The Catchup: February 13, 2015

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Photo source: flickr/The Speaker - News) 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Photo source: flickr/The Speaker - News) 

 

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Africa

Asia

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave - and at times nearly shouted - Japan’s equivalent of a State of a Union address, in which he intensified his call for constitutional reform aimed at revising its ban on maintaining an armed force. Viewed warily by many - inside and out of the country - as being overly-militant, Abe tried to assure them that he was simply pursuing a path of “proactive pacifism.” Calls for more military potential were amplified in response to the executions by ISIS of two Japanese hostages this month.

Europe

  • After marathon negotiations - and as violent battle raged on in its east - Ukraine announced with Britain, France, Russia and separatist representatives a cease-fire to the conflict. Its terms are vague and weak though (it doesn’t even demarcate where the cease-fire will be held) and there is a widely shared fear that it will share the fate of its failed predecessor, the Minsk Protocol of last September.  
  • The new anti-austerity Greek government has been in and out of meetings all week with European finance officials in Brussels as well as in Berlin with its main obstacle - fiscally strict Germany - towards reaching a compromise to reduce its 240 euro debt burden. It has become a game of high-stakes poker, with European markets fluctuating wildly at each turn. Greece has left an ultimatum: help us out or we’re leaving from the eurozone. European financiers aren't convinced that giving in is worth the cost of setting a dangerous precedent to other countries struggling with debt. 

North America

  • President Obama is in Silicon Valley meeting with leaders in technology. Their stated goal is to find a way to cooperate to stop the recent wave of cyberattacks. But beneath it all is tension between the tech companies - who are trying to block even their own access to their customers’ data - and the government - who is willing to pay a high price to stay in the know. 
  • The Senate handily confirmed Ashton Carter as the new defense secretary. He will begin Tuesday after a remarkably uncontentious confirmation process. Through it he voiced support for arming Ukraine in its fight against its rebels, but stated that his top priority are aimed at managing relations with Iran and improving U.S. arms acquisition. 
  • Obama began to seek Congressional approval for his ongoing military action against the Islamic State. In attempt to garner support from both parties and placate fears of another protracted war, the authorization would give itself a 3-year limit as well as ruling out any extensive use of ground force.  

The Middle East

  • Arab governments and Muslim authorities have been galvanized to act with more resolve against ISIS after it spread the execution video of a Jordanian air force pilot across the internet. As the most enraged, Jordan has responded with relentless bombing of ISIS-held territory (with ISIS claiming that this killed their last U.S. hostage). There were statements across the region of solidarity for Jordan and denouncement for ISIS, but with little to show for them as strategies and capabilities are mixed. 

South America 

  • Protesters clashed with riot police in Venezuela on the one-year anniversary of anti-government demonstrations that led to 43 deaths. Low oil prices have left the socialist government, led by President Nicolas Maduro, unable to keep basic goods stocked. With Maduro’s approval rating at 20 percent, political tensions will only continue to rise.