The Week of January 16th, 2012

India goes high tech, IMF looks for funding, Israel false flags, Qatar and Russia spar over Syria, SOPA and PIPA teach an important lesosn, and Mitt Romney's taxes. 

5. India Expands Nationwide Biometrics Database
So far, 120 million Indian citizens have been documented under the UID, or Unique Identification Number program. The UID is a first-of-its-kind biometric identification program that utilizes fingerprint and iris scans to achieve 99.9% accuracy. The project is run by the UIDAI, or the Unique Identification Authority of India, which aims to enroll 600 million citizens by March of 2014. The project has the potential to revolutionize how Indian society functions on both a national and local level, giving the government increased ability to administer education, health care, financial services, taxation, and a plethora of other projects with dramatically increased efficiency and decreased corruption. The combination of growth and a vibrant democracy has made India a stable but highly unequal nation and this measure gives the Indian government a way to incorporate its impoverished masses into its economy.

Biometric identification played a role in recent elections in Brazil and Nigeria, and looks certain to see increased adoption for its powerful potential. Development in American or European countries, however, seems doubtful at best. Civil rights groups would no doubt balk at what could easily appear to be a terrifying surveillance scheme, reminiscent of the Big Brother of George Orwell’s 1984. For the foreseeable future, UID will stay in developing nations, nicely demonstrating the idea of convergence theory, which states that developing nations can often piggy-back on the modern technology created in wealthy nations in order to achieve greater growth rates and catch up to the first world.

4. IMF Faces Difficult Choice
The International Monetary Fund announced that it is seeking to increase its lending capacity by $500 billion, as economic indicators suggest continued slow global growth through the upcoming years. The organization estimates that approximately $1 trillion will be needed for loans to vulnerable economies across the world over the next few years, particularly in European economies where the Eurozone debt crisis is far from resolved. However, it is questionable whether the IMF will be able to secure funding from its traditional sources, the U.S. and Europe, in order to expand its lending capacity. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Treasury responded, “we have no intention to seek additional resources for the IMF.”

With funding from the West plateauing , the IMF will most likely look towards some of the major emerging economies for support. However, some of the brightest emerging economies,  such as Brazil, India, and Turkey, will also be unlikely to step up with funding due to falling capital investments on their own homefronts. This leaves China as the sole economic power capable of bolstering the IMF’s plan. Yet under current conditions, there are very few reasons China would support the organization that has long been considered the cornerstone of the Washington Consensus. If China were to provide funding, it would likely only do this in exchange for more say in what projects, and with what policies, the IMF would conduct across the globe. The future relevance of the IMF may ultimately rest on whether the organization can entice China to enter into the IMF fold.

3. Israel Alienates Allies with Focus on Iran
Foreign Policy magazine reported this week that the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, has undertaken false-flag operations to recruit operatives from terrorist organizations to help them in a covert war with Iran. Israeli agents, masquerading as members of the CIA, approached a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist group to aid in a covert campaign to cripple the Iranian nuclear program. The allegations of this false-flag operation have strained Israel’s relationship with the U.S. This is not the first time that such an operation angered an Israeli ally-- the United Kingdom became embroiled in a massive diplomatic dispute with Israel last year over a hit squad from Mossad that was caught using forged U.K. passports in Dubai.

Israel seems to have decided that the risk of gravely offending the U.S. and other allies is less important than delaying or denying Iran’s access to a nuclear weapon. Israel has stopped Iraq and Syria from developing nuclear weapons in the past and there is historic pressure on Israel to prevent their enemies from developing a nuclear weapon lest they lose their nuclear advantage over them. Israel has several hundred weapons and has been a nuclear power since at least the early ‘80s. While not officially acknowledged, Israel’s nuclear force has been identified by Iran as justification for surrounding countries to develop similar weapons. While these recent false-flag operations are not hugely significant in and of themselves, they demonstrate an Israeli focus on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, perhaps to the detriment of other foreign policy goals. In past years, the case was that Israel would get the green light from the U.S before any decisive action. It seems that Israel doesn’t want to waste time with sanctions and soft power anymore when it comes to Iran and has taken matters in its own hands.

2. Qatar and Russia See Syria From Different Perspective
As violence in Syria continues, on Saturday Qatar proposed sending in troops from Arab states to restore order to the country. Qatar is a small state but has proven itself to be quite influential, especially since the start of the Arab Spring. It was a strong supporter of the anti-Qadhafi forces in Libya and is taking a leading role in isolating Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

Other countries, however, were not receptive to Qatar’s proposal, with Russia pledging to block any United Nations authorization of an intervention in Syria. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, warned that a “very big war” could result from outside intervention in Syrian affairs. Russia’s close ties to Syria, which are evidenced in large arms sales to Syria, and Russian use of the Syrian port at Tartus, are part of the reason Russia has so strongly opposed international intervention.

Russia may also be resistant to intervention because of increasing unrest at home. Not only have protests occurred across Russia over disputed election results, but the government may also be worried about the traditionally precarious situation in the Caucuses. The Caucuses, the region that includes Chechnya along Russia’s southwestern border, is highly unstable and is currently the site of a low-intensity insurgency from different Muslim groups. Although much of the region is semi-autonomous, the area is ruled by leaders appointed by Moscow and approved by the local legislature. The situation is not radically different from many of the Arab states that experienced revolts over the past year. Russia would not want to be seen to be encouraging anti-government activity abroad if it will hurt its legitimacy at home.

1. SOPA and PIPA Lose Support
Key supporters of two far-reaching  anti-piracy bills backtracked this week after hundreds of websites and online media outlets went black in protest this Wednesday. Most notably, Wikipedia made English-language articles inaccessible throughout the day and redirected searchers to a page with information on protest efforts. If passed, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act would significantly alter the way online content is regulated and could criminalize information sharing on major sites like YouTube. Though Congress has historically favored copyright holders, the rapid reversal of support in reaction to vigorous public opposition from tech companies this week demonstrate the maturation of a relatively young and politically unorganized industry.

Content creators and media companies have a long history of lobbying Congress for tighter controls over the distribution of intellectual property. The United States Chamber of Commerce and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), two of the strongest lobbying forces in the U.S., aggressively backed SOPA and PIPA. Google, which owns YouTube, already regulates the use of copyright content online and last year alone processed 5 million requests to remove content, known as take-down requests. But lobby groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) argue that these efforts are not enough.

Conversely, the tech industry is relatively new to the lobbying process and only recently called on the public to organize against anti-piracy laws which could seriously change the nature of the internet. The tech industry might be a newcomer to the political arena but it has shown that it can successfully harness political capital.

0. Romney Refuses to Release Tax Returns
In the midst of a tightening race for the GOP nomination, critics have called for front runner Mitt Romney to publicly release his income tax statement. In reaction to this growing pressure, Romney refused to release the tax records, instead vaguely stating that this past year he had paid an effective tax rate of around 15% on annual income. The recent criticisms of Romney have predominately focused on his previous career in the leveraged buyout business, in an attempt to paint him as a wealthy financier out of touch with the middle-class.

Despite these attempts, Romney has precedence on his side. Presidential candidates over the last decade have consistently released their tax information after receiving the party nomination, usually between March and June of the election year. Furthermore, the calls for his tax statements by other Republican candidates imply that some might be on their last legs. While the media calls may seem frantic, in the end Romney’s tax statements are nothing more than yet another distracting campaign ploy.