Update on Piracy

By Alan Greenblatt, freelancer, CQ Global Researcher

October is just around the corner and that can only mean one thing – maritime piracy off the Horn of Africa is about to pick up again.

The maritime security experts I interviewed for my August Global Researcher report "Attacking Piracy" agreed on one thing – the recent abatement in pirate attacks off Somalia was due more to wind patterns than to the presence of naval warships from some 15 countries patrolling the region. Once the seasonal winds died down in the fall, they predicted, the number of pirate attacks would quickly shoot up again.

The question of whether international navies can curb piracy was a major focus of my piece. Caleb Crain, in a recent New Yorker article examining the history of piracy (primarily in the 1700s) through an economic lens, concludes that they can and eventually will:

Piracy seems to thrive when capitalism is advancing—when it has put enough wealth in motion to tempt criminals to kill for it but not yet enough for sailors to die in its defense—and perhaps, as in Somalia, when government is retreating. In several ways, Somalia’s contemporary pirates resemble those of three centuries ago. Violent and dangerous, they nonetheless are careful not to hurt co√∂perative hostages; they look to piracy to take them from poverty to a life of leisure; they have been known to regulate their own behavior with written rules; and they believe that their cause is just. The timing of their end, too, will probably be similar, coming whenever a major power decides that a crackdown costs less than the nuisance.

The Economist sounds a skeptical note in a recent article about the role of navies in this fight:
But some naval types say tackling barefoot Somalis with bazookas is not the best use of large warships. “They feel that tackling a skiff is an odd thing to do with a ship costing hundreds of millions,” says Jason Alderwick, an analyst with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Nor are warships always ideal for the job. A naval craft may take 20 minutes to send a helicopter to a nearby merchant vessel in danger. That is easily enough time for pirates to seize a ship; once that happens, there is no easy way to regain control.
Deterrence is important, the British magazine stresses, noting that seamen are now riding along on cargo ships – something that had previously been rare – and that private security firms are increasingly working the problem. The business of protecting ships off East Africa has trebled in the past year.

The article concludes, as many of the experts I’d interviewed stressed, that the only long-term solution is the creation of a stable and effective government in Somalia. Toward that end, I was interested to read in The New York Times recently that there appears to be some optimism regarding Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the latest president of that unstable, barely governed country.

Sheik Sharif’s regime is still highly dependent on foreign troops for security and, as has long been the case, barely controls much more than the presidential palace. Yet, the Times says
"his moderate Islamist government is widely considered to be Somalia’s best chance for stability in years.

For the first time in decades — including 21 years of dictatorship and the 18 years of chaos that followed — Somalia’s leader has both widespread grass-roots support inside the country and extensive help from outside nations, analysts and many Somalis say.

“This government is qualitatively different from the governments that came before it,” said Rashid Abdi, an analyst at the International Crisis Group. “But we shouldn’t fool ourselves; they need to act quickly.”
Indeed, kidnapping foreigners on land has become a problem parallel to piracy in Somalia, as this Los Angeles Times article about a French security consultant who managed to escape his captors indicates.

And not all Somali pirates have been waiting for a change in the weather to try their chances – at least near shore. On Sept. 25, according to Alshahid, a Somali-owned ship carrying cargo from Dubai escaped a pirate attack near Mogadishu, but its Syrian captain was killed. Earlier in the month, the New York Times reported that Somali pirates were turned back from a North Korean cargo ship when its crew members fought back with Molotov cocktails.

Meanwhile, the Straits Times reports that piracy has hit a five-year high in the South China Sea, with the number of attacks this year already surpassing the previous record set in 2005.

Here's an excerpt of the August CQ Global Researcher report on "Attacking Piracy".

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Interrogating the CIA

Should its role in terrorism cases be reexamined?
By Kenneth Jost, September 25, 2009

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has asked a career federal prosecutor to reexamine evidence of possible abuses by Central Intelligence Agency operatives years ago in the questioning of “high-value” terrorism suspects. The CIA's role in interrogating detainees has been controversial because the agency used so-called “enhanced” techniques, including waterboarding. Under President George W. Bush, the Justice Department approved the harsh measures even though many critics said some amount to torture. President Obama has now barred the use of the techniques, but former Vice President Dick Cheney is among those who say the practices yielded valuable intelligence that helped keep the country safe after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. A newly released internal CIA report documents several apparent abuses during the interrogation program. The release of the report is said to be hurting morale at the CIA even as it prompts renewed calls for a broad investigation of the Bush administration's policies in the war on terror.

The Issues:
* Should CIA agents be prosecuted for exceeding interrogation guidelines?
* Should the CIA be allowed to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” when questioning “high-value” detainees?
* Should Congress authorize an in-depth investigation of past detention and interrogation practices?

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Excerpt from the "Gays in the Military" report

Below is an excerpt from the "Current Situation" section of this week's CQ Researcher report on "Gays in the Military" by Peter Katel, September 18, 2009

Current Situation

Advocates of allowing gays to serve in the military may agree on the ultimate goal — but not on how to reach it. President Obama, for instance, wants Congress to repeal the 1993 law banning homosexuality in the armed forces. Congress passed the law, so Congress must undo it, he reasons.

But gay-ban opponents at the University of California's Palm Center say the congressional route is a dead end, at least for now.

“We don't think there is any chance of getting legislation through Congress any time soon,” says Aaron Belkin, the center's director. “The issue in Congress is completely stalled.”

Instead, he and five colleagues argued in a paper last May, the president should use authority granted him by the so-called “stop loss” law to halt sexuality-based discharges of military personnel. As the Palm Center team analyzes the law and related statutes, the president is authorized to prevent discharges during periods of national emergency if it is found that keeping personnel from leaving is essential to national security. [Footnote 59] The liberal Center for American Progress advocates the same strategy.

Such a move, Belkin says, would show opponents that allowing gays and lesbians to remain in the ranks does no harm. With that result established, he says, “Politically and operationally, it would be extremely difficult to get this toothpaste back in the tube.”

Remaking military policy by executive fiat would eventually make congressional action easier, not harder, he argues, although repealing the law would be necessary eventually. “It doesn't take any political capital to sign an order because the issue is polling at 75 percent in favor,” he says, citing recent surveys. [Footnote 60]

Ban supporter Donnelly at the Center on Military Readiness says bypassing the political process would be “outrageous,” and an admission of desperation. “I don't think the president is politically unwise enough to do something like that.”

The Palm Center also sees the proposed move as a way of short-circuiting Pentagon opposition, she notes. Indeed, a follow-up paper by the center said: “The legislative process would open a can of worms by allowing military leaders to testify at hearings and forge alliances with opponents on the Hill. A swift executive order would eliminate opportunities for them to resist.”[Footnote 61]

The Washington-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, however, views congressional action as the only practical approach — and one with excellent prospects. “We're looking at the next 12 months for repeal,” says Kevin Nix, the network's communications director. That time frame would put the matter before the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress, which runs through 2010.

Congressional-strategy advocates say hearings expected later this year will create new legislative momentum by providing a national forum for evidence of the practical and moral benefits of opening the armed forces to gays.

By early September, however, no dates had been set for the hearings. On the House side, an aide to Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said the panel is unlikely to take up the issue until a new under secretary for personnel and readiness has been allowed to settle into the position. The Senate Armed Services Committee hasn't set a date either. Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., has said he would hold a hearing in the fall.

“We firmly believe that repeal can get done in this Congress,” Nix says.

[59] Aaron Belkin, et al., “How to End ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’: A Roadmap of Political, Legal, Regulatory, and Organizational Steps to Equal Treatment,” Palm Center, May, 2009, www.palmcenter.org/files/active/0/Executive-Order-on-Gay-Troops-final.pdf. For background on stop-loss, see Pamela M. Prah, “Draft Debates,” CQ Researcher, Aug. 19, 2005, pp. 661–684. Lawrence J. Korb, et al., “Ending ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’: Practical Steps to Repeal the Ban on Openly Gay Men and Women in the U.S. Military,” Center for American Progress, June 2009, .

[60] Morales, op. cit.

[61] Aaron Belkin, “Self-Inflicted Wound: How and Why Gays Give the White House a Free Pass on ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,’” Palm Center, July 27, 2009.

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Gays in the Military

Should the ban on homosexuals be lifted?
By Peter Katel, September 18, 2009

Political passions over the ban on open homosexuality in the U.S. military are stirring again. A new legislative fight on the issue may be headed for House and Senate hearings as early as this fall. Iraq War veteran Rep. Patrick J. Murphy, D-Pa., is proposing legislation to end sexuality-based discrimination in the armed forces. Under the “don't ask, don't tell” policy, gays and lesbians are barred from military service unless their orientation stays hidden. The policy was designed as a compromise to a 1993 call to lift the ban. Supporters of the policy say dropping it would degrade the “unit cohesion” that is critical to battlefield effectiveness. But Murphy and some other recent vets argue that most of today's warriors don't care about their comrades' sexuality. In another element of political drama, some gay political activists are questioning President Barack Obama's level of commitment to pushing for repeal, as he has promised to do.

The Issues

  • Can military units function effectively with openly homosexual members?
  • Is the “don't ask, don't tell” approach to differentiating sexual “orientation” from conduct a viable compromise?
  • Should the United States follow other countries' examples and allow gays to serve openly in the military?
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Arctic Shipping Offers Some Promise

By Brian Beary, freelancer writer

Last week’s New York Times reported how history is being made as two German ships wend their way through Siberian waters transporting goods from South Korea to Rotterdam, thus becoming the first such vessels to transport goods between Asia and Europe using the Northern Sea Route, which crosses the globe in Russian-controlled waters. With Arctic seas more ice-free and thus navigable due to global warming, ships can shave several thousand miles off their journey compared to using the Suez Canal.

When I wrote the CQ Global Researcher's August 2008 report entitled "Race for the Arctic," the consensus among those I interviewed was that among potential Arctic shipping routes, the Northern Sea Route was the most likely to become commercially viable.

In North America, there has been much talk that the Northwest Passage -- which traverses northern Canada – could become a viable shipping route, especially after it experienced its first ice-free summer in recorded history in 2007. But the passage is less ice-free than the Siberian waters. Moreover, whereas Russia controls the Northern Sea Route alone and does its utmost to promote it, while control of the Northwest Passage is a messier situation. Canada and the United States are embroiled in a decades-long dispute over whether it is an international strait with right of free passage, which Washington claims, or is part of Canada’s territorial waters, which Ottawa insists. A ship travelling from Tokyo to New York would cut 2,600 miles off its journey were it to sail over Canada instead of via the Panama Canal.

That said, Arctic experts told me that even if the journey were shorter, it might actually take longer because ships would need to slow down or stop to avoid ice. With certain commodities, such as the construction materials the German ships are transporting across Siberia, time may not be of the essence. But with others – such as fresh fruit, clothing or cars – companies cannot afford delays. The most likely growth sector in Arctic shipping is not expected to be in transcontinental goods, but rather in regional shipping – transporting resources extracted from the region, such as petroleum, fish and metals.

Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark are pursuing competing territorial claims within the United Nations framework to control those resources, which are becoming increasingly accessible due to global warming. The United States, even though it owns Alaska in the Arctic, is not in the running for this race because the Senate has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, despite urgings by current and past U.S. Presidents.

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State Budget Crisis

Are permanent changes in spending needed?
By Alan Greenblatt, September 11, 2009

State budgets always fall out of balance during recessions, but in the current downturn states are facing the worst budget crunch since the Great Depression. Over the past two years, states have had to close budget gaps exceeding $300 billion. Many have raised taxes, but they've mainly dealt with the challenge by cutting spending. State workers are facing layoffs and unpaid furloughs. Social services, including health insurance for children, are being cut dramatically. Even normally sacrosanct areas such as K-12 education and public safety are taking hits. The federal stimulus package included fiscal relief for states, but that money will soon run out. And states expect to face continuing problems. Their revenues will grow more slowly than they've come to expect over the past 30 years, leading some observers to wonder whether states have to make fundamental changes in the scope and scale of the services they provide.

The Issues
* Should states raise taxes?
* Are public-sector workers' benefits too generous?
* Will the recession force states to make fundamental changes?

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Financial Literacy

Should financial-literacy courses be mandatory in schools?
By Thomas J. Billitteri, September 4, 2009

Poor understanding of basic personal-finance and economic issues has left millions of students and adults mired in credit-card debt, prey to unscrupulous mortgage brokers and prone to making risky bets with their retirement money. High-school seniors correctly answer only about half the questions on personal-finance surveys, and those who take personal-finance courses tend to score no better than those who don't. Studies show similar deficits among adults. Yet experts disagree on a solution. Only a handful of states require at least a semester course on personal finance, and some advocates want Congress or state legislatures to mandate financial education for all K-12 students. Others question the effectiveness of financial-literacy programs in schools, and some worry that corporations may have too much influence on curriculum and instruction. A better approach to improving financial literacy, some argue, is to tighten government regulation to make credit cards, mortgages and other products easier to understand.

The Issues
* Is financial-literacy education effective?
* Should financial-literacy courses be mandatory in elementary and high schools?
* Should college students receiving government loans have to pass a financial-literacy exam or course?

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Future of Globalization

From the CQ Global Researcher:

Is the recession triggering deglobalization?

By Reed Karaim, September 2009

Global trade has plummeted in recent months by rates not seen since the Great Depression. This year alone, the World Trade Organization predicts trade will tumble 10 percent, the biggest contraction since World War II. While countries so far have avoided the kind of disastrous trade wars that marked the 1930s, protectionist measures and nationalist sentiments are rising across the globe, reflected in the original “Buy American” provision of the U.S. government's economic stimulus package. Clearly, globalization, so recently hailed in books like Thomas Friedman's best-selling The World Is Flat, has stalled. Some economic historians even believe the world is entering an era of “deglobalization,” with nations turning inward economically and culturally, which could lead to a dangerous increase in international tensions. Other analysts say the economic, technological and social ties that bind nations to each other have grown so strong that globalization is an irreversible phenomenon that will help the global economy recover.

The Issues

* Does rising protectionism threaten global economic recovery?
* Are some protectionist measures appropriate in today's economy?
* Will globalization survive the world economic crisis?

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