I’m running a little late this weekend: computer problems. . .
You know, most of these entries are really U.S. politics-based this week:  I suppose that’s generally true, but seems especially prominent this week.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ China is still working through the graft by petty officials: after issuing a month-long amnesty in the wake of slavery cases and product adulteration cases, 1800 officials have stepped up and confessed. Here is a link to the Chinese-language only Incorruptible Fighter Web site: just so you know it’s out there.
♦ The IAEA sends a delegation to: Japan–in order to investigate nuclear plants damaged by earthquakes first, and scandal second. 
♦ Cambodian tribunal will try former Khmer Rouge prison administrator.
♦ World Hizb-ut-Tahrir Conference starts this coming week in Indonesia.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Belarus under the pincers: in the face of mounting debt for energy, Gazprom threatens to cut supplies by 30%.  It was going to be 50%, but Belarus paid USD 190 million out of the USD 456.16 million that they owed so far this year.
Russian Sub♦ Drop a flag and USD 4 million, gain a continent: I don’t think so.  But it does create complications in international law.
♦ U.S. declines to renew the START treaty.
♦ Turkmenistan’s president consolidates power through trials we never heard about.

Latin America:
♦ Almost every time Cuba has come up in U.S. presidential politicking so far, it’s been as a dirty word associated with “socialized medicine”.  Now, a new post with Great Comments at Two Week’s Notice talks about potential U.S. agricultural trade ties with Cuba. 
♦ Another dirty word: “immigrant.”  Uh, this issue is very complicated, but it seems the U.S. has forgotten that the use of this word in such a way tends to denigrate the experience of ancestors of most U.S. citizens: my great-grandparents for one.  Let’s get a reasonable policy without inciting (or incurring) contempt.
♦ Professor Weeks has another great post on “The Wall” currently being boon-doggled (excuse me: built) at the U.S.-Mexico border, and how it becomes a rallying point for international discourse between Latin American States. 
♦ Last of all, and also related to U.S.-Latin American relations, the CAFTA agreement is still being hotly debated within Latin America.  Costa Rica votes on the referendum October 7th.  Good luck with that wall, Arizona . . .
♦ Mexico’s EPR guerrilla group has bombed again: last time, oil pipelines; this time, a store.
♦ Venezuela is purchasing more Argentine bonds (already have purchased 4.2 billion worth): this has to do with high energy prices, and a volatile, insecure bond market.

Middle East:
♦ Israel launches an air raid in Gaza: two Islamic Jihad members escape; two killed, 15 wounded.
Lebanon votes to replace two assassinated officials: turnout, about 45%. Waleed Eido, a Member of Parliament, was assassinated in June of this year; and Pierre Gemayel, a Cabinet Minister, had been assassinated last November.  The opposition is proclaiming victory–votes still being counted.
♦ Hamas sponsors some weddings by providing celebrations and economic help to newlyweds.  Now this is an important post at The Arabist–at the core of Hamas’ capabilities, a personal approach that continually confound institutional-based efforts at developing friends in the Middle East.

Afghanistan: (partly cross-posted at FPA Central Asia)
♦ Focus on the UK’s Operation Chakush in Helmand.
♦ UNAMA discovers mass graves in Afghanistan.
♦ Hostage news: Four of Afghanistan’s judges were taken hostage two weeks ago in Ghazni province; their bodies were found on Wednesday this week.  The hostage from Germany, one of two German hostages kidnapped last month, had been previously reported in the news as dead from a heart attack.  News recently released indicates that he died of gunshot wounds.  A second South Korean hostage was killed of the 22 first seized on July 19th.  So far the U.S. and ISAF forces have agreed not to attempt freeing the hostages by force.
♦ Dateline, Camp David: President Karzai is due for an informal summit with Mr. Bush on August 5th and 6th.
In Transit to Afghanistan has made one solid post after another this week.  In this post, the blog discusses dangers in Waziristan and the most-likely strategies that the U.S. should take against the terrorist havens in the region.  Another post points us to terrorist expert Peter Bergen’s newest analysis on Afghanistan’s burgeoning insurgency.
Iran:
♦ Now swapping oil with Nicaragua: no doubt through Mr. Chavez de Venezuela’s agency. 
♦ Now building its own fighter jets.
Iraq:
♦ The oil law still confuses us: on August 3, a senior member of the Dawa party has said: no oil law under occupation.   But on August 2, the Oil Minister of Kurdistan said that the oil law was proceeding–for the Kurdistan region.   In other words, Kurdistan continues to deal, and the Federals have not yet caught up. 
♦ They won’t, either, for the next month: the Sunni delegation decamped, and the Council of Representatives has begun its August break–or, August to September break.  Not boding well for the U.S. benchmark report in September.
The UN General Assembly will probably pass an increased mandate for the UN in Iraq.  Expected Vote date: perhaps this upcoming week.

U.S. Politics:
It's the Point.♦ My earmark makes more sense than your earmark: I listened to the proceedings on C-Span radio, but here is the NYT article on “single-source” contracts that are defined as necessary and appropriate by the U.S. House of Representatives, and were attached to the military spending bill.  I’m pretty sure it was Representative Flake who satirized earmarks by calling a ball-point pen in military spending jargon (paraphrase) a “polymer-based, multi-purpose portable communication facilitating mechanism”, which was truly my favorite part of the debate.  Language is a beautiful thing, and scarcely more creative than in use by scoundrels with something to hide.  However, as the NYT pointed out, this is less pork than usual for the dominant party, and they didn’t look ashamed, either.
♦ U.S. Energy bill passed: and it requires the U.S. to use renewable energy sources for 15% of utilities. 
♦ U.S. Congress passes  a 6-month long interim eavesdropping bill to catch terrorists, or private citizens, depending upon one’s point of view: and increase security or reduce privacy, again depending upon one’s point of view.
🙂 In case you’re wondering at all this activity: Congress is trying to go on vacation.

Energy:
♦ Oil prices: Brent crude, USD 75.11; West Texas Intermediate, USD 76.13 per barrel: after a large speculative rise this week, the price calmed a little back down.
♦ The National Petroleum Council is talking sense: they noted the difference between national Energy Security and national Energy Independence.  The first is possible; energy independence is not.  Energy security will be a combination of a. moderating demand, b. expanded/diversified energy supplies (I would include alternate energy here) and c. strengthening global trade.  Just a note: U.S. demand is expected to go up 50-60% by 2030.   China and India might need more oil, but the biggest consumer remains the United States.

Have a great week.

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