Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Iran Wants Russia in OPEC

Pro-western Ayatollah Khatami's decision to withdraw his presidential bid does not spell the end of Iran's efforts to break out of isolation. The Iranian government has decided to lobby the OPEC oil-producing cartel to invite Russia in as a member, in what is clearly a bid to improve its own diplomatic and economic position.

"The ground is ready in OPEC to accept Russia as a new member," declared Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari on the eve of the OPEC meeting in Vienna on March 15. Last December, Russia's deputy prime minister said that his country was considering the invitation to join the organization.

What is good for Tehran is bad for the U.S. Such a development should worry the Obama administration for a host of reasons. First and foremost, if Russia joins the cartel, it would significantly strengthen its relations with a whole list of Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain — all close U.S. allies.

America may well find that a stronger voice from Moscow in the region may translate into lost U.S. trade and a reduction in U.S. influence as Russia's increases. After all, such countries depend greatly on oil for their income. With Russia becoming an important player in the oil market, sealing its position with an OPEC membership will make it increasingly difficult for those countries to ignore Russia's desires.

With such backing from the Middle East, Russia may well be emboldened to strengthen its position in the Caucasus region and won't be in the mood to show a spirit of compromise in places such as Georgia. This would make it harder to return Tbilisi to the American sphere of influence.

Potential economic damage to the U.S. also needs to be considered. Iran's hope is that by including Russia, OPEC will have a bigger say in the production of oil, thus increasing the leverage of the oil-producing cartel. This would then enable them to cut production and push the price of oil to higher levels. Until now, the fact that Russia — one of the biggest oil producers — has not been a member of OPEC has meant that at times when OPEC has cut production, Russia has not followed suit. On a number of occasions, this damaged OPEC's plans to raise oil prices.

After months of lower prices, Russian membership in OPEC could result in oil prices climbing again. This is good for Iran. Higher oil prices mean a strengthened economy and a boost to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chances of reelection. Recently, the Iranian leader has been trying to boost his popularity by increasing the Iranian New Year (March 21) bonus for retired staff to $200.

But with the U.S. government extending sanctions by a year and oil prices sitting at $47 instead of $147 (as was the case in July 2008), Ahmadinejad needs all the economic help he can get. With Russia on board in OPEC, he would have a better chance of increasing oil prices and Iranian income. This would provide him with more funds to spend on his conservative policies and more funding at his disposal to spend on his nuclear program and support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

Having Russia as a member of OPEC would also strengthen Tehran's position against Washington, especially regarding talks over the nuclear program.

Iran is worried about Barack Obama's popularity in the U.S. and his influence in the international arena. This is true to such an extent that Iran initially planned to launch its new Omid satellite on January 20, which also happened to be the day of Obama's inauguration. The launch, however, was postponed to February 2, due to bad weather.

Nevertheless, the very fact that Iran wanted to welcome Obama's term with such public muscle flexing is a clear sign that Tehran is worried about Obama's potential reaction to its intransigence in nuclear talks and whether the president will leverage that into stronger sanctions or even war.

As a member of OPEC, Russia would make Moscow increasingly dependent on Iran, not only regarding the export of its goods but also regarding its cooperation in important issues such as setting production quotas. Tehran's hope is that such leverage can be used to continue its nuclear program while fending off any possible increase in sanctions.

So what can the U.S. do about it? Obviously, continuing investment in alternative energies is crucial. Cooperation with Azerbaijan also needs to be expanded: the Nubucco pipeline will bring gas from the Caspian sea to Europe via Turkey, thereby reducing Europe's dependency on Russian gas.

The Nabucco project gains even more importance in light of the fact that Iran is also trying to become a gas supplier to Europe through its own pipeline from the Caspian Sea, which will run into Europe via Turkey.

The Cold War may be over, but Moscow has not given up its ambition to become a superpower. A useful counter strategy by the U.S. would be to boost the status and power of the G20 group of countries. With the financial crisis worsening every day, such a move would deny Russia the opportunity to use the crisis to boost its power and influence around the world, as it did when Moscow waded in to save the Icelandic central bank by loaning it four billion Euros.

Acquiring OPEC membership would not only be another notch in Moscow's belt, it could have the unpleasant side effect of helping Iran's nuclear program and strengthening Tehran's support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

Pretty Fly For a White Guy

Article by: Meir Javedanfar

Updated March 23, 2009

URL: http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2009/03/why_iran_wants_russia_in_opec.html

Accessed on March 31, 2009

Medvedev: I'll work with Obama to improve relations

Story Highlights
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is ready to repair relationship with U.S.

Medvedev says he will work with Barack Obama to build better ties

Highlights nuclear disarmament as area where progress can be made
(CNN) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says he is ready to work with U.S. President Barack Obama to overcome a recent low point in U.S.-Russian relations.

The Russian leader, writing an op-ed in The Washington Post ahead of Thursday's G-20 summit in London, said he and Obama have exchanged letters this year that "showed mutual readiness to build mature bilateral relations in a pragmatic and business-like manner."

Medvedev cited a number of possible areas of cooperation between the two countries, starting with nuclear disarmament. He agreed with Obama that resuming the disarmament process should become an "immediate priority."

"The wish to ensure absolute security in a unilateral way is a dangerous illusion," Medvedev wrote. "I am encouraged that our new partners in Washington realize this."

Both countries see a need for "collective solutions" to the problems in Afghanistan. Conferences on Afghanistan, organized by each country, should be part of a "mutually reinforcing rather than competitive" approach, he said.

Medvedev also said the two countries should help take the lead at the G-20 summit to address the state of the global economy.

Russia and the United States should push for "universal rules and discipline" in the financial sector and discuss the introduction of a supranational reserve currency, potentially under the International Monetary Fund, Medvedev wrote.

But Medvedev and Obama's first meeting -- scheduled for Wednesday, the day before the summit -- will offer the chance for a new start in their countries' relationship, the Russian leader said.

"Unfortunately, relations soured because of the previous U.S. administration's plans -- specifically, deployment of the U.S. global missile defense system in Eastern Europe, efforts to push NATO's borders eastward and refusal to ratify the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe," Medvedev wrote. "All of these positions undermined Russia's interests and, if implemented, would inevitably require a response on our part."

He said neither country should allow "drift and indifference" in their relationship.

"We should agree that overcoming our common negative legacy is possible only by ensuring equality and mutual benefit and by taking into account our mutual interests," he wrote. "I am ready for such work with President Obama on the basis of these principles, and I hope to begin as early as tomorrow at our first meeting in London before the Group of 20 summit."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mapping a New Strategy

Democracy in Former Soviet Areas Needs a Friend

By Ludmila Alexeeva and Gregory Shvedov
Monday, March 30, 2009; A17

Since the end of Soviet Union, an ill-formed foreign policy apparatus has limited the United States' successes in promoting democracy and helping to create civil societies in the former Soviet states. This lack of success has led some to suggest that the United States should stop trying. But those of us on the front lines of this struggle have one message for our American friends: Don't give up.

The 2008 war in Georgia can be seen as a product of the failure to make human rights and democracy the central elements of U.S. policy -- not just in Russia but in Georgia, as well. And this conflict, in turn, has made both countries less democratic and free than they were when it began. In Russia's case, this was not a change in direction. But Georgia's fast retreat from democracy since the riots of November 2007 was an abrupt about-face that generated almost no U.S. reaction. This silence legitimated Georgian authorities for actions that led to the start of the war.

This is the troubling backdrop as President Obama prepares to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday in advance of the Group of 20 summit in London. Across the former Soviet countries in the recent past, the United States has failed to respond forcefully as the right to dissent and democratic protest has lost ground. There are many examples of this: A year ago in Armenia, 10 people were killed and hundreds hurt during peaceful protests, and the only trial held in the aftermath has been of members of the opposition. At the start of this year, Radio Liberty and Voice of America were thrown out of Azerbaijan, while Russia cut by 90 percent the number of foundations and other donor groups allowed to make grants to nongovernmental organizations, severely curtailing the funding these groups need to operate. On Jan. 19, human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and young journalist Anastasia Baburova were shot on the streets of Moscow; no one has been charged in their murders, just as those responsible for the 2006 assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya remain at large.

What can the Obama administration do now to counter this backsliding? We don't have all the answers, but we suggest the following five-point program:

-- First, don't spend all your time working with government officials. Governments in non-free countries tend to monopolize the relationships between states. Deal instead with the leaders of civil society, no matter how weak they may be. New, real dialogues should be formed through annual forums or conferences of independent civil society groups of the United States and Russia. If we are to have a democratic and, hence, peaceful future, these are the leaders who will take us there. Those in power represent the past.

-- Second, focus assistance on the institutions of civil society, working with governments when possible but bypassing them when necessary. This is especially important in the regions facing the gravest crises, such as the Northern Caucasus and South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Don't use the cowardly label "frozen conflicts regions" to avoid working in these difficult places.

-- Third, recognize the importance of the media and make sure that your commitment to the free flow of ideas never falters. Continue to support international broadcasting via Radio Liberty and Voice of America and step in to help independent media, especially Internet outlets. To thrive in these countries, these new media need support, professional development and special security programs for journalists.

-- Fourth, consider forming a single agency to direct democracy and human rights activities, and find new, effective leaders to run it. Now, too many cooks are spoiling the soup; we could accomplish more with less if there were one reliable forum for us to work together. The National Endowment for Democracy, which has helped our organization and other nongovernmental entities in Russia, is the model to follow.

-- And fifth, don't get discouraged when we don't meet our shared goals overnight. Instead, focus on developing long-term social marketing strategies aimed at fostering change in the consciousness, values and social norms of ordinary people. Real change will arise from the people, and so the people should be empowered. Democracy is never built in a day.

Underlying these points, however, is our most important message: Our struggling democratic movements need friends. Throughout the Cold War, we viewed the United States as our best friend. But in recent years we have lost the sense that the United States views us the same way.

Now, President Obama, you have the chance to restore that friendship, extending the healing process that you began in your own country to ours.

With your help, we can build the kind of open, democratic and law-based societies that you have spoken so eloquently about.

We still believe in a fundamental principle: that people are the source of political power. People who want to experience their rights can't be left to illegitimate political leadership. Will the new administration of the United States be silent on the attempt to shut up independent voices?

Ludmila Alexeeva is chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Gregory Shvedov is editor in chief of the Web media Caucasian Knot.

Medvedev hopeful ahead of meeting with Obama

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama meet in London on Wednesday to try to "reset" thorny Russia-U.S. ties and find ways for the two biggest nuclear powers to cooperate on key global issues. While their predecessors Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush relied on personal chemistry to survive policy rows, Medvedev and Obama have vowed to be pragmatic in handling contentious issues like arms control, missile defense, Iran and Afghanistan.
Both sides say the most likely concrete outcome of the London meeting will be an agreement to start talks on a new treaty limiting long-range nuclear missiles to replace a pact which expires this year.
Medvedev and Obama are both former lawyers in their forties. The Russian leader has welcomed Obama's intention to leave behind what Moscow saw as Washington's confrontational approach over the past few years and has praised a letter from Obama outlining international priorities.
"Frankly speaking, when I was reading it I was surprised by the fact that many views outlined there coincided with my ideas," Medvedev said in a weekend interview to BBC television.
"The question, certainly, is how we shall be able to present our views during our personal meeting," he added. "To what extent our teams are ready ... to break stereotypes."
An Obama aide was equally positive in recent comments.
"Our sense is that the atmospherics around our relationship with Russia have dramatically improved over the last several weeks," Denis McDonough, a deputy national security adviser to Obama, told reporters in Washington on Saturday.
"...the bottom line is, I think: we've seen some very positive things over the past several weeks and we look forward to seeing if we can't put those into action," he added.
But deep policy disagreements mean both sides are wary.
Despite warm personal relations between Bush and Putin, Russian-U.S. relations came to a standstill last year amid rows over U.S. plans to deploy elements of its anti-missile system in central Europe and Russia's war in ex-Soviet Georgia.
The United States is suspicious of Russia's warm ties with U.S. foe Iran, while Moscow deplores Washington's drive to grant NATO membership to ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia.
After taking office, Obama sent signals to Moscow that NATO expansion was off Washington's books at least for now.
Medvedev's foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said the London meeting was expected to give an impetus to cooperation rather than to solve all the problems.
"We understand that to an extent their first meeting will be a mutual try-out," he told reporters on Friday. "Being realists, we understand too well the contradictions dividing us and have no illusions that they can be left behind easily."
Arms reductions, an important but less contentious issue in bilateral ties, offers the best chance of early progress.
The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expires in December. Differences on how to follow it up have stalled work on a replacement deal until now.
Prikhodko said Medvedev and Obama were likely to come out with a statement which would give guidelines to negotiators.
Russia links further arms reductions with the anti-missile issue. It wants Washington to give up its anti-missile plan and work with Moscow on a new joint project.
Afghanistan, where a U.S.-led force is fighting the Taliban, may be another area where "pressing a reset button" in bilateral ties -- to use a phrase first coined by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in February -- could bring quick results.
Russia has allowed non-lethal supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan through its territory by rail, a vital complement to the existing supply route through Pakistan. But, in a conflicting signal, it has encouraged its ex-Soviet ally Kyrgyzstan to shut a U.S. air base.
Some analysts in Moscow have noted that former president and now Prime Minister Putin -- hawkish on the U.S. and still highly influential on foreign policy -- will not be present at the London meeting.
Medvedev insisted in his weekend interview that he was in sole charge of policy as president but polls consistently show most Russians still think Putin is running the show.
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obama’s 50-50 Russia Strategy

Successful arms-control talks between Russia and the U.S. could also help matters in Iran and Afghanistan.

Andrew Nagorski
From the magazine issue dated Apr 6, 2009
Even to some of the closest observers of Russian foreign policy, it's almost impossible to know which direction Moscow is headed. One day it's threatening to station missiles aimed at Poland in its western enclave of Kaliningrad; the next, it's proclaiming its eagerness to take up Washington's offer to press the "reset button" on U.S.-Russia relations. One day, it's vowing to help with supply routes for NATO forces in Afghanistan; the next, it's offering Kyrgyzstan some $2 billion in loans and aid, emboldening the Central Asian country to demand the closure of the U.S. air base there. One day, it's signaling its solidarity with Western efforts to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons; the next, it's refusing to rule out the sale of sophisticated S-300 ground-to-air missiles to Tehran.

All this raises a key question: at President Barack Obama's meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in London on April 1, which Russia will he be seeing? Most likely, both leaders will accentuate the positive, voicing hopes for a new cooperative relationship between their two countries—and for good reason: Moscow and Washington have more in common than one might think.

For starters, both sides are eager for new nuclear-arms-control agreements that would allow them to scale back their arsenals and prevent a new arms race that neither side can afford in the midst of the current economic crisis. And the history of U.S.-Russian relations shows that talks on doomsday weapons tend to set the tone on all issues. A breakthrough on arms control could spill over into other fronts, including Afghanistan and Iran.

Moscow is more worried than it lets on about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, despite its major commercial and arms deals with Tehran. Like Washington, it is well aware of the potential wild card this could be. An Iran armed with nuclear weapons would have a huge psychological impact, raising the confidence of Muslims throughout the region—including in rebellious regions of southern Russia and the ex-Soviet republics over the border.

The same factor—resurgent Islam—makes the quest for stability in Afghanistan as important to Russia as it is to the United States. Washington worries that Muslim extremists could spark more terrorist attacks on Western targets; Russia is concerned that Afghanistan's failure would spill over into Tajikistan and other border states, where Muslim extremists would destabilize pro-Russian governments.

In one sense, Afghanistan is a live threat to Russia. Victor Ivanov, the head of Russia's anti-narcotics service, recently warned that a massive influx of heroin from Afghanistan is "a key negative factor for demography and a blow to our nation's gene pool." With Russia facing a sharp drop in its population because of alcoholism and an abysmal health-care system, the heroin explosion is only worsening the downward spiral. An estimated 2.5 million Russians are now addicts, according to the Ministry of Health.

Still, reaching any agreement with the prickly Medvedev– Vladimir Putin regime will be a struggle. The Obama administration is well aware of just how quickly U.S.-Russia relations can sour. When George W. Bush took office, he too expressed his eagerness for a new relationship with Russia. Then-President Putin reciprocated the sentiment. Yet the relationship soon degenerated into acrimony. After last summer's brief Georgia-Russia war, relations plunged into the deep freeze.

Russia's deteriorating economic situation may further exacerbate tensions. Over the past several months much of the wealth generated by soaring energy prices has evaporated, and the Kremlin has reacted furiously to the first manifestations of social discontent, dispatching Interior Ministry troops all the way from Moscow to the far-eastern port of Vladivostok to stamp out small protests.

Washington's greatest fear is that the Kremlin won't have the patience for talks and diplomatic cooperation, and will instead adopt a more confrontational posture to deflect attention from the mounting economic and social problems at home. In that pessimistic scenario, another conflict in Georgia or elsewhere could doom all hope for a better relationship. Worse yet, the Russians would go ahead with the sale of the S-300 missiles to Iran, setting off a dangerous sequence of events. Worried about the potency of those weapons, Israel could feel compelled to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities before they are deployed.

Though the Obama team has spoken of hitting the "reset button" in Russian relations, it knows the chances of a real turnaround are 50-50, at best. Its current strategy is to ignore the more negative signals coming out of the Kremlin and take the professions of good will seriously. It realizes that its best shot at changing course is now, when both sides have maximum incentive to start anew—but that there are no guarantees of success.

Nagorski, a former NEWSWEEK Moscow bureau chief and editor, is director of public policy and senior fellow at the EastWest Institute.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Will U.S. 'reset' offers work?

Ilan Berman

In February, the Obama administration sent a secret letter to Moscow in which it reportedly offered up its predecessor's plans for missile defenses in Europe in exchange for a more constructive Russian role on dealing with Iran's nuclear program. The Kremlin happily pocketed that proposal, but made no firm commitments as to its cooperation in squeezing Tehran. So what does Russia really think of Iran and its nuclear ambitions?

In Washington, conventional wisdom has long held that the partnership between Russia and Iran is strong - and getting stronger. There's good reason for this assumption. Moscow has been a key strategic ally and atomic enabler of the Islamic Republic for years, and the fruits of that collaboration are by now painfully obvious. If all goes as planned, Iranian officials say, the Russian-built plutonium reactor in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr will come online sometime later this year. Once it does, they have made no secret of the fact that they hope to engage Russia in the construction of several additional nuclear facilities.

At least publicly, Moscow appears comfortable with that idea. Kremlin policymakers from President Dmitry Medvedev on down have affirmed their support for Iran's nuclear "rights" and waved away Western concerns that the Islamic Republic's nuclear efforts are intended to ultimately develop a weapon.

But that does not necessarily mean the Russian government views the Iranian regime as benign, or that its allegiance to Tehran is absolute. In the past, a number of noted Russian statesmen and experts have gone against the Kremlin grain to warn about the dangers associated with Iran's ayatollahs going nuclear. Among the most prominent is Yevgeny Velikhov, the secretary of Russia's influential Public Chamber and a close confidant of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who warned in April 2007 that "[i]t is important that Iran does not get nuclear weapons. ... If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it will be very negative for the security of the whole world."

More recently, the one sounding the alarm has been Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin. At a conference in Moscow earlier this month, Gen. Dvorkin - a former top Soviet arms control negotiator who now heads the Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces - outlined that "Iran is actively working on a missile development program" and warned that the Islamic Republic's growing stockpile of ballistic missiles "will most likely be able to threaten the whole of Europe" in the near future.

But the more acute danger, according to Gen. Dvorkin, is that Tehran could marry that capability with its burgeoning nuclear program - with major geopolitical results: "The real threat is that Iran, which is already ignoring all resolutions and sanctions issued by the U.N. Security Council, will be practically 'untouchable' after acquiring nuclear-power status and will be able to expand its support of terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah."

That experts in Russia are increasingly seized of the potentially destabilizing effects of Iranian nuclearization should hardly come as a surprise. Geographically closer to Iran, their country is already within striking distance of Tehran's increasingly robust strategic arsenal. Officials in Moscow are acutely aware that Iran can play a much more destabilizing role in the greater Middle East - including the former Soviet majority-Muslim republics of Central Asia - than it does at present.

It is surprising that the United States and its allies so far have failed to parlay those worries into a real, constructive dialogue with the Kremlin over the common threat to both countries posed by the current regime in Tehran.

During his tenure, President George W. Bush's overtures to Moscow on the subject were more procedure than policy, stopping short of seriously engaging Russia's leaders on international security issues that, in turn, mattered to them.

Today, the Obama administration's plans to "push the reset button" on U.S.-Russia relations have focused upon some of these tactical areas - among them new arms control negotiations and greater efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

On a larger strategic level, however, Washington has failed to convince Moscow that lasting collaboration in those arenas, and in others, will only come about through a meeting of the minds on Iran. If and when it does, the White House and the Kremlin may find they have much to talk about.

Ilan Berman is vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.

President Obama to Al Qaeda: We Will Disrupt, Dismantle, Defeat You

Our Government and the Demise of the Family

Life can change in a moment, before we are even given the chance to feel regret. As teenager's, life is full of rebellious acts, whether or not we can handle the outcome rarely crosses our minds. In America teen pregnancies and STD rates are on the rise.. Approximately 1 million teenage girls will get pregnant each year in the United States. (womanshealthchannel.com) The government could create a large impact on these numbers. Schools should enforce Comprehensive Sex Education because eventually the government well pay for this action, teens should be aware of protection strategies and the diseases they are susceptible to, and lastly because Comprehensive Sex Education is more effective than any Abstinence programs.

Many pregnant teens are not only unprepared to be mothers, but are not ready to financially support their child. Without these Comprehensive Sex Education programs to help prevent these early childhood pregnancies the government will have to help pay for the child. Unplanned pregnancies in teens are more than likely associated with low income resulting in 80% of them relying on welfare. Each year taxpayers contribute around $7 billion to public assistance, child health care, foster care, and involvement with the criminal justice system due to teen pregnancy. Medicare will cover the gynecologist visits and the health care necessary for the young child. Also Medicare covers STD testing. If the government were to help the funding of these Comprehensive Sex Education programs teenagers could become more aware of such consequences resulting in fewer Medicare clients.

The government should support programs through schools to help prevent unsafe sex and the rising number of adolescent pregnancies. Not only do teen pregnancies affect the at home life, but also in the young mothers education. According to womanshealthchannel.com, which is a physician developed website, only about one third of teen mothers receive a high school diploma. At such a young age teen mothers are prone to complications during delivery, and can put the baby at risk. Most teens are unaware of this. By making Comprehensive Sex Education a requirement of schools teens can be taught how to prevent these after-effects. In the United States only 69% of school districts teach some form of sex education. 89% of those districts teach the Abstinence program. Teens need to be informed if they are going to be sexually active of how to avoid risky behavior and the proper use of contraceptives. The government should enforce these programs to see effective results.

A member of the National Abstinence Education Association stated "Abstinence programs offer a holistic approach, teaching teens how to build healthy relationships, increase self-worth and set appropriate boundaries in order to achieve future goals." From this idea one could argue that teens should not be preached to just about the concept of abstinence, but also to make aware of using protection and the possibility of contracting STDS. Both of those issues are made apparent in the Comprehensive Sex Education programs. In Europe this type of program is started in preschool and is effectively shown in their low teen birthrate of 6.9 per 1,000 woman ages varying from 15–18. This rate is the lowest in the world and 8 times smaller than in the U.S. Because of such a high number in teen pregnancies each year it is obvious that the commonly used Abstinence programs are not as effective.

With all the stress, complications, and the financial burden that go along with teen pregnancy it is obvious that the government should step up and try to effectively change this issue. An easy solution is by making a required course in every school on the subject of Comprehensive Sex Education. This would help lower Medicare clients and the number of families on welfare, it would teach students the proper way of being "safe", and would overall be more effective then abstinence programs.


Works Cited

SIRS researcher. ProQuest. 20 Mar. 2009 .

Teen Pregnancy. 01 Nov. 2000. 20 Mar. 2009 .

Abstinence Is Best

Many people believe that sex education programs are needed in schools, but all these programs are doing is encouraging people to try sex using some kind of protection against pregnancy. These sex education programs shouldn’t be in schools. A better solution to a sex education program would be an abstinence only program because rather than teaching about how to have safe sex with protection, teach them how to wait to marriage. Also abstinence programs would show teens how to build healthy relationships, increase self worth and, set appropriate boundaries in order to achieve future goals (Huber 1).
Abstinence programs have been proven effective. In Georgia, for example, teen pregnancy rates have been cut in half, dropping for eleven straight years since the state mandated abstinence education (Huber 1). Also the current sex education programs have not been doing a good enough job. Each year, more than 3 million teenagers contract a sexually transmitted disease. In addition to the threat of disease and pregnancy, sexually active teens are three times more likely than teens that are not sexually active to become depressed and attempt suicide (Rector 1).
Others who support the idea of sex education programs rather than abstinence only programs argue that promoting marriage and discouraging premarital sex through fear and false information remains a benchmark of abstinence only education (Buggink 1). With the number of sexually transmitted diseases raising at the current rate, and with there being about 822,000 teen pregnancies from the ages of 15 to 19 in which most of them are unintended, there should be a much more positive emphasis on abstinence programs. And maybe we should be putting a little fear into teens because one bad decision in their life can change it forever and they will not be able to take back what they did. Also others who are in opposition to the abstinence programs may argue that, “Those who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do.” Said by Rob Stein who is a Washington post staff writer. But in Sex-Ed for Dummies the author, Lynn Vincent, argues that comprehensive sex education programs omit the teaching of values and imply “that casual teen sex has no lasting consequences as long as the teens use a condom.”
In the end the best option for a young teen is abstinence, and the best way for them to find out about that is by taking an abstinence only program rather than a sex education program. The abstinence only programs will show teens how to maintain a healthy life and make better decisions.


Rector, Robert. "Why Push Safe Sex Over Abstinence?" Sex Ed: Should the Bedroom Enter the Classroom? 12 June 2005. 20 Mar. 2009.
Briggink, Heide. "Miseducation: The Lockdown on Abstinence-only Programs." Jan. & feb. 2007. 20 Mar. 2009.

Stein, Rob. "Teenagers Who Make Such Promises Are Just as Likely to Have Sex, And Less Likely to Use Protection, the Data Indicate." Premarital Abstinence Pledges ineffective, Study Finds. 28 Dec.. 2008. 20 Mar. 2009.

Huber, Valerie. "Abstinence works." SIRS. 30 July 2007. 20 Mar. 2009.

Vincent, Lynn. "Sex-Ed For Dummies." SIRS. 28 Apr. 2007. 20 Mar. 2009.

username: tunafish09

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Medvedev Makes His Move

By Ethan Burger and Mary Holland

Posted March 2009

Dmitry Medvedev has been president of Russia for almost a year. Is he now planning to take power?

When Vladimir Putin stepped down as president of Russia last May, he left little to chance. Just as his predecessor Boris Yeltsin had anointed him, Putin made sure that his loyal protégé of 20 years, Dmitry Medvedev, would take his place. Putin took the helm of the country's dominant political party, United Russia, and then, as prime minister, expanded that position far beyond what the Constitution envisions. Although Putin rearranged the musical chairs, he continued to call the tune. Until now.

So long as Russia's oil-fueled prosperity soared, people accepted Putin's implicit bargain: government corruption and constricted civil rights in exchange for rising living standards. But today, with Russia's economy in shambles, this social contract is fraying. Ordinary Russians are already taking to the streets demanding the type of change Putin is unlikely to deliver. He epitomizes the KGB old guard who got Russia into this mess. Sooner or later, he will become the Russian financial crash's most prominent victim.

Medvedev, a lawyer by training and instinct, offers perhaps the only realistic hope of turning Russia around, but he can't operate freely while Putin is still effectively in charge. Seemingly aware of this, Medvedev has, in recent weeks, taken steps to distance himself from his mentor and might be setting the stage to force him out of government.

When Medvedev became president in May 2008, the world economic situation seemed stable. Oil was more than $140 a barrel and Russian political leaders were riding high. With living standards rising for most Russians, political elites enjoyed the luxury of not having to make hard choices.

By late 2008, though, the global financial crisis was in full swing. The Russian leadership was slow to grasp it, blaming the West for its profligacy and suggesting that Russia would be immune. Soon, however, the country experienced a triple shock: oil dipped below $40 a barrel, demand for Russian exports sank precipitously, and Western financial institutions began calling in their loans.

By February 2009, the ruble had depreciated to 36 rubles to the dollar, illustrating the ongoing loss of faith in the Russian economy. As a result, the cost of dollar-denominated imports increased substantially. The official unemployment rate hit 8.1 percent, and most observers project further increases in the near term. Not surprisingly, public approval of the country's political leadership fell. Although public opinion polls do not yet show massive discontent or unrest, they do show a pronounced downward shift.

Medvedev has always styled himself as something of a reformer. As the crisis has worsened, the president has been especially careful to distance himself from Putin. Policy differences between the two men -- on the response to the financial crisis, the locus of prosecutorial power, the use of force against protesters, the tenure of judges in the courts, and the definition of treason, among others -- are serious and growing.

The stylistic gap is also expanding. Medvedev has made official statements on the assassinations of human rights advocates Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov, and Anastasia Baburova that differ markedly in tone and substance from Putin's responses. Medvedev strikes a different, less nationalistic, and more tolerant tone than Putin on questions of Islam and national security.

These differences are fundamental to each man's character. Putin, after all, is the product of the KGB, the government-sanctioned plutocracy, and the Cold War. Medvedev is the son of the Russian intelligentsia, the legal academy, and the post-Soviet world of global integration and opportunity. Although they have worked closely together for 20 years, they are quite different, and in the context of a political rivalry, have different constituencies.

Russians have noticed the widening split. In February, the weekly business publication Kommersant-Vlast printed a collection of opinions titled "Will Medvedev Sack Putin? Is It Time for Prime Minister Putin to Answer for Results of Anti-Crisis Efforts?" Although the discussion does not provide a definitive answer, simply posing the question is provocative in a country where the government has muzzled the press for years. Meanwhile, Medvedev's popularity is growing. According to a February 2009 national survey, 73 percent of those polled said they trust him, compared with 56 percent in 2006. Although it is impossible to predict what will happen, one thing is certain: The current power dynamic is shifting, and shifting fast. If the trend continues, Medvedev will undoubtedly begin asking himself why he is still playing second fiddle.

Of course, it's one thing to make soothing reformist noises; capitalizing on the resulting public accolades is quite another. The prime minister is undoubtedly a cunning adversary, but he does have vulnerabilities. For instance, Medvedev could be laying the groundwork for a move against Putin by making his war on "legal nihilism" and corruption the centerpiece of his domestic policy. In May 2008, he started a campaign to create new laws and structures against corruption. This is nothing new, every Russian leader publicly reviles corruption while doing little or nothing to check it, if not in fact reveling in it.

In the Putin era, though, the scale of corruption has mushroomed without any real oversight from law enforcement, the legislature, the media, or civil society. What's more, the prime minister and his closest allies are implicated. Stanislav Belkovsky, the Russian political analyst and insider, gave sensational interviews in November 2007 to Die Welt and The Guardian, stating that Putin was worth approximately $40 billion. He said Putin was the beneficial owner of 37 percent of Surgutneftegaz ($18 billion), 4.5 percent of Gazprom ($13 billion), and half of a Swiss-based oil-trading company Gunvor ($10 billion), run by a former St. Petersburg KGB agent. If true, this fortune would make Putin one of the richest people in Europe and probably the world. It would also make him one of the most corrupt. While in good economic times most Russians were content to look the other way, in these bad times, they may demand more accountability.

So for Medvedev, the new anticorruption law, which he shepherded through the Duma in December 2008, presents a potential opportunity to intimidate Putin and his supporters. The legislation prohibits conflicts of interest, requires government workers to report income and property, and mandates them to report on coworker noncompliance. It is tailor-made for a behind-the-scenes assault on Putin's power and legitimacy. Most of Putin's friends and allies throughout government and major corporations would no doubt find it challenging to provide full asset disclosure and transparency about conflicts of interest. With a new anticorruption law in his arsenal, Medvedev has a weapon of choice.

Although legislators attempted to water down certain provisions and postpone the law's taking force, Medvedev prevented substantive changes to the legislation. Medvedev's visible, personal involvement in this anticorruption effort suggests that it may be different from past shams.

On the personnel front, Medvedev is also distinguishing himself from Putin, appointing 1,000 new top managers to fill key government positions. This recruitment drive, announced last summer, is a response to the difficulties the state is facing in identifying and recruiting competent personnel for public service. It also highlights the lack of a proper recruitment system for government posts and the need for a new generation of managers to replace the Soviet era nomenklatura.

Notably, Medvedev has reached out to communists, nationalists, and liberals alike to create the pool of potential applicants rather than giving preference to United Russia. Although some of the "Golden 1,000" were prominent during Putin's presidency, the list does not appear to contain close Putin advisors. With these appointments, Medvedev is placing himself at the vanguard of a generational shift in Russia's political leadership.

Interestingly, Putin may have sealed his own fate years ago by establishing a legal precedent for his own ouster. Shortly after Yeltsin transferred temporary presidential responsibilities to Putin on December 31, 1999, Putin issued Presidential Decree 1763, granting Yeltsin and his family lifelong immunity from criminal prosecution, administrative sanction, arrest, detention, and interrogation. If push comes to shove, it's not far-fetched to imagine Medvedev offering the very same arrangement to Putin.

If the two leaders cannot work out a quiet deal, then Medvedev might decide to use the new anticorruption law against a proxy. He would likely choose someone reasonably close to Putin with a similar KGB or law enforcement background: in Russian parlance, a silovik. The government would prosecute a current or former official for failure to disclose accurate income and asset statements, report subordinate noncompliance, or identify conflicts of interest. Once the government started such a prosecution for corruption, the message to Putin supporters would be clear: Watch out or you could be next.

Why would Medvedev turn on his political godfather? For political survival for the government, himself, and even Putin. Unless there is some fall guy for Russia's economic fiasco, the whole regime could topple. Counting on Russians' weariness with tumult and revolution, Medvedev may hope that dumping Putin will be enough to keep the system intact.

The time is close when Medvedev is likely to offer Putin a deal he can't refuse. This true power shift, unlike the symbolic one last May, might be Russia's best hope to navigate peacefully its deepening economic and political crisis.

Ethan Burger is adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
Mary Holland is director of the graduate legal skills program at New York University School of Law. Both have closely followed developments in Russia for more than 20 years

The Mexican Evolution

March 24, 2009
Mexico City

AMERICA’S distorted views can have costly consequences, especially for us in Latin America. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Mexico this week is a good time to examine the misconception that Mexico is, or is on the point of becoming, a “failed state.”

This notion appears to be increasingly widespread. The Joint Forces Command recently issued a study saying that Mexico — along with Pakistan — could be in danger of a rapid and sudden collapse. President Obama is considering sending National Guard troops to the Mexican border to stop the flow of drugs and violence into the United States. The opinion that Mexico is breaking down seems to be shared by much of the American news media, not to mention the Americans I meet by chance and who, at the first opportunity, ask me whether Mexico will “fall apart.”

It most assuredly will not. First, let’s take a quick inventory of the problems that we don’t have. Mexico is a tolerant and secular state, without the religious tensions of Pakistan or Iraq. It is an inclusive society, without the racial hatreds of the Balkans. It has no serious prospects of regional secession or disputed territories, unlike the Middle East. Guerrilla movements have never been a real threat to the state, in stark contrast to Colombia.

Most important, Mexico is a young democracy that eliminated an essentially one-party political system, controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, that lasted more than 70 years. And with all its defects, the domination of the party, known as the P.R.I., never even approached the same level of virtually absolute dictatorship as that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or even of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

Mexico has demonstrated an institutional continuity unique in Latin America. To be sure, it can be argued that the P.R.I. created a collective monarchy with the electoral forms of a republic. But since 2000, when the opposition National Action Party won the presidency, power has been decentralized. There is much greater independence in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. An autonomous Federal Electoral Institute oversees elections and a transparency law has been passed to combat corruption. We have freedom of expression, and electoral struggles between parties of the right, center and left.

Our national institutions function. The army is (and long has been) subject to the civilian control of the president; the church continues to be a cohesive force; a powerful business class shows no desire to move to Miami. We have strong labor unions, good universities, important public enterprises and social programs that provide reasonable results.

Thanks to all this, Mexico has demonstrated an impressive capacity to overcome crises, of which we’ve had our fair share. They include the government’s repression of the student movement of 1968; a currency devaluation in 1976; an economic crisis in 1982; the threefold disaster of 1994 with the Zapatista rebel uprising, the murder of the P.R.I. candidate for president and a devastating collapse of the peso; and the serious post-election conflicts of 2006.

We have overcome these challenges and drawn meaningful lessons from them. We learned to diversify the economy and reduce the state’s financial monopolies, paving the way for the eventual Nafta agreements. Election controversies and the threat of political violence have led to a national acceptance of a peaceful and orderly transition to democracy.

Now once again, we face enormous problems. The worldwide financial crisis is intensifying our ancient dramas of poverty and inequality. But the most acute problems are the increased power and viciousness of organized crime — drug trafficking, kidnappings and extortion — and an upsurge in ordinary street crime.

This may be the most serious crisis we have faced since the 1910 Mexican Revolution and its immediate aftermath. More than 7,000 people, most of them connected to the drug trade or law enforcement, have died since January 2008. The war against criminality (and especially the drug cartels) is no conventional war. It weighs upon the whole country. It is a war without ideology, rules or a shred of nobility.

Is it a war that Mexico can win? Not through the tactics of any conventional war. But there can be progress by restricting the range of the enemy. Since taking power in 2006, President Felipe Calderón has sent more than 40,000 army troops to various Mexican states to combat drug gangs, and has had some victories in drug-related seizures and arrests. Even though Mr. Calderón enjoys a relatively high approval rating, the government has not managed to reassure the general population. Large sectors of Mexican society seem to endure these events as if they were part of a nightmare from which some morning we will awake. But it will not just disappear, and Mexicans must help fight the war by mobilizing public opinion, supplying information to the authorities and vigilantly supervising both elected and appointed officials. This kind of civic participation has already begun to yield some successes in Mexico City.

THE government, for its part, must continue the huge task of cleaning up the dark corners of its police forces, establishing an efficient intelligence network in order to keep ahead of the cartels. Mexico also needs a secure prison system that will not serve as a sanctuary where sentenced drug bosses can continue conducting their business and recruiting new criminals. It is also vital to speed up the purification of a judicial system that is slow and inefficient in its handling of serious crimes. We could use more political cooperation as well: Mr. Calderón (and his National Action Party) are now fighting this battle without significant support from the opposition parties, the P.R.I. and the Party of the Democratic Revolution.

The Mexican print media has not been entirely helpful either. Of course, freedom of press is essential for democracy. But our print media has gone beyond the necessary and legitimate communication of information by continually publishing photographs of the most atrocious aspects of the drug war, a practice that some feel verges on a pornography of violence. Press photos of horrors like decapitated heads provide free publicity for the drug cartels. This also helps advance their cause by making ordinary Mexicans feel that they are indeed part of a “failed state.”

While we bear responsibility for our problems, the caricature of Mexico being propagated in the United States only increases the despair on both sides of the Rio Grande. It is also profoundly hypocritical. America is the world’s largest market for illegal narcotics. The United States is the source for the majority of the guns used in Mexico’s drug cartel war, according to law enforcement officials on both sides of the border.

Washington should support Mexico’s war against the drug lords — first and foremost by recognizing its complexity. The Obama administration should recognize the considerable American responsibility for Mexico’s problems. Then, in keeping with equality and symmetry, the United States must reduce its drug consumption and its weapons trade to Mexico. It will be no easy task, but the United States has at least one advantage: No one thinks of it as a failed state.

Nor, for that matter, did anyone ever see Al Capone and the criminal gangs of Chicago as representative of the entire country. For Mexico as well, let’s leave caricatures where they belong, in the hands of cartoonists.

Enrique Krauze is the editor of the magazine Letras Libres and the author of “Mexico: Biography of Power.” This article was translated by Hank Heifetz from the Spanish.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Gorbachev criticises Putin's party

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, has likened United Russia, the party of Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, to the worst of the Soviet-era communists.

"I criticise United Russia a lot, and I do it directly,'' he said in an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday.

Gorbachev said: "It is a party of bureaucrats and the worst version of the CPSU (the Communist Party of the Soviet Union".

United Russia was formed by the Kremlin during Putin's 2000-2008 presidency as its main political machine, and currently dominates the national parliament.

Commenting on Russia's parliament, Gorbachev, said: "I cannot say that it is independent [and] also our judiciary does not fully comply with the provisions of the constitution."

'Hard lesson'

But the former president, who was 78 on Monday, said that the global economic crisis, which has hit Russia hard, was proof that capitalism should be moderated by elements of socialism.

He said: "It is necessary to overcome these mistakes of super-consumerism, of super-profits.

"We have to think about finding - through the G20 or other institutions - new models of development [and] co-operation."

Gorbachev said that a successful economic system would include both the competitiveness of capitalism and the "social safety net" of socialism.

He said that the US had suffered a "disease of extreme self-confidence" after victory in the Cold War that had led it to believe "that things would always go on this way".

"And it did last long," he said, "I think that now everyone is learning a hard lesson".

US-Russia relations

Addressing US-Russia relations, Gorbachev said the time was right for strengthening ties between the two nations.

His comments came as Nato agreed to restore top-level talks with Moscow, after they were suspended following last year's conflict between Russia and Georgia.

The new US administration is seeking co-operation with Russia over Afghanistan [AFP]
The US administration has also signalled it intends to boost ties with Russia, after relations deteriorated under the administration of George Bush, the former US president.

In particular, Washington is seeking co-operation with Russia over its mission in Afghanistan and to help it to stop Iran's nuclear progress.

Gorbachev said the world community should head off the prospect of Iranian nuclear arms with "a maximal dialogue", instead of confrontation.

"Let [Iran] integrate itself into the global community, build normal relations,'' he said.

Fall of communism

The last leader of the Soviet Union, forced to step down on December 25 1991, following the collapse of communism, revealed that he had sought to fix the regime, not facilitate its downfall.

"I was a resolute opponent of the breakup of the union,'' Gorbachev said.

"Personally, as a politician, I lost. But the idea that I conveyed and the project that I carried out, it played a huge role in the world and the country," he said.

"But now the situation is such that more and more people are starting to understand what Gorbachev did."

"But anyway, we have gone far, and there's no return."


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Russia focuses on upgrading its nuclear arsenals

MOSCOW – Modernization of Russia's strategic nuclear forces is a top priority for the government, a senior Cabinet official said Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said that upgrading ground, sea and air components of the nation's strategic forces is costly but necessary.

"It's expensive, it's very expensive, but there is no other way," Ivanov told lawmakers in the lower house of parliament. "We will develop and modernize our strategic deterrent forces."

The Kremlin has welcomed Washington's stated intention to intensify arms control talks to negotiate a successor to the pivotal 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, which expires in December. But at the same time, Russian officials continue to emphasize the need for modernization of Russian nuclear forces.

Ivanov said last fall that the government budgeted 1.3 trillion rubles ($36 billion) for weapons purchases this year. The exact figures for spending on each category of weapons, including nuclear forces, were not released.

The military's modernization efforts have gone slowly, despite Kremlin pledges to revive the nation's power and global prestige during what had been eight years of economic growth. The Russian military's weaknesses, such as shortages of precision weapons and modern communications, were spotlighted during its August war with Georgia.

Ivanov told lawmakers Wednesday that other priorities for the military include upgrading the nation's satellite network, modernizing the military's information networks and procuring "smart" weapons.

He said the most important program for the air force is the development of a next-generation fighter jet. Officials said that the new jet is to make a maiden flight this year.

The navy should focus on smaller ships, no bigger than frigates or corvettes, Ivanov said. The statement apparently indicated that authorities have ditched the plans for building new aircraft carriers that they discussed before the current financial crisis set in, draining government coffers.

Ivanov said the spending on new weapons planned for this year will not be cut, despite the financial crisis. He pledged that the government will help provide loans to Russian defense enterprises which have suffered from a severe money crunch.

Sergei Chemezov, the head of Russian Technologies state holding company that includes top arms manufacturers, pushed for more support from the state. He warned that about one-third of enterprises in the holding are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Even before the crisis, officials said defense industries were in desperate condition because of old equipment and aging personnel.

Chemezov said Wednesday that about 80 percent of equipment in Russia's weapons plants is outdated and the average age of their workers is over 50.

"We are nearing an end of safety and survivability margin for the military-industrial complex," Chemezov told lawmakers.

Experts said that a steady decline of Russian arms industries has swelled production costs and eroded quality, jeopardizing government hopes to boost arms sales. Last year, Algeria returned 15 MiG-29 fighter jets it bought from Russia, complaining of their poor quality.

Some experts said that substandard parts were also the main reason behind a series of test failures of Russia's prospective Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile.

The missile, intended to equip Russia's nuclear submarines, has failed in five out of 10 of its test launches, making its deployment prospects uncertain. A new test is tentatively scheduled for March, Russian news reports said.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Market for Cures or A Market for Human Embryos?


As long as stem cells have been known to be found in human embryos, there has been controversy over whether or not to use them in the world of scientific research. To properly debate on this topic a basic understanding of embryonic stem cells is required. An embryonic stem cell is a type of stem cell that is found in early stage embryos. The cell has the ability to grow any of two hundred different types of tissues in the body. This topic is so controversial because of the fact that to obtain the stem cells it usually requires an embryo be destroyed (The New York Times 1).

One of the many arguments of opposers to embryonic stem cell research is the idea that, in order to obtain the stem cells, a human life is being destroyed. Most people with this belief feel human life begins from the exact moment of conception. Any stage between that time and the delivery of the baby is considered to be a human being with rights. Many of those who are con-embryonic stem cell research feel that it should be considered murder when the embryo is destroyed to obtain the stem cells (Cowen 1335). A growing fear of the use of these embryos for stem cells is that it will create a market for human embryos. Many people argue that promoting embryonic stem cell research will encourage people to create embryos just to destroy them.

Another less popularized argument against embryonic stem cell research is the effect that these specific stem cells had on the laboratory mice that were first tested using the embryonic stem cells. Mice treated for Parkinson's disease with embryonic stem cells have died from brain tumors in as much as 20% of cases. Embryonic stem cells stored for extended periods of time have been shown to create the type of chromosomal anomalies that create cancer cells. Although scientists claim these stem cells could result in cures for many illnesses, this research shows that they are just as likely to cause other serious illnesses such as cancers.

The third reason people oppose embryonic stem cell research is the fear of the possibility of human cloning. The idea has been raised to create new life from fertilizing an egg to harvest stem cells (Dobson 1). This means that scientists will be trying to clone a human by using a fertilized female egg so that the embryo that is formed can be used to obtain stem cells.

Overall, the three main reasons why people oppose embryonic stem cell research are: the fear that it will promote and allow the cloning of humans, it will actually cause more harm to the recipients of the cells than do good, and, most of all, that it will create a market for human life. The question facing many in the medical world is, is this a market for cures to diseases or a market for human embryos?



Works Cited

Cowen and Others, C.A. "Derivation of Human Stem-Cell Lines from Human Blastocysts." New England Journal of Medicine (2004): 1355-356. All About Popular Issues. 2002-2009. 12 Mar.

2009 <http://www.allaboutpopularissues.org/common/printable-pros-and-cons-of-stem-cell-research.htm>.

Dobson, Patrick. "Stem Cell Dilemma." 18 June 2004. 12 Mar. 2009.

"Q & A: what are embryonic stem cells?" The New York Times [New York] 23 Jan. 2009, Health sec.: 1.


Congressional Approval at Highest Level Since 2005

Democracy? You decide (with Danny Wallace, part 2 of 2)

Democracy? You decide (with Danny Wallace, part 1 of 2)

World hunger, the crisis inside the economic crisis

As food prices skyrocket, the jobs and wages of the poorest are being devastated. But will the developed world act when it's focused on averting a financial meltdown?

By Sonni Efron
March 12, 2009

The economic crisis has now spread from Wall Street to Main Street to the places where there are no streets.

In slums and shacks around the world, hunger is gnawing again as job opportunities shrink but food prices do not. Global cereal prices are 71% higher than they were in 2005, according to the International Monetary Fund, but the wages of many workers are falling.

This is a disaster for the bottom billion, the one out of six humans living on less than $2 a day. But as always, the poor have a problem getting our attention -- especially when the rich have lost half their wealth.

Today's attention deficit is this: Starving children with bloated bellies make for horrific video footage, and the world opens its wallet. But chronic malnutrition, degradation and misery -- suffering that causes real pain but falls short of mass famine -- is being pushed off the front pages by the frightening global economic news.

Last year, skyrocketing food prices sparked violent protests in 30 countries and scared many more into making generous donations. The United States doubled its contribution to the U.N. World Food Program. Saudi Arabia handed over a check for $500 million. All told, the world kicked in an extra $2.3 billion. As a result, the U.N. program was able to add 30 million people to the rolls of those being fed, and disaster was averted.

But it was a short-term fix. The chronic, underlying causes of food insecurity haven't been addressed. So warnings that hunger is growing again should come as no surprise.

What is perplexing is that on the global market, prices of such food commodities as maize, wheat and rice have fallen by 35% to 50% in the last year (although they are still 50% higher than in 2005, according to the International Monetary Fund). Oil prices have collapsed too. Yet the price of food at the retail level around the world shows no signs of falling.

How can this be? The causes are myriad: pricing lags, hoarding, speculation, war, profiteering, food export controls, droughts in China and Argentina, and the age-old reluctance to lower prices, which economists call "stickiness."

As usual, in the poorest places the situation is stickiest.

In Afghanistan, a standard food basket cost 73% more in October than it did a year earlier. In February, the charity Mercy Corps found that Afghan families were skipping meals, eating boiled turnips instead of bread and pulling their boys out of school to shine shoes in the market. One family married off a young daughter even earlier than planned to collect the wedding gift from the groom's family -- $160.

In Tajikistan, more than a third of the nation's gross domestic product comes from remittances sent home from migrant workers in Russia, according to the World Bank. As the global economic crisis and the fall in oil prices ravage Russia, those workers are being fired. This also has become a problem in remittance-dependent Haiti, Jordan and Kyrgyzstan -- three countries where instability could create bad political problems for their neighbors.

In Zambia, whenever the world price of copper declines, unemployment rises. Copper mined there is exported for use in the production of computers, refrigerators, autos and machinery, and slumping industrial demand caused the price of copper to plummet 54% last year. That means more hunger in Zambia, where nearly half of all children under 5 have stunted growth.

World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick has called for the developed countries to set aside 0.7% of stimulus funds for vulnerable countries. This is sensible: It's always far cheaper to prevent hunger, increase production and position food stocks where famines may loom than it is to buy food on the open market during panics, when prices jump. But how much is the developed world willing to invest in foreign food security when its governments are running up record deficits to stimulate their own economies?

The World Food Program says it will need $6 billion this year, $1 billion more than in 2008. So far, it's only raised 10% of that. Of course, it will take vastly more -- and more than money -- to fix the long-term problems that create hunger: under-investment in agriculture and food infrastructure, particularly in Africa; urban development on farmland; and climate change, which will make all of the problems worse.

And then there's the unchecked population growth that eats up whatever gains many poor countries manage to make.

If the Group of 20 leading and developing nations meeting in London this weekend pushes the food problem to the back burner to focus only on financial stabilization, the annual begging for emergency food aid -- the most expensive, least sustainable form of foreign aid -- will never end. And neither will the suffering.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More than aid money, Africa needs enterprise

To reduce poverty and create jobs, Africa must become economically competitive.

By Jakaya Kikwete and Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Jakaya Kikwete is president of Tanzania and chairman of the African Union. Anders Fogh Rasmussen is prime minister of Denmark. Both are members of the Africa Commission.

from the February 9, 2009 edition of the Christian Science Monitor

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Copenhagen, Denmark - African countries are still a long way from achieving the full benefits of globalization, despite solid economic growth.

In recent years, African economies on the whole have grown at an average of more than 6 percent per year. But a look below the surface reveals that much of the growth has come from higher commodity prices. The trouble for Africa's economies is that prices are now falling. And growth based on commodities alone is not enough to create jobs and reduce poverty.

A new approach to development is therefore needed. We must have a renewed international emphasis on improving the competitiveness of the African private sector. Pouring aid money into the continent is not sustainable or helpful in itself. Africa and its partners should focus on reducing the costs of doing business by combating corruption, adding more and better post-primary education and skills training based on private sector demand, providing access to investment capital, better energy supply as well as basic infrastructure.

These may look like steep demands, but together we have created the Africa Commission to identify concrete initiatives that can facilitate this type of change. The commission brings together major stakeholders at the highest level: governments, researchers, civil society, the private sector, and international partners. We are committed to finding new ways to bring Africa up to speed and make it competitive with the rest of the world.

But where do we start?

Africa's numerous small- and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) offer the best opportunities for growth and employment. They are the backbone of prosperous economies. A good place to begin is to address the constraints that SMEs face in accessing finance for investment. Banks are often unwilling to provide investment loans as they perceive risks to be too high. By developing an initiative for the financial markets in Africa we can enable banks to supply growth-oriented SMEs with longer-term finance.

Another area for intervention is energy. Access to energy is too often unreliable and expensive. This reduces Africa's competitiveness with negative consequences for growth and employment. Technologies for sustainable small-scale energy production and distribution are available today in areas such as wind, hydro, biomass, solar energy, and biofuel. So working on an initiative that can help scale up market-based clean energy production in Africa and take advantage of those technologies is a possible and effective step forward. An initiative could foster access to finance as well as advisory services, skills training, and support a good regulatory environment for small-scale energy production.

Then there is the matter of youth and employment. Young entrepreneurs in Africa face particular challenges, even when they are skilled and have innovative ideas. Opportunity for young entrepreneurs is key to Africa's future. We're planning a youth initiative to help young entrepreneurs start up and develop businesses and allow them to create jobs. An initiative could provide a new and innovative environment for young entrepreneurs, targeted risk capital, skills training, and advisory services.

By establishing the Africa Commission we have created a platform for finding effective means of improving job opportunities for young Africans. We share a common goal of building societies where all young people have a prosperous future. We want to put employment of youth at the top of the international agenda.

In the coming months we will concentrate our efforts on transforming these principles into concrete actions. We will work closely with our partners and the private sector to harness the required commitments to be able to launch the initiatives after the commission's final meeting in May 2009.

Our aim is to assist Africa's aspirations to achieve the full benefits of globalization through a change of mind-set. Most important, we must shift our focus toward enterprise-led development in Africa: Aid in itself will not ensure sustainable development. Improving Africa's competitiveness will.

Jakaya Kikwete is president of Tanzania and chairman of the African Union. Anders Fogh Rasmussen is prime minister of Denmark. Both are members of the Africa Commission.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

Nigerian AIDS patients marry each other

Katy Pownall
With her golden dress shimmering in the sun and ornate henna tattoos covering her hands, Hauwa Idris is the picture of a radiant Nigerian bride. But her betrothal has hardly been typical: Both bride and groom are infected with the deadly AIDS virus and have been encouraged to wed by an unusual government program.

Bauchi State, in Nigeria's heavily Muslim north, has recently begun playing Cupid with its HIV sufferers, encouraging them to marry by offering counseling and cash toward their big day. The goal: to halt the spread of HIV in the non-infected population.

"We live in a polygamous society where divorce is common and condom use is low," says Yakubu Usman Abubakar, an official working with the Bauchi Action Committee on AIDS, which runs the program. "If we can stop those who have the disease spreading it to those who don't have the disease, then obviously it will come under control."

The plan had seen 93 "positive" couples married since its inception about two years ago. Idris, aged 32, and her beaming husband, 39-year-old Umar Ahmed, are couple No. 94.

"I'm very happy to see my wedding day," laughs Idris shyly. "I never expected I was going to marry because of my (HIV) status. But now I am happy and thank God that now we have a solution ... we can marry within ourselves."

Idris and Ahmed's eyes met across a crowded clinic waiting room as they queued to collect their anti-retroviral HIV therapy pills. They exchanged phone numbers and the courtship began.

Two months later, Ahmed asked Idris' parents for her hand in marriage. It was granted and a dowry of $68 agreed upon. As an incentive to carry it off, the Bauchi group contributed $225 toward the cost of the couple setting up home together, no small amount in a country where over half the population live on $1 a day.

The outreach program won't be formalized until 2009, and no budget figures exist yet. The state doesn't seek to introduce HIV-infected people, since that would entail revealing private medical data, but when officials hear of HIV lovers, they step in quickly to encourage a legal union.

Around 4 million of Nigeria's 140 million people are living with HIV ��" the second largest HIV population in the world, according to Britain's foreign development agency. And although prevalence rates have dropped slightly in the past three years to around 4 percent, health experts warn the country still has a lot of work to do to bring the epidemic under control.

Bauchi is the only one of Nigeria's 36 states known to have such a program. In a society where HIV sufferers are stigmatized, these "positive marriages" provide more than just companionship.

"We have such a close bond," says Usman Ziko, 42, of his relationship with wife Hannah, 32. Money from the Bauchi plan allowed them to marry in October, after an 18-month courtship that began in the corridors of the clinic.

"It was a flamboyant affair," Hannah recalls of the wedding with a smile. "Lots of people and dancing and we snapped pictures to remember the day."

"When I first found out I was positive I thought it was the end of the world," explains Ziko. "I was depressed and became isolated from my friends. Now I have a partner who understands everything. We share our problems, remind each other to take medicine and are free with each other."

Bala Garba, a 40-year-old soldier, married Rabi Ibrahim, a 24-year-old teacher, with assistance from the plan after they met at their clinic.

"Making this marriage will make our lives easier and help us to keep the secret (of our HIV positive status)," Garba explains. "It is normal to be married in our society. This keeps people from thinking there is anything abnormal about us."

The pair have just had their first baby ��" a little boy named Musa.

With assistance from the Bauchi Action Committee on AIDS, the couple received treatment and advice to help prevent Rabi from passing the virus to her baby, although the child is still too young to be tested. According to health workers, they have every chance of having a healthy child. "He is a strong boy and he's growing fast," laughs Garba, visibly delighted.

Ziko and Hannah, following strict advice and recommendations from the organization, have also conceived.

"I'm so excited to be a mother," says Hannah, now three months pregnant. "I have been eating a special diet and having medical checkups. I never imagined I could live such a normal life."

Not everyone is so encouraged, however. Some health experts have criticized the plan, saying that if HIV positive couples are encouraged to have babies, more children will end up orphaned.

According to the United Nations, Nigeria had 1.2 million AIDS orphans in 2007. While some may be adopted by relatives or find care with charitable or church organizations, many will end up on the streets begging and taking care of their siblings. Bauchi's health officials remain convinced of the plan's benefits, however.

They point out that in Nigeria, life expectancy is just 48 years in any case.

"Here you can't assume that someone with HIV will die sooner than someone else," says Abubakar, of the Bauchi program. "Especially if they are taking care of themselves, receiving good advice and proper medication."

Ziko certainly has no intention of leaving his unborn child to fend for itself.

"It's the start of a fresh, new and happy life," he beams. "I plan to live another 50 years."

The Associated Press

Friday, March 6, 2009

Nigeria: Halliburton Scandal - EFCC Closes in On Nigerian Suspects

Lagos — The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) may soon pin-down serving and former government officials who allegedly collected $180 million bribe from Halliburton to facilitate juicy Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) contracts.
The anti-graft agency which took over the matter during the regime of its former Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, is said to have obtained useful information from two immediate top government officials interrogated earlier and is currently working on the clues with a view to tracking down the culprits.
THISDAY confirmed from sources that the delay in nailing the suspects was due to failure by the alleged foreign collaborators in providing useful information to the investigators.
The foreigners were said to have shunned repeated demands by the EFCC to provide more information that could aid in the investigation, probably for fear that their interests in Nigerian deals would be at stake.
But determined to get to the root of the matter, the commission was said to have gathered pieces of information obtained from those involved in one way or the other and have so far made progress.
Former Energy Minister Edmund Daukoru and former Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Funsho Kupolokun, were among scores of persons quizzed in the wake of the bribery scandal.
EFCC spokesman Femi Babafemi confirmed last night that the commission had made a tremendous progress in all the bribery cases including the one involving Siemens.
Babafemi, who declined further comments on grounds that they could jeopadise the investigation, said those found culpable would be exposed.
"We are on top of the cases. I can confirm to you that we have made progress both in the Halliburton case and the Siemens case," he said.
THISDAY reliably gathered that a former top ministry official who was linked to the scandal may have provided most of the clues currently being used by the commission.
The Halliburton bribe scandal has been rocking the country since the revelation in 2003 that some Nigerian government officials had collected $180 million bribe to ensure that the company got the juicy LNG contracts.
Attempts to sweep the matter under the carpet failed as President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was said to have directed that the matter be thoroughly investigated and all those found culpable in the illicit oil and gas deal be prosecuted.
It was on the strength of that directive that the anti-graft agency, which took over the matter, invited the two ministry chiefs for questioning.
Aside from the Halliburton case, EFCC also said it was also working on Wilbros and KBR cases.
TSKJ, a Portugal-registered company, owned jointly by Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), Technip SA of France, Eni's Snampro-getti Netherlands and Japan Gas Corporation (JGC) built Trains 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Nigeria LNG plants in Bonny Island.
THISDAY checks reveal that after the formation of the TKSJ consortium, it created LNG Services, a subsidiary based in the Portuguese Island of Madeira, a place where tax laws allegedly exempt businesses.
This consortium of engineering firms was awarded a turnkey engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for the construction of the first phase of the plant in December 1995.
The scandal came to the public domain after a French court launched an investigation in October 2003 to look into allegations that one of the firms, KBR, paid $180 million to Federal Government officials to win contracts for the construction of the first two trains of the NLNG plant in late 1990s.
This was followed by the probe of US oil service companies operating in Nigeria by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The aim of the probe, THISDAY learnt, was to determine whether the oil service companies violated the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by bribing officials of the Federal Government.
Under the FCPA, it is an offence for US companies or their agents to pay bribes to win contracts abroad.
Halliburton allegedly admitted in a regulatory filing with SEC that improper payments to Nigerian government officials might have been made in order to win the LNG contract.
The company was also earlier alleged to have admitted that an internal probe suggested that members of the TSKJ consortium, which it leads, might have bribed government officials.
But the Nigerian officials allegedly named in the scam were not prosecuted despite the assurance given in 2004 by the Federal Government that the matter had been handed over to the then newly-inaugurated EFCC.
When the French investigation began in 2003, Halliburton said it was innocent of the allegation since the alleged bribe occurred before its' acquisition of Kellog Brown & Root (KBR).
Halliburton was also said to have instructed its representatives in the country to submit the names of the Nigerians allegedly involved in the scam to government.
Following this revelation, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petition that investigated the matter in August 2004 recommended that all companies linked with TSKJ and Halliburton in Nigeria should be excluded from new contracts until its investigation was completed.
Only last week, indications emerged that Halliburton had agreed to pay $559 million to settle federal charges for its employees' bribing of officials in Nigeria.
The settlement, still awaiting formal approval from the US Department of Justice (DoJ), would be the biggest fine by far of a US company in a bribery case, topping the $44 million that Baker Hughes Inc. paid last year in relation to charges that it paid bribes in Kazakhstan.
Penalties for bribery and corruption offences have been increasing worldwide with Siemens, the German conglomerate, agreeing to pay $800 million (£564 million) to settle US allegations regarding payments to government officials in several countries to win infrastructure contracts.


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