Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Americas: Chilean workers begin drilling shaft to free trapped miners

The Associated Press' Bradley Brooks reports:
An enormous drill began preliminary work Monday on carving a half-mile chimney through solid rock to free the 33 men trapped in a Chilean mine, their ordeal now having equaled the longest known survival in an underground disaster. 
The 31-ton drill bored 50 feet into the rock, the first step in the weeklong digging of a "pilot hole" to guide the way for the rescue. Later the drill will be outfitted with larger bits to expand the hole and pull the men through - a process that could take four months. 
The men were trapped Aug. 5 in the San Jose mine in Chile's northern Atacama Desert. Before rescuers dug bore holes to reach them, they survived 17 days without contact with the outside world by rationing a 48-hour supply of food and digging for water in the ground. 
The miners are now being funneled food and chlorine to disinfect the underground water through an "umbilical cord" connecting them to the surface. They've also received vaccinations and rubber boots to help prevent diphtheria and tetanus and a video camera, which they're using to film their injuries so a doctor on the surface can provide advice for spot treatment.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Opinion: On mosque near 'Ground Zero', a distinction without a difference

Last week, The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart proposed the idea that "you can't divorce the right to do something from the ability to exercise that right."

He was referring to the debate over whether Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf should go ahead with plans to build a mosque on private property a short distance from the former site of the World Trade Center. 

Among those opposed to such action, a distinction has emerged. Some argue either that Muslims do not have a right to build a place of worship in the United States or that other citizens have a right which supersedes that freedom of religious expression. Another, ostensibly more reasonable, group acknowledges the right certainly exists but argues that the spiritual leader should scrap the plans anyway. Their assertion is that having the right to do something does not necessarily mean one should exercise that right.

Although it is certainly an inexact analogy, this reminds me a bit of women's rights in Iran. The law of the Islamic Republic does allow women to run for and hold elected offices. Somehow, despite hundreds of attempts and an apparent lack of legal obstacles though, no woman has ever been certified by the Guardian Council to run for President. A contradiction seems to exist between what is legally permissible and what is socially allowable.

There are times when the liberties enshrined in our Constitution afford rights to people that make us uncomfortable. Standing up for those rights anyway is a true expression of patriotism. Legally allowing an action while using popular opinion to effectively forbid it is a specious way to honor a fundamental American value.


Sub-Saharan African: Kenya adopts a new constitution after two decades of struggle

Prime Minister Raila Odinga accepts the new oath of office.
The new Kenyan constitution was promulgated on Friday in Uhuru park in Nairobi. The east African country has been working to adopt a new governing document since 1990, when opposition groups began protesting across the country in support of a multi-party political system.

In the two decades that followed, Kenyans have ridden a roller coaster of false starts and ethnic tension, a relatively uncommon occurrence in Kenya, which prides itself on being a bulwark of stability in a region prone to conflict.

After the 2007 presidential elections, riddled with allegations of vote-rigging and aggression between communities, a peace deal was signed which led to a determination and resolve to finally institute change. It was for this reason that millions of Kenyans stood in line for hours to vote for the new constitution earlier this month. Sixty of the nation's two-hundred ten constituencies had turnout numbers greater than eighty percent.

The constitution itself seems worthy of high hopes. It could ensure the nation's survival long-term by reforming a political establishment prone to corrupt and abusive governance and the skewed distribution of resources and land.

The challenge now facing Kenyans is to continue to hold their leaders accountable, ensuring a faithful implementation of the document they so deserve.


Middle East/N. Africa: Vice-President Biden in Iraq

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit this morning, a day before the formal end of combat operations in Iraq.

President Obama is to address the nation on Tuesday on Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are now fewer than 50,000 troops on the ground in Iraq, down from 160,000 at the end of President George W. Bush's administration. The remaining troops will focus on providing assistance and training to the Iraqi military.

Biden will also meet with Iraqi officials who have been struggling to form a government after elections in March resulted in a hung parliament, including
 Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Tariq Hashimi, Vice President Adil Abd Mahdi and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.


Economy: Paul Volcker-headed advisory board releases report on tax code

WaPo's Lori Montgomery has details:

"In an exhaustive 18-month review, the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board found that the complexity of the nation's tax laws has increased dramatically in recent years. Lawmakers have changed the code more than 15,000 times since the last major overhaul in 1986. Meanwhile, instruction booklets for the standard Form 1040 have swelled from 14 pages to 44 pages last year.

The board also found that the profusion of credits, deductions, phaseouts and conflicting eligibility requirements frays the sanity of ordinary taxpayers just as surely as it complicates the calculations of wealthy families and business owners. Tax provisions affecting families and children were among the most frequently cited sources of confusion."

Read the full report here.


Americas-Europe/Russia: U.S. and Europe fighting over capital requirements in international banking regulations

Negotiators have made significant progress as the unofficial September deadline for the Basel III Accord nears. The accord consists of international recommendations on banking laws and regulations issued by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision in Switzerland. The third of the Basel Accords is being written in response to the recent global financial crisis.

The current sticking point is over the amount of "safety capital" financial institutions should be required to maintain as a buffer for risk. Basel officials have recommended the level be set at 5% of assets, i.e., loans and investments, with an additional 2.5% buffer accessible to banks during periods of difficulty. 

A deal seems likely to conclude with the level set at 7 or 8% including the additional buffer. Since most U.S. firms already keep a larger percentage of safety capital on hand than most European banks, the new requirements are likely to be more onerous for the latter.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

'Global Affairs' coverage to begin, website revamped

The Briefing is pleased to announce some major changes to our mission and design.

The most aesthetically obvious of these changes is our reworked website and new logo. This shift reflects our new commitment to expanding our coverage and analysis to international issues.

If you've been following us for the breaking political news and policy information, don't worry. That content isn't going anywhere. We're just adding a larger world perspective to encourage each of us to be productive and informed global citizens. We hope this new focus will lead to many conversations about the nature of the issues we face in the world today and a constructive dialogue about how we can work together as an international community to address those issues.

As a helpful reference, you'll notice all posts now have a policy area (Immigration, National Intelligence, etc.) or world region (The Middle East & Northern Africa, Europe/Russia, etc.) tags before the headline.

Additionally, you'll see a larger percentage of our news updates on Facebook containing links to a quick write-up with a few additional details and some brief analysis. You can often expect a headline and three to five sentences of detail here on The Briefing site.

As always, we hope these new features are helpful and interesting to you. Please know that we always appreciate comments and questions.

Asia/Pacific: Australia gets first indigenous MP

Ken Wyatt was elected to a seat representing a Western Australian district as a member of the center-right Liberal Party.

Ethnic tension continues to exist in the country, as evidenced by Wyatt's receipt of racist hate mail, but the election of an indigenous person is a welcome and historic step forward for Australia.

Last week's parliamentary elections resulted in both major parties falling three to four votes short of a majority, forcing the Liberals and Labor to reach out to the Independents who now hold the balance of power.