HAPPY NEW YEAR: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR – IN 2012
1) IRAN & THE BOMB…Already in this young year, Iran has test-fired long-range missiles, announced the completion of a nuclear fuel rod, and threatened to shut down the oil-crucial Strait of Hormuz. But the huge questions – perhaps unmatched by any other global security challenge for 2012: What can or will the world do to stop Iran from acquiring the bomb? Will Israel go after the Iranian nuclear program? And – if so – what will the White House do?
2) EUROPE – ON THE BRINK…How dangerous is Europe’s financial mess? It’s indisputably the continent’s worst crisis since World War II – and for an updated forecast look no further than German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s New Year’s message. Saying that Europe was facing its “harshest test in decades,” Merkel warned that “next year will no doubt be more difficult than 2011.” Leading economists polled by the BBC see a new recession in Europe in the first half of 2012. And of all the global crises, this is the one most likely to affect President Obama’s reelection chances. It gets that much harder to create American jobs – if and when European demand dries up.
3) RUSSIAN “SPRING”?…Will Vladimir Putin roll right over the growing opposition movement in his country? That’s what we all thought a year ago – when the leaders in question were Mubarak and Gadhafi. True reform in Russia – or a well-managed succession – would be good news for the U.S. and the rest of the world. A messy or violent transition could of course be hugely destabilizing for Russia, its neighbors and the world.
4) SYRIA – HOW WILL IT END?…The longest-running and most violent installment of the “Arab Spring” continues to confound the predictions. On the one hand, it’s hard to see how Bashar al-Assad rides out the storm; on the other, it’s very hard to see how a fractured opposition wins a revolution with only tepid support for outside intervention. Christiane Amanpour’s interviews with Mubarak and Gadhafi were the last for those dictators; will Barbara Walters’ interview with Assad be that leader’s last?
5) PAKISTAN – FRIEND AND FOE…Want a tidy end to the Afghan war? A regional peace? A bulwark against terrorism? The terrible paradox of Pakistan is that it contributes in each case to both the problem and the solution. And today the relationship with Washington is at a low point. What happens when an attack on a U.S. target is traced to a Pakistan-based group?
MEANWHILE – IN THE DAY’S NEWS…
IRAN’S MISSILE TESTS
Iran test-fired a surface-to-surface cruise missile on Monday during a drill that the country’s navy chief said proved Tehran was in complete control of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-sixth of the world’s oil supply. The missile, called Ghader, or Capable in Farsi, was described as an upgraded version of a missile that has been in service before. The official IRNA news agency said the missile “successfully hit its intended target” during the exercise. An earlier version of the same cruise missile had a range of 124 miles (200 kilometers) and could travel at low altitudes. There were suggestions it could counter the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf. Iran’s 10-day navy drill, which ends Tuesday, was Tehran’s latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its nuclear program. “The Strait of Hormuz is completely under our control,” Iran’s navy chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari said after Monday’s test. “We do not allow any enemy to pose threats to our interests.” State TV showed footage Monday depicting the launch of two missiles, which were fired into the sky and which the TV said could hit targets “hundreds of kilometers (miles) away” from the point of origin. The broadcast said two more missiles, with a shorter range, were also tested Monday. “We conducted the drill … to let everybody know that Iran’s defense and deterrence powers on the open seas and the Strait of Hormuz are aimed at defending our borders, resources and our nation,” said Sayyari, the navy chief.
SYRIA: THE MISSION
Criticism continues of the soft approach of the Arab League mission in Syria. Today the League Secretary-General said Syria’s military has withdrawn from residential areas and is on the outskirts of the country’s cities, but gunfire continues and snipers are still a threat. The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in a crackdown on protests which broke out against Syrian President Bashar Assad in March. Arab League chief Nabil Elbaraby was speaking in Cairo as Arab League monitors gathered in Syria to check compliance with a peace plan. He said the League would report on the work of the monitors over the first week and decide if more were needed there.
EGYPT: MUBARAK ON TRIAL – ON A GURNEY
The trial of Hosni Mubarak has resumed amid speculation that a recent acquittal of policemen tried for killing Egyptian protesters could be a prelude to the dismissal of charges against the ousted leader. Mubarak faces charges of complicity in the killing of more than 800 protesters during last year’s uprising that toppled his regime. The 83-year-old Mubarak was brought by helicopter to the Cairo courthouse on Monday from a hospital. He was then taken into the defendants’ cage on a gurney, wearing dark sunglasses and covered by a green blanket. A Cairo court on Thursday acquitted five policemen of charges of killing five protesters during the Jan. 25-Feb. 11 uprising.
IRAQ: PM WARNS AGAINST ‘EXCESSIVE JOY’ OVER U.S. DEPARTURE
The Associated Press reports Iraq’s prime minister has called for unity and greater political stability to ensure the country’s security after the end of the American military presence. Speaking at a televised celebration in Baghdad, Nouri al-Maliki warned Iraqis against “excessive joy” over the departure of American troops, saying the country’s security situation remains perilous. The last U.S. combat soldiers left on December 18.
MIDEAST NEGOTIATORS TO MEET FOR FIRST TIME IN OVER A YEAR
Israel and the Palestinians said Sunday that their chief peace negotiators would attend a gathering of international diplomats in neighboring Jordan this week, bringing the sides together for the first time in more than a year.
BIRD FLU – SHOULD WE WORRY?
The strain of H5H1 bird flu that killed a Chinese man cannot spread among people, a health agency said Monday, appealing for calm after the country’s first reported case of the disease in humans in 18 months. Genetic analysis indicated the virus spread directly from poultry to the victim, who died Saturday in the southern city of Shenzhen, the Shenzhen Disease Control Center said in a statement reported by the official Xinhua News Agency.
NIGERIA: FURY OVER FUEL COSTS
Tough way to start the New Year: Nigerians saw the price of gas and public transportation double overnight after the government announced yesterday it is ending a decades-old fuel subsidy. People took their anger to President GoodLuck Jonathan’s Facebook page, gas stations closed throughout the country fearing backlash, and trade unions have vowed to organize citizens in a massive nation-wide boycott. The subsidy costs Nigeria $8.5 billion per year and the IMF has said for years that it is not economically sound for Africa’s most populous nation. But Nigerians argue, in a country which is one of the world’s largest oil exporters and where billions of dollars have been lost to corruption, having cheap fuel is the only benefit average citizens get from living in the oil-producing state.
WORLD’S BEST-PAID SOCCER STAR STARTS CELL NETWORK
From Dana HUGHES: Samuel Eto’o, a soccer player from Cameroon who recently signed a historic contract paying him more than $28 million dollars a year to play for a Russian team, has launched a new mobile network in his native Cameroon. Set’Mobile has already sold more than 50,000 SIM cards ahead of the network’s official activation on January 21, which is the opening day of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament. Eto’o says he wants to provide a low-cost alternative to Orange and MTN, the multi-national companies currently operating in the country. Africa is the fastest-growing cellphone market in the world, but Cameroon lags behind its neighbors. Analysts say Set’Mobile will not increase mobile network penetration in the country, but is a smart business venture for the soccer player.
FOREIGNERS TO THE RESCUE?
USA Today suggests foreign tourists could do wonders for the U.S. economy: Agustina Ocampo is the kind of foreign traveler businesses salivate over. The 22-year-old Argentine recently dropped more than $5,000 on food, hotels and clothes in Las Vegas during a trip that also took her to Seattle’s Space Needle, Disneyland and the San Diego Zoo. But she doubts she will return soon. “It is a little bit of a headache,” said Ocampo, a student who waited months to find out whether her tourist visa application would be approved. More than a decade after the federal government strengthened travel requirements after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, foreign visitors say getting a temporary visa remains a daunting and sometimes insurmountable hurdle. The tourism industry hopes to change that with a campaign to persuade Congress to overhaul the State Department’s tourist visa application process. “After 9/11, we were all shaken and there was a real concern for security, and I still think that concern exists,” said Jim Evans, a former hotel chain CEO heading a national effort to promote foreign travel to the U.S. At the same time, he said, the U.S. needs “to be more cognizant of the importance of every single traveler.”
RECORD POPULATION DROP
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: Japan’s population fell by 204,000 to 126.24 million, the largest decline since the end of World War II. The country’s population has been declining rapidly over the years, spurred by the world’s largest aging population, but the Health Ministry said yesterday, the decline this year was the largest since 1947. The number includes the more than 15,000 killed by the powerful earthquake and tsunami. The estimated number of newborns fell to a record-low 1.05 million – down 14,000 from last year.
FUJITA again: The Japanese set yet another Twitter record at midnight, New Year’s Day – when they sent out a record 16,197 tweets per second. The tweet overload caused the system to crash momentarily. The Japanese set several twitter records in 2011: first with the tsunami, then right after women’s soccer World Cup win. The Japan Times reports Japanese users recorded an incredible 25,088 tweets per second in December – nearly 3 times higher than the former record, set when Beyonce announced her pregnancy. The tweets last month were related to a classic Japanese anime film, that aired nationwide on TV.
MEANWHILE, A FAMOUS NEW TWEETER
Rupert Murdoch, 80, joins the crowd. As the Telegraph writes — “No hacking required…” Not a smart move, though, to tweet about the folly of long vacations — and do so from St. Bart’s.