Sunday, February 13, 2011

Birth of the Swiss neutrality

The League of Nations, the international organization created at the peace conference in Versailles after the end of World War I, recognizes the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland in 1920.

Switzerland was a loose confederation of German-, French-, and Italian-speaking communities until 1778, when the French, under Napoleon Bonaparte, unified the country as the Helvetic Republic and imposed a constitution, which was enforced by French occupation troops.

Bitterly resented by the Swiss people, the French occupation ended in 1803, when Napoleon agreed to a new Swiss-approved constitution and withdrew his troops. The Congress of Vienna in 1815, which would determine Europe's borders until the outbreak of World War I nearly a century later, recognized the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland.

The Swiss considered preserving this neutrality essential to Switzerland's economic and political development. A new constitution, adopted in 1848, reinforced the neutrality principle by outlawing Swiss service in foreign armies or the acceptance of pensions from foreign governments.

Neither the unification of Italy in 1861 nor the birth of the German empire in 1871 shook the loyalty of the nation's Italian or German population to Switzerland. With industrialization, fueled largely by hydroelectric power, and the construction of an efficient railroad network, Switzerland's economy continued to grow, spawning a thriving tourism industry by the end of the 19th century.

Though Switzerland maintained its neutrality during the Great War, with German, French and Italian Swiss standing firm to preserve their country's solidarity, a costly military mobilization to protect the Swiss borders diverted most of the working population to war-related work and brought economic hardship.

After the war ended, membership in the League of Nations—the international organization established at the Versailles peace conference—was narrowly approved by Swiss voters after a federal council opposed it. In February 1920, the League voted to recognize the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland.

The League also established its headquarters in the Swiss city of Geneva, a tribute to the country's neutrality as well as its relative economic and political stability, which has continued to the present day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Puerto Rico's governor points to the future

In his third State of the Commonwealth speech, Gov. Fortuño touted his accomplishments of the last two years and ushered in a new set of projects that he believes will take the island to recovery.

For a little over an hour, Fortuno, using a clear Republican message, discussed a plethora of past and present issues and his signature project, the new tax reform.

“With the help of the legislative presidents, we approved the largest, most far reaching and most just tax reform in history. We have done it in just two years along with the public that clamored for change,” the Chief Executive said.

According to Fortuño, the reform would save Puerto Ricans almost $1.2 billion annually.
In the 1994 reform, the average savings was $400 million.

Starting this April, tax payers can take advantage of the new Tax Code with a new tax credit.

In the short form, the individual credit deduction can be posted on the 16F line while in the long one, it is on the 31G.

The reform would reduce the individual tax burden of individuals by 50 percent and of corporations by 30 percent.

Fortuño stated that this reform will spark a massive investment in the local market which he argued would create jobs and stabilize the economy.

In a message that could be interpreted as “back-and forth,” the island’s seventh elected governor announced a series of initiatives he hopes will spark a struggling economy.

He called the 2000s a “lost decade” blaming the slowness in economic development on the two administrations of the Popular Democratic Party which governed the island at the time.

The reference of the “lost decade” was first used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1932 campaign stump speech against Republican Herbert Hoover, whom he soundly defeated.
The new measures promised by the New Progressive Party governor are the completion of the financial stabilization plan, the full implementation of the new Tax Code, the expansion of Mi Salud (My Health) health care plan, the refurbishing and development of hundreds of infrastructure projects including water distribution systems and the opening of two long delayed projects.

Projects slated to be dedicated this year are the Vanderbilt Hotel in Condado and the new Dos Hermanos bridge connecting the island of San Juan with the rest of Puerto Rico.
During this year, the administration also plans to start work on the dams of Valenciano in Juncos and Beatriz in the Cayey-Cidra sector at a cost of $475 million.

Once completed, the two new dams will benefit 1.5 million residents in several towns including Las Piedras, Juncos, Humacao, San Lorenzo, Gurabo and the entire Caguas area.

Other infrastructure projects promoted by the governor on Tuesday were the construction of the Bayamón Mega Rotunda which would connect the Highway 177 and 175, the refurbishing of Intersection No. 5 near the Convention Center District, the pavement of the connection between the Highway 53 and 5 in Fajardo and the construction of the Urban Metro system between Bayamón and Toa Baja.

The mountain sector of the island is slated to receive more than $100 million in road repairs and development in 2011 according to the governor.

Since August 2010, the economy has created 27,600 new jobs in the fields of health services, retailing, education and professional service.

Of the $6 billion allocated to the island from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, Fortuño explained that $4.5 billion have already being disbursed, and the rest are already assigned to several projects, mostly infrastructure.

Dismissing an allegation made by the PDP, Fortuño explained that all of the $500 million from the local stimulus fund have already been assigned and are waiting disbursement.

On Monday, PDP President Héctor Ferrer challenged the governor to detail the whereabouts of the funds. He also wanted to know how the Public-Private Alliances were being used.

According to Fortuño, the PAA would be solely responsible fund structure for the investment of more than $3 billion over the next two years.

More than $756 million were assigned for the renovation of 95 schools and the construction of five new ones.

In the social front, Fortuno touted the new adoption law which he credits for an increase in the number of adoptions from 158 in 2008 to 375 in 2010.

Other programs announced by Fortuño on Tuesday are the rebuilding of the Culebra pier, which was destroyed in September, the development of the Torcadero Diverplex tourism complex in Hato Rey and the advancement of the stagnant Americas Port in Ponce.

“We have opened two five-star hotels and in Dorado, we are building the first six-star hotels in the Caribbean with an investment of $342 million. These projects will create 1,000 jobs during construction and 1,000 permanent ones,” Fortuño said.

The government had invested $174 million in the remodeling of 46 residential projects and has started a program to refurbish buildings including the conversion of the Minillas Government Center into a green energy zone at a cost of $70 million.

To stimulate the economy, the governor cited the disbursement of more than $250 million in 825 loans to small businesses on the island.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weapons don't buy leverage

The Pentagon has often boasted of close ties to the Egyptian military, but in the current crisis the payoff from billions in military aid and three decades of U.S. mentorship isn’t direct leverage.

Mostly, it’s meant an ability to get Cairo’s top defense officials on the phone.

U.S. military officers argue that deeper, more subtle benefits have derived from 30 years of cooperation between the two militaries, including a degree of discipline and professionalism by the Egyptian army that has helped keep its soldiers from attacking protesters seeking to topple President Hosni Mubarak. But other factors, including political direction, also influence the army’s behavior.

On Friday the military took a more active role in providing security on the streets of central Cairo, where tens of thousands stepped up their protests.

At the same time, officials acknowledge that the U.S. military’s influence is limited in circumstances that call for political, rather than military, solutions.

“We’re not counseling them; there is no finger-wagging here,” said Navy Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for the top U.S. military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, who spoke briefly by phone on Monday and Wednesday with his counterpart in Cairo, Army Lt. Gen. Sami Enan.

Enan was in Washington last week for meetings at the Pentagon, but his delegation cut its visit short and returned home as the crisis grew more perilous last Friday.

Mullen on Friday cautioned Congress against rushing to halt U.S. military aid, reflecting the long-held view that it provides important leverage. He told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he would “caution against doing anything until we know what’s really going on.” And in an appearance Thursday on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, the Joint Chiefs chairman said Egyptian officials had assured him the military would not fire on protesters.

The military has largely stayed out of the clashes, perhaps judging that to intervene more directly could make matters worse.

Haim Malka, a senior Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was even more forceful about not cutting off military aid, predicting that the Egyptian military will play a central role in shaping the contours of a post-Mubarak government.

“The United States’ ability to influence that system is already limited,” Malka wrote in a commentary Friday. “Freezing military aid now undermines what leverage the U.S. government does have to promote a post-Mubarak system that is more than just a reconfiguration of the status quo.”

Many aspects of the training the Egyptian army has received from U.S. officers over the years are not directly relevant to the current crisis featuring vicious clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters with police forces doing little to stop them.

At its core, the purpose of U.S. military assistance to Egypt has been to preserve its peace deal with Israel, although U.S. officials in recent years have tried to steer the Egyptians toward a focus on countering Islamic extremist forces.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has talked by phone with Egyptian Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi four times since Sunday, most recently on Friday, and the Joint Chiefs’ top strategic planner, Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, had a brief phone conversation with his Cairo counterpart on Wednesday.

None of that suggests the U.S. military has great influence.

Kirby said Mullen has offered no advice to the Egyptians, neither urging them to counsel Mubarak to resign nor asking them about specific military plans for dampening the street violence. Instead he has sought simply to keep the lines of communication open and, by praising the military’s restraint, make clear that Washington expects them to continue to avoid a harsh crackdown.

President Barack Obama appeared to be sending a similar message to the military when he said Tuesday, “I want to commend the Egyptian military for the professionalism and patriotism that it’s shown thus far in allowing peaceful protests while protecting the Egyptian people.”

The Egyptian military is the power base of Mubarak’s regime. He’s a former air force pilot. The army ousted the monarchy soon after it seized power in a 1952 coup, and all of the country’s presidents since have come from the ranks of the military.

The current scope of U.S. military assistance began with the signing of Egypt’s landmark peace treaty with Israel in 1979. It totaled $1.3 billion last year and includes air, land and naval support.

Egypt is just one example of how the Pentagon has sought over time to improve its standing with foreign militaries by selling them U.S. weaponry, providing long-term technical support, holding joint exercises, having regular face-to-face meetings at senior levels, and bringing junior and mid-level officers to the U.S. to attend institutions like the National Defense University and the Army’s Command and General Staff College. The curriculum includes instruction in human rights, the principle of civilian control of the military, the U.S. Constitution and other elements of democracy.

The theory is that such interaction will make foreign military leaders more inclined to accept U.S. views on the proper role of a military in society.

Pentagon officials have often cited Pakistan as an example of how this influence can be lost or diminished when military-to-military ties are severed, as they were in the 1990s as a punitive U.S. response to Islamabad’s development of nuclear weapons. That left the U.S. military struggling to rebuild trust and regain influence among Pakistani military officers when the Bush administration launched its war on terrorism after the 9/11 attacks.

Egypt is a particularly important U.S. ally because it was the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel and remains an important player in broader Arab-Israeli peace efforts. Mubarak attended ceremonies in Washington in September marking a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and he hosted the first formal round of talks shortly afterward in Egypt.

By controlling the Suez Canal, Egypt also plays a key role in the movement of world oil supplies

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lawmaker's driver can run errands

A driver can ferry a lawmaker on personal errands, if necessary, according to an administrative order issued by a former House Speaker more than four years ago.

Article XIV, Section 2 of Administrative Order 2007-12 states that any House member can use the services of their officially assigned vehicles including attending personal situations.

“In any official or personal errands of the Representative or any family member that live under the same roof as long as it is the Representative or an authorized official who drives the vehicle,” the document reads.

On Friday, Justice Secretary Guillermo Somoza referred Popular Democratic Party Rep. Carmen Yulín Cruz to a Special Independent Prosecutor panel for allegations that she used her driver to run personal errands.

Cruz has not commented on the matter because she had not been personally served with the complaint.

Other accusations involve taking food to one of Cruz’s aunts.

The Order was issued in 2007 by then House Speaker Jose Aponte and profiled all the responsibilities and rules governing the use of public funds and assets, including personal and vehicles.

The order still holds as it was extended by the current House leader, New Progressive Party Rep. Jenniffer González.

“The lawmakers can use their vehicles to do personal errands as well as official duties. The Comptroller Office also issued a statement that, among other things, argued that while the driver can take a legislator to and from a political event, they can’t participate,” Aponte said.

The Comptroller Order, issued in June 2003 under the banner of Administrative Memo 03-09, regulates the use of official vehicles and drivers assigned to them.

In the memo, the Office states that public resources can’t be used for political gains disconnected from the political-legislative process.

On page seven of the Office of Legislative Services memo of 2003, its director, Elba Rodríguez Fuentes argues that “a legislator can use his/her assigned official vehicle for family activities, but not to transport individuals to a political rally.”

The memo also reiterated Aponte’s position.

“The lawmakers and officials with assigned vehicles can use them 24 hours a day for all errands, official or personal, as long as the lawmaker or the authorized official drives the vehicle.”

On Tuesday Cruz met with her attorney, Harry Anduze, to discuss the matter and craft a response, once they are summoned by the SIP panel.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ventas de armas a granel en Medio Oriente

Por Raul Colon

El Medio Oriente es una de las regiones más conflictivas y volátiles en el mundo es por tal razón que la mayoría de las naciones del área se encuentran involucradas en una muy costosa carrera armamentista.

Carrera que es suplementada por el posible asenso de la Republica Islámica de Irán como potencia nuclear.

Cifras brindadas por el Instituto Internacional de Investigación Pacifica en Estocolmo corrobora el impacto de dicha carrera armamentista.

En la última década, las naciones en el Medio Oriente han aumentado sus gastos en sistemas de defensas por casi 40 por ciento.

En un informe publicado en abril del 2009, conocido como ‘Tendencias en el Mercado de Armas’ analistas del Instituto concluyen que 40 por ciento de todos los sistemas de armas vendidos por los Estados Unidos entre el 2004 y 2008 tuvieron como ultimo destino países en el Medio Oriente.

En esos cuatro años, empresas Americanas enviaron al área 207 aviones de combates de diferentes categorías y sobre 5,500 bombas áreas teledirigidas.

Israel y los Emiratos Arabes Unidos han sido los mas beneficiados en la región, acumulando entre los dos 22 por ciento de todas las ventas de armamento provenientes de Estados Unidos.

No solo America exporta armas a la volátil región.

Según el Instituto, el 40 por ciento de todos los sistemas de defensas vendidos por Francia terminan en el Medio Oriente.

Inglaterra exporta el 10 por ciento de sus armas a uno de las naciones más grandes en la región, Arabia Saudita.

Inclusive Rusia, nación que no pose una base industrial avanzada como los tres países antes mencionados, hace billones de dólares anuales en venta de armas a Irán.

En el 2009, el Reino de Arabia Saudita invirtió sobre $40 billones en compras de armamentos avanzados a los Estados Unidos, incluyendo tanques de combate M1-1A, vehículos de transporte de personal y paquetes de navegación para su flota de aviones F-15 y F-16.

Inglaterra le suplió al Reino varios cazas de combate Tornados al igual que misiles de ataque.

Impresionante como suena las compras del Reino, estas es solo una fracción de las que incurrido los Emiratos en el mismo año.

De hecho, los Emiratos son el cuarto país que más sistemas de armas adquirió en el mundo durante el 2009 de acuerdo con data provista por el Instituto.

El listado de plataformas de defensas adquiridas por esta pequeña nación es impresionante.

La larga lista comienza con la compra de baterías de misiles de defensas Patriota (PAC-3), aviones de transporte C-17, helicópteros de combate, cazas F-16, tanques M1-1A, piezas de artillería pesada y vehículos de transporte blindados.

No obstante los impresionantes números y gastos asociados, Israel continua siendo, por gran distancia, el primer consumidor de armas en el Medio Oriente, patrón que se espera continué por la próxima década.

El Estado Judío gasto $14 billones en el 2010 en armas, mayormente defensivas en su naturaleza.

Desde el 2008, Israel ha invertido en paquetes de navegación y sistema de rastreos para su avanzado sistema anti-misil, La Flecha (Arroz en ingles). Otros componentes adquiridos, exclusivamente de los Estados Unidos, incluyen plataforma de rastreo de tercera generación para descubrir misiles.

De todos los sistemas armamentistas mas codiciados por las naciones del Medio Oriente, la artillería anti-misiles Patriota es la que indiscutiblemente se sienta en el tope.

Israel, los Emiratos y Bahrain, nación que ha incrementado significativamente su cooperación con la Armada y la Fuerza Aérea de Estados Unidos; han expresado interés de adquirir componentes de tercera generación asociados as ‘Theater High Altitude Air Defense’ sistema de defensa anti-misil.

También en la lista de naciones interesadas en adquirir el sistema debemos incluir a Qatar y Kuwait, dos países que al igual que Bahrain, se encuentra bajo la cobertura militar de America.

Recientemente el embajador de los Emiratos a los Estados Unidos, Yousef al-Otaiba, confirmo la razón por el aumento en gastos relacionado a defensa.

“De todas la naciones de la región, los Emiratos son los mas cercanos a Irán. Nuestras fuerzas armadas se despiertan, trabajan, comen y duerme pensando en la amenaza Iraní,” al-Otaiba dijo.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Here comes the U-boats

In January 1917, Imperial Germany announces the renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic as German torpedo-armed submarines prepare to attack any and all ships, including civilian passenger carriers, said to be sighted in war-zone waters.

When World War I erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson pledged neutrality for the United States, a position that the vast majority of Americans favored. Britain, however, was one of America's closest trading partners and tension soon arose between the United States and Germany over the latter's attempted blockade of the British isles.

Several U.S. ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by German mines and, in February 1915, Germany announced unrestricted warfare against all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain. One month later, Germany announced that a German cruiser had sunk the William P. Frye, a private American merchant vessel that was transporting grain to England when it disappeared. President Wilson was outraged, but the German government apologized, calling the attack an unfortunate mistake.

The Germans' most formidable naval weapon was the U-boat, a submarine far more sophisticated than those built by other nations at the time. The typical U-boat was 214 feet long, carried 35 men and 12 torpedoes, and could travel underwater for two hours at a time. In the first few years of World War I, the U-boats took a terrible toll on Allied shipping.

In early May 1915, several New York newspapers published a warning by the German embassy in Washington that Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so at their own risk. The announcement was placed on the same page as an advertisement for the imminent sailing of the British-owned Lusitania ocean liner from New York to Liverpool. On May 7, the Lusitania was torpedoed without warning just off the coast of Ireland. Of the 1,959 passengers, 1,198 were killed, including 128 Americans.

The German government maintained that the Lusitania was carrying munitions, but the U.S. demanded reparations and an end to German attacks on unarmed passenger and merchant ships. In August 1915, Germany pledged to see to the safety of passengers before sinking unarmed vessels, but in November sank an Italian liner without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. Public opinion in the United States began to turn irrevocably against Germany.

At the end of January 1917, Germany, determined to win its war of attrition against the Allies, announced the resumption of unrestricted warfare. Three days later, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany; just hours after that, the American liner Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat. None of the 25 Americans on board were killed and they were picked up later by a British steamer.

On February 22, Congress passed a $250 million arms-appropriations bill intended to ready the United States for war. Two days later, British authorities gave the U.S. ambassador to Britain a copy of what has become known as the "Zimmermann Note," a coded message from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann to Count Johann von Bernstorff, the German ambassador to Mexico.

In the telegram, intercepted and deciphered by British intelligence, Zimmermann stated that, in the event of war with the United States, Mexico should be asked to enter the conflict as a German ally. In return, Germany would promise to restore to Mexico the lost territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. On March 1, the U.S. State Department published the note and America was galvanized against Germany once and for all.

In late March, Germany sank four more U.S. merchant ships and, on April 2, President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany. On April 4, the Senate voted 82 to six to declare war against Germany. Two days later, the House of Representatives endorsed the declaration by a vote of 373 to 50 and America formally entered World War I.

By Raul Colon