into Homs, Syria, to battle opponents of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Although Arab League monitors have arrived, there seems to be no sign of Assad carrying out his pledge to halt his offensive against protesters in a bid to start peace talks. The tank attacks came just after two deadly suicide bomber attacksrocked the Syrian capital December 23, killing at least 30 people. The attacks targeted the State Security Directorate and an intelligence building in Damascus. While no group is claiming responsibility for the bombings, the government is blaming al Qaeda. Considering the recent arrival of Arab League monitors, however, it is possible that state news agencies are falsely blaming al Qaeda in an attempt to make the government look like a victim of terrorism. Regardless, the fact remains that Syria is on the brink of civil war. For the last nine months, Sunni opposition groups, inspired by the success of North African protesters, have risen up against Assad’s Shiite-dominated government. According to the latest UN estimates, over 5,000 people have died in this conflict. With Arab dictatorships crumbling across the Middle East, the prospect of a regime change in Syria carries heavy regional implications. Turkey and Saudi Arabia would love to seeSunni protesters overthrow their Shiite overlords and pull Syria out of the Iranian axis. Such a development would greatly strengthen Iran’s enemies.

Kabul okays Taliban office in Qatar: Afghanistan will accept a Taliban representative office in Qatar for the purpose of starting peace talks, the government’s peace council stated Monday. The High Peace Council sent out a note to foreign missions laying out the ground rules for engaging the Taliban in peace negotiations, including the condition that no foreign power can get involved without Kabul’s consent. The Afghan government had grown concerned that the United States and Qatar, along with Germany, had been secretly planning to open a Taliban office in Qatar’s capital, Doha.Reuters reports that the U.S. has been holding meetings with Taliban representatives in preparation for talks between the insurgent group and the Afghan government. The Taliban terrorist group, for its part, has also laid down its preconditions, repeatedly saying it will not engage in talks until all foreign troops leave Afghanistan. The Taliban currently sees itself as winning the war in Afghanistan and is unlikely to make any meaningful concessions toward peace.
Israel thwarts another terrorist attack: Israel thwarted plans for a major terrorist attack on the Israel-Egypt border on Tuesday. The Israeli military targeted terrorists in the Gaza Strip to stop a planned attack on Israel’s border with Egypt, reported. Meanwhile, rocket attacks on Israel by terrorists in Gaza have continued over the past week, again becoming near-daily occurrences. Even though the Israel Defense Forces carry out retaliatory strikes, the rocket fire continues.
Hamas leader outlines plan to destroy Israel in stages: Hamas agrees to 1967 borders as a first stage of destroying Israel, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said at 24th anniversary celebrations of the terrorist group on December 14. Palestinian Media Watch reported December 27 that Haniyeh said Hamas may work for the “interim objective of liberation of Gaza, the West Bank, or Jerusalem,” but that this “interim objective” and “reconciliation” with Fatah will not change Hamas’s long-term “strategic” goal of eliminating all of Israel. He also said, “The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land ….” Two days later, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said that Hamas leader abroad Khaled Mashaal had agreed that there would be no military resistance and that a permanent solution would be based on the ‘67 borders. Clearly, the subterfuge as well as the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is simply cover for the Palestinians to advance their goal of destroying Israel.
Greek election pushed back: Greece will be denied a general election for an additional two months, the major political parties have agreed. The unelected government was meant to run until mid-February, but the finance minister said at a party meeting on December 27 that the elections would be held in April. He said the government needed more time to negotiate with banks to write off €100 billion the government owes them, as well as to agree other reforms. The euro crisis continues to deny Greece democracy.
Euro falls after Italy’s lukewarm bond auction: The euro hit its lowest level against the dollar since 2010 and its lowest level for 10 years against the Japanese yen after Italy failed to sell all the debt it wanted at a bond auction on December 29. The interest rate it had to offer fell slightly, from 7.56 percent to 6.98. But this figure is still too high to be sustainable. Italy sold €7 billion out of €8.5 billion. Meanwhile, on Tuesday evening banks deposited a record €452.03 billion for 24 hours at the European Central Bank (ecb). “Rising levels of deposits at the ecb bank are seen as a sign of market tension, since the money deposited earns an interest rate of 0.25 percent, much less than the rate available on the interbank market,” explains Agence France-Presse. Europe still has plenty to do before its economic crisis is solved.
Beijing’s new satellite navigation system threatens Taiwan: China powered up a 10-satellite navigation system on Tuesday in a move that reduces Beijing’s reliance on America’s gps. Defense experts say the newBeidou Navigational Satellite System could also bolster Beijing’s ability to identify, track and strike U.S. ships, and China has said the system multiplies its tracking ability by 100 to 1,000 times. When combined with China’s recent strides in missile technology, this boosted tracking ability could allow Beijing to deny or hinder U.S. naval access to many Asian waters. This development could be a game changer if Washington ever tries to intervene in a conflict over Taiwan. Overt military moves by China such as this satellite program and cross-Strait missile buildups remind Taiwan of the consequences it will suffer if it deviates from its current pro-China trajectory.
China and Japan agree to far-reaching currency pact: Tokyo and Beijing announced a series of financial agreements on Sunday that could significantly alter the global financial system. According to these agreements, China and Japan will soon conduct trade with each other using their own national currencies, without first converting to American dollars. The agreements will also allow Japan to hold Chinese yuan in its foreign exchange reserves, which are now largely dollar-denominated. While a timetable to implement these reforms has not yet been released, the fact that they were agreed to reveals that woes in Europe and America have investors looking for investment alternatives to the dollar and the euro. This is why leaders in both China and Japan are willing to overlook political differences in an attempt to integrate their economies. Chinese andRussian leaders forged a similar agreement last year and have already started trading with each other using yuan and rubles instead of dollars. These economic agreements hasten the end of the dollar’s reign as the global reserve currency, point to a coming era of Asian unity, and will help goad European leaders into taking drastic action in their efforts to save the eurozone.
China plans to put man on the moon: On Thursday, Beijing announced that it plans to put an astronaut on the moon, which marks the first official confirmation of its lunar mission. Although the mission is still some time off—slated for sometime around 2020—the statement underscores China’s soaring ambitions and its quest to project more power. The announcement also arrives only five months after the U.S. retired its space shuttle program, leaving America with no manned spacecraft for many years. Former U.S. President George W. Bush proposed sending astronauts back to the moon, but now the U.S. is not even able to send people into space. China’s space program is rapidly rising as nasa trudges through a long period of inactivity and transition.
Africa/ Latin America
Church bombings kill at least 40 in Nigeria: Islamists killed over 40 people in churches in Nigeria on Christmas Day, after making similar attacks last year. St. Theresa Catholic Church, 25 miles from the capital, suffered the worst attack. A bomb tore a hole in the roof and ceiling of the church, killing 35 as Christmas mass was concluding. “Cars were in flames and bodies littered everywhere,” said Nnana Nwachukwu. Boko Haram, a Taliban-like group with ties to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attacks. Rights groups say it has killed over 250 people since July 2010. Bombs were also detonated in Jos—a town containing both Muslims and Christians—and Gadaka. Some 1,000 people have been killed in religious and ethnic violence in Jos over the last two years. Christians are under attack across northern Africa and the Middle East. The attacks in Nigeria are so common that they barely make the headlines. Soon, however, the Catholic Church will stand up forcefully, and the Islamists will provoke a violent backlash from Europe.
South Africa’s ANC Youth League praises Kim Jong Il: The South African anc Youth League has put forth one of the most flattering eulogiesof late North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il to be publicly released by a political organization. In a statement released on Thursday of last week, youth leader Abner Mosaase praised Kim Jong Il for taking his people out of poverty, ending homelessness, cleaning up the environment and defending North Korea from the imperialist United States of America. He then went on to write that the working people of South Africa will remember his struggle as they struggle to nationalize their economy and defeat the legacy of apartheid. While most of the free world is breathing a sigh of relief at the death of a nuclear tyrant, the African National Congress Youth League is joining the Iranian Parliament and Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez in lamenting the demise of a fellow revolutionary. Kim Jong Il sent thousands of suspected political opponents to live as walking skeletons in state-rungulags and presided over one of the worst man-made famines ever recorded in peacetime. Despite these well-known facts, the anc Youth League praises him for helping his people out of poverty and ending homelessness. What kind of future does South Africa have when its next generation of leaders lauds such role models?
Brazil’s economy now bigger than Britain’s: Brazil’s economy has overtaken Britain’s, making it the world’s sixth-largest economy, theCenter for Economics and Business Research (cebr) said on Monday. The cebr World Economic League Table (welt) forecasts that Britain’s economy will fall to eighth place by 2020 as it is overtaken by Russia (reaching fourth place) and India (reaching fifth place). France’s economy is forecast to fall faster, going from fifth to ninth place. The welt used 2010gdp data from the International Monetary Fund and forecasts based on thecebr’s global prospect model. (Brazil’s gdp per capita is still much lower than Britain’s—us$12,916 compared to us$39,604.) A nation that once ruled a quarter of the Earth’s land area has been reduced to an ailing economy, so indebted that it must slash its military spending to stay solvent.
Latin American trade bloc closes its ports to Falkland vessels: A crisis is brewing in the South Atlantic. On Tuesday of last week, Argentina successfully petitioned its neighbors in the trading bloc Mercosur (which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) to support of Buenos Aires’s claim on the Falklands archipelago by closing their ports to any and all ships flying the Falkland Islands flag. This decision came less than two weeks after a visiting Chinese diplomat ratified support for Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Falkland Islands. Britain, it seems, is quickly losing friends willing to support its sovereignty in the Falklands. Regardless of how events play out, sooner or later Argentina will once again test Britain’s control over this sea gate. And Bible prophecy predicts that London will lose control of this strategic asset.
One in five British children in single-parent household: Britain is one of the top countries in Europe for single-parent families, with 20.8 percent of children living with one parent, according to an article published in theDaily Mail citing Eurostat figures. The only nations with a higher proportion were Estonia, Latvia and Ireland. In Spain, the proportion was 7.1 percent, France 13.5 percent and Germany 15.1 percent. Patricia Morgan, a researcher who has long campaigned for fairer treatment of families in the tax system, pointed out: “You can look at these figures and see immediately which countries help couples through tax and benefits. In France, people get help if they draw up legal family contracts. In Germany, Holland and Italy, married people get tax relief and tax relief for children. Even in Sweden, where they do nothing for married couples, they do not help single parents, and they expect them to work. By contrast, our system encourages transient shack-ups.” Jill Kirby, former director of the Center for Policy Studies, warned: “Unless our government acts to implement pro-marriage policies, the gap with the rest of Europe will continue to widen.” Today, traditional families are penalized more by the tax system in Britain than in almost all other developed nations, according to a report publish earlier this year by care, a UK-based Christian charity. The tax system penalizes marriage. Single parenthood is encouraged. With these perverse incentives, no wonder Britain is one of Europe’s leaders in single parenthood.
Second wave of Anglicans set to join Catholic Church: Around 20 clergymen and 200 lay members are poised to join the Ordinariate, a branch of the Catholic Church that allows Anglicans to keep many of their traditions, according to the head of the Ordinariate, Keith Newton. Many more could also join if the Anglican General Synod votes to accept women bishops. “There are in the region of 15 to 20 people who I think will be coming over this year,” said Newton. “These are ordained Anglicans who wish to petition the Holy See for ordination.” An Ordinariate will be created in America on January 1, and one in Australia in the spring, giving more Anglicans the chance to return to Catholicism. This is just the beginning—expect the whole Anglican Church to be eventually absorbed by Rome.
Abortions to kill unwanted twins or triplets increasing: Over 100 unborn babies were aborted in 2010 by women expecting twins, triplets or quintuplets, but who didn’t want so many children, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported, citing official figures. The number of these abortions has risen sharply, probably because of ivf treatment, which tries to create several embryos in order to improve the odds of one developing successfully. The Department of Health said, however, that three quarters of the abortions were for medical reasons, because multiple pregnancies carry a greater risk.
Unemployment claims rise again: The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week after three weeks of decline. According to the U.S. Labor Department, weekly applications increased by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted figure of 381,000. This means that the government-reported U-3 unemployment rate may soon start rising above 8.6 percent. Even so, such statistics are deceiving in that they only consider as unemployed the number of Americans who are actively applying for government benefits at a time when many Americans have been unemployed for so long that they have either stopped looking for work or are now ineligible for further benefits. At the start of the recession, the employment-to-population rate in America was 62.7 percent. This rate is now 58.5 percent. Thus, the actual jobless rate would be 11 percent if the Labor Department still assumed that 62.7 percent of the country should be working. This current unemployment problem is just a small taste of what is to come. The forces of inflation (money printing by the Federal Reserve) and deflation (debt collapse) are tearing America apart at the seams. Another recession is on the way, and the jobs are not coming back anytime soon.
U.S. economy dragged down by housing market: The housing market, which has been at the center of America’s economic troubles since 2007, still has a lot of problems heading into 2012. A new report released Tuesday stated that national home prices dropped a further 3.4 percent in the period between January and October. Since a house is usually the biggest single investment an American makes, such a drop in home values has put a damper on people’s spending and confidence—knocking another 1 percent off hoped-for growth. Just as dangerously, falling house prices will take a further bite out of America’s wobbly banking sector—and may even push one or two banking giants over the edge.

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