Archive for the ‘12/6/09 – 12/12/09’ Category

The 5 American Muslim young men arrested for a Pakistan terrorism sting this week were turned over to the FBI by their concerned parents. The group, Aged 19-25, abruptly disappeared from their Northern Virginia and DC communities in November, and met with officials from Jaish-e-Mohammed, the terrorist group responsible for killing American reporter Daniel Pearl. “Fearing the worst,” their families contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the organization that urged contacting Federal authorities.

Secretly, our own people are engaged in something that most of us don’t know about,” Johari Abdul-Malik, an Imam in Falls Church, VA told NPR. “And that is sending a chill through our community.” One of the detained young men, Ramy Zamzam, was a dental student a Howard University.

New Jersey same-sex marriage Senate vote scheduled for today was postponed late last night by the bill co-sponsors. Democratic Sate Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Loretta Weinberg want to get the bill rolling before a General Assembly committee, where majority support is expected.

An Alabaman woman admitted to smoking meth 3 days before her child was due by pleading guilty in a child endangerment case. The baby died 19 minutes after birth, and mother Amanda Helaine Borden Kimbrough will serve a plea deal sentence of 10 years in prison. As in much of rural America over the past decade, meth is the number one drug threat in Alabama.

Houston is facing a historic mayorial run-off this weekend, with a “social identity crisis” in tow. If elected, Annise Parker will become the first openly gay mayor of Houston. Her sexual orientation has come under attack by Christian groups, which threw their weight behind former city attorney Gene Locke. Locke, who denounced a $200,000 donation from his campaign to religious groups who attacked Parker’s sexual orientation in GOTV efforts, would be the second African-American mayor of Houston if elected. University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray puts the support distribution bluntly: “You don’t have many cases where you have an older straight, black male supported by conservatives matched up against a younger white female who happens to be gay, and is backed by non-establishment sources… Normally, you see progressive whites allied with African-Americans.”

No one is happy. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he is disappointed at the EU draft of a document declaring Jerusalem a two-state capital (of Israel and a Palestinian state) because it is too “vague.” A draft written by Sweden, who currently hold the EU Presidency, was more to Abbas’ liking because it called for an end to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and referred to Palestine as a state. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has been lobbying against this draft and prefers revisions recommended by the French that would commend Israel for its current ten month settlement freeze. Meanwhile in Israel, Netanyahu has promised his base of hard line citizens that building in Jerusalem will continue after the ten month period, but settlers are still wary. On Wednesday, ten thousand pro-settler activists demonstrated in front of the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem residence with signs that read “We will continue to build” and “Stop Iran’s nukes, not our homes.” Netanyahu also has grievances against the Palestinians who “have adopted a strategy of delaying negotiations with Israel, and this is in order to refrain from meeting the demands of Israel and the international community, which require comprises on the Palestinian side.”

The Islamic State of Iraq, a group with links to al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the 5 coordinated bombings in Baghdad on Tuesday that killed 127 and wounded 450. In a statement, translated by a U.S. monitoring group, says that Tuesday’s explosions were the third part of a series of attacks. “The list of targets will not end, with permission from Allah, until the flag of monotheism is raised once against on the land of Baghdad and the sharia of Allah rules the land and the worshippers,” they said.

The Israeli government has released a report about what the army should expect in the event of another conflict with Hamas.The report, which emphasizes the danger of underground tunnels connecting open field in Gaza with Israeli urban centers, also describes the variety of arms Hamas has gotten from allies in Iran. Weapons range from long range rockets and Konkur anti-tank shoulder missiles, held in hidden missile silos. The report also warns of the danger of underground tunnels along the Philadelphi Corridor- the buffer zone between Israel and Gaza, stretched by the Rafah Crossing (border of Egypt and Gaza). That is why the Egyptians, with the help of American engineers, are building a steele wall along Rafah 6.7 miles wide and 59 feet below the surface. The wall is fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and cannot be cut or melted.

Minister of Parliament Kazem Jalali of the Iranian legislature’s (Maji) Security and Foreign Policy Committee has said that Iran will not cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) if they pass another resolution against the Iranian nuclear program. The IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution against Iran because it was building a new nuclear plant at Fordo on September 30. Members of the Maji recently voted in favor of building ten more such sites in the country.

South African health, government, and civil society worker task force discussed their concerns over the combination of high AIDS rates, active criminalized sex trade and flux of tourists during the upcoming FIFA World Cup:

“Among the draft recommendations that emerged from the two-day meeting were the need for human rights training, public health messages specific to sex work, a government directive to end police harassment of sex workers, and a moratorium on arrests of sex workers during the event.”

The group used Germany’s “Fair Play” safe sex campaign during the 2006 World Cup as a successful model.

More violence in The Philippines as a militia called the “Perez Group” has taken a group of 17 school children and their principal hostage. The group is attempting to use the hostages to negotiate their own freedom after they engaged in a shoot out with government forces. Tension among citizens has risen exponentially because The Perez Group is one of several militias armed by the government a decade ago to fight communism. This comes three weeks after a brutal politically motivated massacre left 57 dead in another part of the country.

A deal for former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to finally leave the Brazilian embassy in his country’s capital and go to Mexico has fallen through.Zelyay does not want to go to Mexico as an asylee, but rather as a guest, because claiming asylum status could make him unable to return to the Presidency.

A report released by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) surfaced strong currents of racism and ethnic discrimination in Europe. The findings are based on responses from 23,000 people of ethnic minority descent living in various communities and countries. High levels of civilian assault and threat on behalf were uncovered, especially among African groups in Ireland and Italy & Romas in Czech Republic, Hungary and Greece.

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THE debate over public option, a “government run health plan to compete with private insurers” has always been a major threat to the Senate passage of the universal health care bill, even before the legislation came to fruition in the House. As early as last campaign cycle, several Senators expressed their opposition to Barack Obama’s vision universal health care, because they view the public option aspect as an invasive over-extension of government control; an unnecessary reform during economic crisis.

Since the House passed the health care bill with a public option included, the attempts at negotiating an agreement are abound. Over the past week, a “gang of 10” Senators – a combination of liberal and conservative Democrats – brokered a compromise after a week of negotiations behind closed doors, and presented it to the body today. Called a “broad agreement” by heath care spearhead Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), the deal expands Medicare buy-in and essentially eliminates an immediate public option offer.

Bending the health care legislation was prompted by 6 Democratic Senators, whom despite the urgings of the President and their party, maintained their opposition to the public option:

Evan Bayh, D-Indiana

Senator Bayh

Evan Bayh (D-IN) comes from a state hard hit by the recession. As a legislator, he has a history of concern about debt. Recently, he voted against raising the national deficit , so it is unsurprising that he has voiced more concern about the cost of health care than anything else.

Bayh’s constituents, however, support health care reform, and more specifically, the public option, by a healthy margin of 52% to 42%.  Editorials written on the topic have been scathing.  One constituent muses that it must be “great to be Bayh” who has an excellent health care plan provided by Congress.  Another accuses him of talking debt while ignoring the war and health care.  Most damning is the speculation that Bayh is accepting money from the health care lobby and cow-towing to special interests.  Dan Young, from Indianapolis writes:

Senator Bayh with Secretary Clinton, a harbinger in the fight for universal health care.

“While hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers are without work and health insurance, Susan Bayh is making millions serving on the boards of several huge corporations, including WellPoint. The influence of this cash flow on Sen. Bayh’s voting record is obvious… He is willing to sabotage the democratic process in the Senate because he can’t overlook the millions of dollars he has taken from the insurance industry…”

Records, however, indicate that Bayh has not accepted as much money from insurance and health care providers as other hold outs in the Senate (including Ben Nelson and Joe Leiberman). Since 2005 he has not accepted “millions” of dollars from these industries. The number is closer to $700,00.

On Tuesday, Bayh sided with Republicans and Senator Ben Nelson (below)

Blanche Lincoln, D-Arkansas

Senator Lincoln is vocally opposed to America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, stating she refuses to vote for a proposal that includes a public-option: “I just don’t think it’s fair in these economic times to put at risk taxpayers and the treasury, which if in fact the premiums don’t cover the program that’s what’s probably going to happen.”  Lincoln is instead championing both reduced costs in the Senate’s health care bill and more help for small businesses in the bill.  Up for re-election next year, Lincoln is stratteling the line between party goals and a constituent majority opinion.

Senator Lincoln

In Washington, Lincoln is stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place: Republicans are upset because she cast a procedural vote in favor of a floor health care debate, and Democrats are disappointed in her public rejection of the proposed health care legislation.  The tension is exceptionally strained, with Republicans attacking her for receiving campaign contributions from insurance companies – the 5th highest industry to fund her political career – in hopes for a leg-up in the 2010 elections.

Back home in Arkansas, Lincoln’s stance is being projected as a major threat to her future in the Senate.  Polls show the majority of Arkansans will not vote for Lincoln next year if she supports universal health care.  The Senator maintains that, despite what critics on all sides are saying, she will fight to change the bill to best serve her constituents.   Along with Senator Mary Landrieu (below), she helped negotiate the Medicare buy-in this past week.

Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut

Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is possibly the legislator that has been attacked the most by pro-reformers. He has received more than $2.6 million dollars from the health and insurance industries since the start of his career. His state, Connecticut, is also a hub of the insurance industry in general, as it accounts for 64,000 jobs as of June 2009, according to the state’s labor department.

Senator Lieberman

Connecticut voters, however, approve of the health care bill by a 5 point margin (47% to 42%). As a result, Lieberman has had to address questions about his motivations directly. “Insurers aren’t my biggest concern — I sued them once when I was attorney general, and I’m not afraid to end anti-trust exemptions,” he said in October. “I am really worried about what this could do to the deficit.” These words have not satisfied his critics.  On November 5th, 9 health care supporters stormed his Wshington office shouting phrases like “represent Connecticut, not AETNA!”

Thus, Lieberman has had to back up his words with legislative action. On December 1st, the Senator’s webite touted his new amendment to the health care bill, which “revoke health insurers’ and medical malpractice insurers’ existing exemption from federal antitrust laws that prohibit anti-competitive conduct such as price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocations.” This past Friday, in a “tri-partisan effort,” Lieberman along with Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Arlen Spector introduced an amendment to the bill intended to work as a cost-containment measure.  Here are the bill’s five main provisions:

  1. Create a website to report the quality of physician performance.
  2. Strengthen reporting requirements for insurance companies regarding the denial of claims.
  3. Increase penalties for hospitals with high incidents of post-treatment infection.
  4. Give HHS more authority to implement a pilot program that would bundle Medicare payments to hospitals and physicians and allow them to implement the program more broadly without needing additional Congressional approval.
  5. Do a large-scale evaluation of government health care programs to deduce their value and consider cost cutting measures.

These measures do not radically change the bill, but the fact that it was presented by a Republican and an Independent signals that it may bring more people to the negotiating table.

Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska

Senator Nelson

Ben Nelson (D-NE) comes from a state where 85% of citizens have health care.  Thus, Nelson has made it quite clear that he has to sell the bill in a different way. He has been touting “The Lost Message of health care reform, or rather, the part of it that benefits those that already have health care insurance. Despite his critiques of the Democratic plan, he has been optimistic about health care reform, saying he believes this bill will be passed by next year.

Nelson can afford such optimism. His state supports the public option 46% to 44%.  He has represented his constituents’ traditional lean toward conservatism by vocally opposing funds for abortion.  He also supports the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Expansion Act, to benefit hospitals that must serve large, sparsely populated areas like his state.  Nebraskans have expressed concern that Nelson may be in the pocket of insurance companies and the health industry, who have contributed over $2 million to his war chest over the years. However, he supports a “trigger” activated public option, which reflects the slight majority of support a government run health isurance provider enjoys in his state. Nelson has also been unafraid of criticizing Republicans for their handling of this attempt at reform. In September he said that Republicans need to demonstrate “the same willingness to compromise that they’re asking from the [Democratic] majority.”

Nelson’s resistance comes from his anti-abortion stance, a hot-button issue in Nebraska, where anti-abortion protests were held this summer in front of the office of Dr. LeRoy Carhart. On Tuesday, Senator Nelson attempted to duplicate House legislation that would ban abortion coverage for women who receive federal subsidies to purchase private insurance.  Co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the abortion amendment failed to pass in the Senate today.  Many are now speculating whether Nelson will defect on his final vote.

Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana

Senator Landrieu

Senator Landrieu is no stranger to pushy political strategy in the Senate.  Representing a state still financially wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, Landrieu parlayed her clutch public option vote Democratic vote to leverage $100 million for her state.  The money is intended to fill a giant hole left in Louisiana’s Federal Medicade Assistance Percentage (FMAP), which Governor Jindal emphasized as critical for the health of Louisiana’s uninsured and Medicade recipients.  To balance the states’ needs for Medicare, disaster relief, and a public option, Landrieu surprisingly shifted to the center in this debate.

FMAP is calculated using a formula based on individual state income.  An obscure stipulation requires insurance reimbursements and federal recovery assistance, both sources heavily relied on to rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, to be counted as “income.”  After calling to reform FMAP, Governor Jindal appealed to SenatorLandrieu to address the problem on the federal level.  Senator Landrieu then held out on the procedural vote to bring the health care legislation to the floor until Senator Reid, universal health care spearhead, tacked an amendment allocating $100 million to counties and parishes in Louisiana.

Senator Landrieu surveying damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005

Reactions on both sides are mixed.  Already dubbed “the Louisiana Purchase,” Senator Landrieu’s stratigery is a bulldog move during an already feisty and highly historic debate.  In a state where nearly 23% of the population is uninsured, Louisiana is bordering on a health care crisis.  A substantial chunk of Landrieu’s campaign and PAC donations come from emergency and disaster responders, not HMOs and insurance agencies.  Still, Landrieu continues to be “skeptical” to the public option, despite her positive reactions to “extremely helpful” centrist hold-out negotiation meetings this past weekend.
Here is Mary Landrieu discussing her tendency to not vote for public option, along with the devistation of Katrina, back in August:

Senator Landrieu helped broker the public option compromise and wants Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections on the Medicare buy-in before proceeding further.

In Copenhagen: The Guardian leaked a document known as the ‘Danish Text,‘ written by ‘the circle of commitment’ HwS(The US, UK, and Denmark). The document creates a rough outline for changes in climate policy that have offended the developing world and move away from the Kyoto Protocol. Instead of making rich countries responsible for financing emissions cuts, the World Bank would provide funds to developing nations on a conditional basis. In response, developing countries drafted another document to voice their concerns. They fear the Danish Text framework weakens th United Nations role in the debate, divides poorer countries into a new category of “the most vulnerable” to climate change, forces the developing world to adopt new standards, and would not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050- rich countries would be allowed 2.67 tonnes per person. The head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat Yvo de Boer tried to calm tempers by saying the Danish Text was outdated and irrelevant. “That text, and other texts that have been circulating, have not been on the table in a formal sense.”

National Public Radio higher-ups made a request to reporter Mara Liasson to stop appearing as a Fox News commentator, citing the political bias of the television network as cause for concern. Liasson, who joined Fox in 1997, was asked to watch the network for 30-days and gauge whether or not the network was growing increasingly partisan, but did not break her contract with Fox in the end.

Yesterday Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama announced that his country would delay a decision on the relocation of the American Futenma military facility in Okinawa, which the two countries discussed in 2006. The U.S. responded to this delay by putting off meetings that would strengthen U.S. ties to Japan until the fate of the base has been decided.The meetings were planned after Obama and Hatoyama met in November and, during a joint press conference, announced that bilateral cooperation between the countries would begin to extend past security issues to issues of public health and education.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced yesterday that 24% of power used by state and university buildings will be from solar and wind farms. The Governor is postioning the state as a major contract in Maryland’s small but growing renewable energy market. Last week, O’Malley made a decision to protect and re-build oyster sanctuaries in the Chesapeke Bay, which creates a symbiotic filtration and habitat system in the notoriously polluted body of water.  Read Governor O’Malley’s Clean Energy Announcement

Ugandan legislation threatening the death penalty for “active homosexuals” introduced last month has caused a chain of mixed reactions, including solidarity between gay activists and religious groups. While Uganda’s Ethics minister James Nsaba Buturo claims homosexuality “is not natural in Uganda,” he remains confident the death penalty clause will be repealed.  Critics say the aim is to divert attention from corruption and other political issues ahead of the 2011 national vote. Country reactions: Britain & Canada, Sweden, United States

Google has announced that it will post over 14,000 pictures of artifacts in the Iraqi National Museum online in early 2010. In 2003 the museum was ransacked during the Iraqi invasion. It contains objects from the Stone Age, as well as the Babylonian, Assyrian and Islamic period and will reopen to the public in February of 2010.

A total of 165 men and 39 women have been arrested in Iran for their part in Monday’s National Student Day anti-government protests. Intelligence ministry officials claim they have documents that prove specific students’ involvement, and that the government will inform the rest of countries students who is creating this “schism” so they can avoid the same fate.

Illinois lawmakers will review a proposal to sell the “largely vacant” Thompson Correctional Center to the federal government for the domestic detainment of terrorism suspects currently held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Drafted by Governor Pat Quinn’s administration, the proposal will go infront of a House-Senate panel on December 22nd. The Obama Administration expressed interest in the Thompson site in early November.

United Nations officials in Yemen say this will have to open a third camp to accommodate all of the internally displaced people fleeing the Saa’da province because of “Operation Scorched Earth”, the joint Saudi and Yemeni government offensive against Houthi rebels. The population of refugees has doubled in the past month.

After its citizens passed a medical marijuana law last month, the state of Maine held a task force panel discussion to determine “how, exactly, to help those with legitimate medical conditions get access to the drug without also making it easier for recreational users to buy” yesterday.

A Christie’s Old Masters and 19th Century auction set a category sales record in London last night.  This success comes during the first bounce-back in the art market since October 2008.

Raphael's sketch entitled "Head of Muse" sold for $47.9 million), the highest price ever paid for a drawing at auction.

Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, with his vice president and 11 cabinet ministers ventured 4 meters below to hold the world's first underwater cabinet meeting, pushing for stronger climate change agreements ahead of Copenhagen talks. (Photo via AP)

As the presses spent months tracking the path to Denmark, the story sparkled, then faded, then sort of turned into a pessimistic non-story, but now that it’s arrived there’s lots to tune into so to hell with it! Towering and wide, the to-do list in Copenhagen is overwhelming the news, and making the world’s cheers and jeers, both loud, sound like silence in this waiting game for climate change.

This week world leaders gathered to kick off the UN’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, to catalyze what some have called “a historic turning point in the fight against climate change.” The goals: a global consensus on a binding economic treaty designed to circle back on the Kyoto Protocol, slashing levels of hazardous emissions, protecting forests, and taking more steps toward drastically slowing the effects of global warming over the next 50 years.  Still, with 100 national leaders converging under the roof of Copenhagen’s Bella Center, tensions over the permanence of the treaty, various histories of “environmental abuse,” politics, time, and the magnitude of the Great Threat are growing ever palpable.

Talks surrounding this summit have called for a myriad issues to be addressed. A bloc of 43 smaller nations are congruent in their demands for binding legal climate agreements among the UN. Much of the developing world is calling on rich states to help them finance cleaner energy, which is more expensive than the cheap stuff that built the West. The global market for carbon credits, attempting to hold individual countries responsible for emissions regulation, is another major issue. China has been the chief beneficiary of the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), built under the Kyoto Protocol to set up a system of credits which can be sold and traded, and used by companies to offset their emissions. But its leaders now render the system an impractical means to a deadline-based end.

Time constraints have the potential to dilute the crafting of a careful, tactical, cohesive plan. The already thick Conference docket was thrown a curve-ball a few weeks ago, as an unknown individual surfaced controversial e-mails from a hacked server at the Climactic Research Center in Norwich, England. The e-mails, written by global warming experts, and now widely published on the internet, could easily indicate “that data was inaccurate or fudged, and some seemed to imply collusion about who and what was posted about global warming in peer-reviewed journals.”  Since the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change depends on temperature information from the CRC, the UN announced last week that their climate change scientists will investigate and address the e-mails, in a fiasco that got dubbed “Climategate” at the Climate Change Conference.

Then, Obama decided to show up for the part of the summit that’s actually important, and China had to go and shame the world’s other rapidly developing economies with that impossible! proposal to cut its 2005 carbon emissions almost in half by 2020.

Leave it to the presses. They’re waiting, too.

As are we. Latest find:

Reuters’ Environment forum — a question a day answered by climate experts.

Lula da Silva and Chavez: Are these two on the same team but playing different games?

Hugo Chavez’s “revolutionary” economic and political policies may be alienating his neighbors and greatest political allies. As U.S. attention turns further toward the Middle East, Latin American countries are looking elsewhere for world trading partners, and its leaders are emerging with potential to take the region to a different version of the Left.

Venezuela is still waiting to be incorporated into Mercosur, the South American trading bloc that includes Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. After Chavez’s most recent bellicose threats against Colombia, the legislatures of Brazil and Paraguay have stalled or tossed out provisions that would bring Venezuela’s entry to a vote.

“President Chavez with his statements is not helping; sometimes it seems he is not interested in Venezuela’s integration to Mercosur given his repeated contentious attitude”, said Paraguayan Senator Alberto Grillon vice president of the Foreign Affairs Upper House committee.

Earlier this week Mercosur officials headed to the EU, where Chavez has few friends, on a mission to increase trade and technical meetings between the two economic bodies. On Saturday, they signed a measure creating Econormas, a program designed to promote economic integration and sustainable development in Mercosur member nations. The $27 million plan is comprised of $18 million from the EU and $9 million from Brazil Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Elsewhere in Latin America, both leaders and country residents have been speaking out against Chavez and his version of populism, but not against the political and economic left. Last week former Mexican President Vicente Fox told Latin American and European leaders that Chavez’s influence and increasing authoritarianism was a danger to the region. Also in the week, Uruguay‘s former leftist guerilla Jose Mujica won the presidency by moving away from Chavez. He dismissed Chavez’s regime and claimed to have a deeper connection to South American golden boy, President Lula da Silva, of Brazil.

“[Voters] were afraid of the guerrilla past and the identification with Chávez,” says Oscar Bottinelli, a political analyst and head of the Factum polling group in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo. “They were afraid he will affect liberty and be repressive… It’s the model of Lula,” says Mr. Garcé. “To win the elections [in Brazil] he put on an Armani suit and said he wanted a government of the left but moderate to permit a political economy respectful of capitalism.”

Brazil’s boom and Lula’s capitalist-loving left can’t help but look attractive compared to Chavez’s handling of the Venezuelan economy. The country has fallen captive to lower oil prices, the global recession, and now is in recession itself. Its GDP, an indicator Chavez dismissed as an instrument of capitalism, contracted by 4.6% in the 3rd quarter. Private investment shrank as Chavez expanded the public sector under his state-driven economic model. By this week the government will have taken control of 7 small, private banks to be “rehabilitated” by the state. Possibly most damning for Chavez’s regime is the fact that the price of a common Venezuelan food basket is steadily increasing, by 1.6 percent in the last month and by over 20 percent in the last year.

Now, more than ever, Venezuela could use friends, but it seems the country’s losing them faster than its gaining them. Porfirio Lobo, the new and controversial President of Honduras, has announced he won’t let Venezuela meddle in the country’s internal affairs as Manuel Zelaya, his ousted predecessor, did. Chavez has been increasingly hostile to Colombia — its main trading partner. As a result, analysts project that trade between the two countries will be down 36 percent by the end of 2009. At the request of Colombia’s President, Alvaro Uribe, Dominican President Leonel Fernandez has offered to mediate between Venezuela and Colombia. According to Fernandez, the DR, “given its geographic position and friendly relations with its neighbors, has had other opportunities to mediate in regional conflicts and seek solutions to these differences.” Chavez should be hoping Fernandez is correct.