Sudan has been embroiled in two civil wars for most of the 55 years it has existed as an independent state. In the 1980s and 1990s Sudan witnessed four million displacements and two million deaths as a direct result of this conflict. Islamic-oriented military regimes have ruled Sudan since independence, which is large part attributable to the religious demographics. Of Sudan’s sizeable population of over 44 million inhabitants, seventy percent identifies as Sunni Muslim, twenty-five with indigenous beliefs, and five percent as Christian. Muslims are concentrated in Northern Sudan, while Christians mostly occupy the South.
This religious divide has in part contributed to the internal strife of the county, though nearly all of the major ethnic and religious groups have at one time fought one another. In western Sudan, a separate conflict has ravaged the region of Darfur, has resulted in 200,000 to 400,000 deaths. However, Sudan has suffered from its largest conflict in large part because Northern Muslims have considerable economic, social, and political control over their Southern non-Arab counterparts. But natural resource endowments have complicated the matter: though the North has a larger population, the South controls the majority of the country’s vast oil reserves.
After years of peace talks, the North and South signed the final North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), in January 2005, which granted the southern rebels autonomy for six years. Since signing this agreement, the South has enjoyed relative autonomy, controlling most if its own political decisions. Both sides have also agreed to a referendum for Southern independence. And this referendum will be held in five days from today. Southerners are expected to vote in favor by 99 percent, which may result in an independent state.
Nick Clegg, I really must applaud you for following perfectly in step with a line of giant cowards that have recently been running policy in the United Kingdom.
Ok let me back up before I start offending anyone. Which surely I have already done. That statement was a little harsh. The United Kingdom is a wonderful place. I should know, I grew up in Northern Ireland, just outside of Belfast. I called French fries “chips” for half of my life. This was actually particularly confusing for the lunch ladies at my middle school when my family returned to the U.S.:
“I’ll have chips with my hamburger, please.” I told them, tray extended.
“We don’t have chips today,” they replied.
“Yes you do.” I retorted, staring right at them, plain as day. This went back and forth for several iterations before my sixth grade teacher needed to step in.
“She means French fires!” That settled the confusion.
You’ve probably heard a lot of talk on so-called rare earths. Rare earths are relatively unassuming minerals, down at the bottom of the periodic table. In elemental form, they are iron gray to silvery. They are often soft, malleable, and usually reactive, especially at high temperatures. These minerals are also used to manufacture everything from iPhones to wind turbines and from electric cars to military hardware. And China controls 97% of the world’s supply.
This wasn’t a big deal until this November, when China decided to restrict the export of rare earths to Japan, likely in retaliation to Japan’s detention of a Chinese captain of a fishing trawler in Japanese waters. When Japan released the fisherman, China resumed shipments.
Before this event, no one was talking about China’s monopoly over the world’s rare earths. And economic theory tells us that there is nothing wrong with China supplying 97% of this mineral to the world. In fact, according to the Ricardian model of international trade, developed by David Ricardo, a father of modern economics, this is actually a good thing. China has what we call a comparative advantage in the supply of rare earths. By trading with countries that have a comparative advantage in other goods (for example, Japan with electronics), both countries can make economic gains. I won’t get into the proof, but if you’re interested in learning more, read this.
In November, when the U.S. embarrassingly discovered it had been conducting months of secret negotiations with an imposter, posing as a high level Taliban leader, it was yet again underscored how little the NATO allies understand of the terrorist organization. In a massive and deadly version of “Where’s Waldo,” the U.S. is not even certain where Taliban leaders are hiding, though it is suspected they are somewhere in Pakistan, perhaps under the aid of the Pakistani government.
Even less is understood of Taliban’s financing, though recent developments have answered the question of “what” more completely than “where.” Taliban has a seemingly bottomless trove of funding. Recently leaked documents show the group has used mobile surface-to-air missiles against American aircraft, a technologically significant and expensive departure from small arms, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket propelled grenades. In fact, the leaked war logs from earlier this year show that the American military kept secret an instance in 2007 when the Taliban used these heat seeking missiles to bring down a Chinook helicopter, claiming it was the work of small arms or a rocket powered grenade.
Taliban also understands the economics of loyalty and has the money to back it. According to defense analyst Christopher Langton, on a daily basis, the Taliban pays their fighters more than the Afghan National Police pays their police. As Langton notes, “In an area where loyalties may be divided, it might be a better deal, if you want to make money just to feed your family, to do a couple of days’ fighting for Taliban, or even a bit more.”
Casinos are contentious. They often pose economic problems for many communities they operate in because of increased crime and the costs of prevention; the drain on public services, such as sewers and roads; and the social concerns associated with increased compulsive gambling within the community. While proponents of casinos argue they bring a community revenue through tourism, others note there is a substitution effect, which means casino patrons (whether residents or visitors) simply decrease their spending on other goods and services. Economic studies put this range anywhere from 100%, which indicates gambling is mostly of “convenience” by residents and likely is not a net economic benefit, to as low as 35%, which is still perhaps a sizeable effect. On the positive side, casinos increase recreational opportunities for users, often create additional jobs and incomes, and generate some increased government revenue through taxation as casinos are often subject to a high level of taxation.
Since members of many communities find these costs of casinos to outweigh the benefits, the businesses often find themselves on the receiving end of impassioned and furious protests. For example, the organization Casino-Free Philadelphia for years protested the opening of SugarHouse Casino on the Delaware River waterfront. On opening day, activists gathered outside and unveiled a mural “depicting how they think the waterfront should look — without a casino. The mural was drawn by children who live in the neighborhood and included images of gardens and playgrounds.”
Nicaragua has endured a troubled history. Behind only Haiti, Nicaragua is the poorest nation in the Americas. Half of its population lives in poverty, a fifth in extreme. The county is led by President Daniel Ortega, a leader among the Sandinista, a leftist political that advocated property redistribution while it ruled throughout the 1980s. In many ways, Daniel Ortega is a contradiction. While he is politically aligned with the Sandinista, he also has distanced himself from its Marxist past. Ortega has denounced “U.S. terroristic aggression in Central America,” but ardently supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States. In 2007 he asked the U.S. for $1 billion to fight drug trafficking; in 2009 he gave a speech to Summit of the Americas, berating America’s foreign policy, while U.S. President Obama sat patiently listening.
But Nicaragua’s past has been equally complicated. Ortega’s anger toward America, and his simultaneous dependence on its economy, can at least be understood, while perhaps not quite justified. The U.S. has provided funding and backing for revolutionary groups twice in Nicaragua’s history—first in 1909 when the U.S. backed rebels attempting to overthrow President Zelaya and again in the 1980s when the U.S. backed the revolutionary Contras, who sought to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government. Between these two episodes, the U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933, partly out of the political motivation for control of the proposed Nicaragua Canal.
I give this history because I believe it would be unfair to judge Ortega’s—and ultimately Nicaragua’s—attitude toward foreign terrorism without these historic points of reference. There is no “good” or “evil” in this story.
One September 21st of this year, Italian financial police seized $30.18 million from a Vatican Bank account at a Rome branch for possible ties to money laundering. About $26 million of these funds were headed to JP Morgan in Frankfurt and the remainder was going to Banca del Fucino. Later that day investigators announced that the Vatican Bank’s chairman and director general are under investigation for failure to meet Italy’s anti-money laundering laws. On that day in September, I wrote a blog post about the Institute for Works of Religion, known commonly as Vatican Bank, and its already dirty list of scandals. This includes the infamous death a man named Roberto Calvi, nicknamed “God’s Banker,” and his connection to the Bank.
On month after the seizure, Holocaust survivors from the former Yugoslavia requested that the European Commission investigate the Vatican Bank for potentially aiding Nazis launder their stolen valuables. The request follows from a decade-old lawsuit in the U.S., which alleges that—according to a U.S. State Department report—the Vatican Bank “laundered assets stolen from thousands of Jews, gypsies and Serbs killed or captured by the Ustasha, the Nazi-backed regime of wartime Croatia.” But in December of 2009 a U.S. appeals court in San Francisco dismissed the case because the Vatican Bank has immunity under the 1976 Foreign Service Immunities Act.
The corruption probe has given new hope to these survivors and their case. The Vatican has called the probe a “misunderstanding.”
Today is International Anti-Corruption Day, established by the United Nations, as a day of awareness for the issue. As the UN describes it: “Attitudes on corruption are changing. As recently as ten years ago, corruption was only whispered about. Today there are signs of growing intolerance toward corruption and more and more politicians and chief executives are being tried and convicted.”
The United States has proven itself the world’s trailblazer on matters of anti-corruption. The U.S. flagship anti-corruption legislation is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which makes it unlawful for persons and entities to “make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business” and it has received praise from the OECD for its comprehensiveness. Yet on this day, it is clear that our own politicians and chief executives could use some reminding of the importance of this issue and its impact on development.
Let’s start with the recent actions of U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which were outlined in a compelling blog by Raymond Baker in today’s Huffington Post. Baker’s article is detailed and persuasive, so I won’t summarize it entirely and instead recommend you read it. One of the more shocking points Baker makes, though, is that the Chamber has lobbied to give “subsidiaries of multinational companies a loose rein” with the FCPA so that the actions of a foreign subsidiary should not expose the parent company to liability. As Baker points out, in a world where much of the global business is done by subsidiaries “gutting the FCPA in this way would subject the United States to ridicule.”
It’s not hard to imagine a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah quickly spiraling into a full-scale regional war. Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has already declared that his government would support the Shiite military organization if a new war broke out with Israel. A recent paper authored by Jeffrey White and published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues that if war were to come to Israel’s northern boarder it would be “transformational” and “fateful.” White argues the participants would fight the war over extensive portions of Lebanon, Israel, and probably Syria, “featuring large military forces executing complex operations and resulting in substantial casualties.”
For obvious reasons the situation is combustible and extremely dangerous for all parties concerned. Solutions to the problem are unclear, particularly given the complex politics and international dynamics involved. But even if nothing else is evident, there is one obvious resolution. Hezbollah must not acquire an arsenal of powerful weapons capable of securing more military power in the region and of intimidating Israel with the threat of extreme violent force. Such a result would have devastating effects politically, and perhaps eventually, in lives.
In 2004 while in a Comparative Politics class, I had a conversation with a friend, who was relatively well-versed in things political, about Freedom House’s Freedom in the World rankings. I remember referring the fact that Russia was considered a “transitional democracy” and he corrected me.
“No,” he replied, “Russia is a democracy.”
My friend was wrong, of course, but in retrospect that seems much more obvious than it did at the time. In 2004 Russia, with the ranking “Partly Free,” had only just begun its descent into authoritarianism under the direction of Vladamir Putin. It was that year that Russia witnessed a deterioration of fundamental rights and consolidation of the government over broadcast media. The country had already fallen from its 1999 Duma election, which was widely considered free and fair.
At the time the fall was still fresh. And so my friend’s confusion was understandable. If we had the same conversation today, his comment would not be so defensible.
Everyone knows money is a powerful dissuader.
Think of parking tickets. If there were no penalty, most people would be unlikely to feed the machine with a few
A variety of activities ranging from smoking to carrying durians is banned on Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit system.
quarters. But it’s a small price to pay when the ticket fine is $30 (or $50 if you live in DC).
Any Economist will tell you that, by design, compliance with laws is a mix of two important factors. One: the penalty that results if the offender is caught and 2: the probability of the offender getting caught in the first place. If the fine is proportional to the crime, but the probability of being caught is almost certain, few will risk it. In the same way, if the probability of being caught is low, but the penalty is very high, again few will risk it.
Through its laws and enforcement, Singapore has hit both sides of the coin, very hard. A variety of activities considered harmless in most other countries have been criminalized, for example littering, jaywalking, and spitting and they are heavily enforced. The U.S. State Department warns American travelers that Singapore has a “mandatory caning sentence for vandalism offenses.” The strict laws and enforcement of those laws does pay off in some ways. Singapore enjoys one of the lowest rates of crime in the region (in fact, Japan is the only country with lower crime in Asia) and these statistics are particularly impressive when Singapore is compared to other emerging markets in a similar state of development. Then again, if the ACLU were in Singapore, they might have something to say about the mandatory caning and death penalties.
Many people wouldn’t guess it, but corruption is a big challenge for India. The problem isn’t new, but it has recently come under intense international focus.
The fuss was sparked by this year’s Commonwealth Games, which are held between former British colonies, and were hosted in Dehli. Ironically, officials had hoped the games would showcase India’s increasing economic and political clout, but instead they were marred by deplorable living conditions for athletes and massive delays in building construction. It was soon revealed the blame for these circumstances could be traced to corruption. The chief of the Indian Olympic Association, Suresh Kalmadi, who was in charge of the Games, allegedly presided over numerous corrupt deals, and several under him also contributed to the systematic graft, which resulted in the stadium delays and the use of substandard construction materials.
Following the commotion with the infamous Games, India enjoyed no respite, but rather found itself roiled in wave after wave of new corruption allegations. One of the key moments came when Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, resigned in the wake of serious allegations of malpractices concerning an apartment tower in the heart of the city. Then, last week, an Indian comptroller and auditor general released a report that accused Andimuthu Raja, India’s former Telecommunication Minister, lost $34 billion in tax revenue by failing to follow proper procedure in the award of licenses to run mobile phone networks.