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Obama and Israel

Can Jack Lew Do for Obama What AmeriCorps Did for Clinton?

January 13th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Jacob Lew

When the son of an Israeli Irgun member, left the White House to run for mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel left a void not quite filled by his replacement Bill Daley.  In many respects Daley was not able to fill the shoes for the President.  He could not get the respect of those he needed on the Hill and even within the Administration to be an effective advocate for Mr. Obama.  So when Daley seemingly abruptly resigned this week, there was no hesitation before New Yorker, and perennial Washington insider Jack Lew, and someone identified as an Orthodox Jew, was called on to step in.

Lew makes for an interesting choice for Mr. Obama, as he is one who has the respect of both sides.  He comes with impressive credentials stemming from his days working for Democratic Congressman Joe Moakley and the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill.  More recently, he was an executive at Citicorp where he ran a group that made alternative investments, such as hedge funds, credit swaps and other creative financial mechanisms that people such as the President say has hurt the economy. 

Lew served as Clinton's Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and also served as a member of the National Security Council.  A feature that might be helpful for Mr. Obama is that while at OMB, the U.S. budget saw a surplus for three years in a row.

Lew is an accomplished man with good intution, and he understands budgets and fiscal prudence. Maybe that’s why he was chosen. Going into what may be a harsh re-election campaign, Mr. Obama may be seeking to bolster his credibility among those who feel he has not done a good job on the economic front. As someone who designed Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps, a program that helped and continues to create jobs, opportunity, hope and civic pride, perhaps Lew was brought in to develop the next best thing for a struggling administration. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

A Chance for Guatemala to Produce Effective Progress towards Good Governance

January 11th 2012

Latin American Topics - Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala
Guatemalan president-elect Otto Perez Molina

In a rare push to promote indigenous rights in his country, outgoing Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom promised during his campaign to create a government that would seek to unite the ethnically and culturally diverse nation. Following his 2007 electoral victory, he announced, “My objective is to convert Guatemala into a social-democratic country with a Mayan face, with a corn tamale scent, and with the natural beauty that God gave us. It will be a pure Guatemalan social democracy that strengthens the nation’s unity and identity.”

But the level of violence in Guatemala has since suffocated such rhetoric; the country today has the seventh highest rate of violent deaths in the world. In what will undoubtedly be a dramatic political shift from moderate left to hard right, Otto Pérez Molina will take over as president on January 14, 2012. The new administration can either keep up with the progress being made on peacemaking and reconciliation in the areas of indigenous and human rights or all but dismiss the issue as it tackles Guatemala’s notorious security problem. Read more ..

Edge on The Caribbean

Renowned attorney Announces Presidential Bid and offers Road to Rule of Law for Dominican Republic

January 11th 2012

Latin American Topics - Guillermo Moreno Garcia

Guillermo Moreno García, who served as Attorney General of the Dominican Republic from 1996 to 1997, also was a presidential candidate for the Movement for Independence, Unity and Change (Movimiento Independencia, Unidad y Cambio – MIUCA) during the country’s 2008 elections. After his defeat in those elections, Moreno García created his own leftist party, Alianza País, and will run for the presidency again in the upcoming 2012 elections. His supporters hope that his various accomplishments will cast his candidacy in a positive light and raise his popularity.

Perhaps one of Moreno García’s most noticeable achievements was his involvement in the Orlando Martínez case. A famed Dominican journalist, Orlando Martínez Howley was killed on March 17, 1975 during the rule of former President Joaquín Balaguer (1960-1962, 1966-1978, 1986-1996). This president’s second term became known as the “12 years of Balaguer,” a very dark era in Dominican history due to Balaguer’s totalitarian inclinations. Orlando Martínez Howley was just one of hundreds of young people killed or “disappeared” during this period. Although General Joaquín Pou Castro participated in this violent crime against Martínez, neither he nor the other involved perpetrators were persecuted at the time. In fact, justice began to be acheived only when Dominican Republic opinion forced Balaguer to jail the murderers. But in a matter of weeks, the government released the detainees and even promoted them. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Assessing Obama’s Africa Policy, Looking at 2012 and Beyond

January 11th 2012

Africa Topics - Obama in Africa

The Washington-based Brookings Institution said Africa, to benefit from development opportunities in 2012, must prioritize regional integration efforts and manage a growing youth population. The public policy organization said the continent will have to increase the profile of organizations, such as the African Union, to sustain advancements in public health and increase the African voice in global governance. Wednesday, the group’s Africa Growth Initiative hosts a discussion to identify top priorities for Africa for the coming year and beyond.

Senior Fellow Mwangi Kimenyi, director of the Africa Growth Initiative, said, if re-elected in November, President Barack Obama must take a pro-active policy position that encourages more engagement with Africa. “What we are seeing is sort of what we may call a decline of the United States in Africa because it is being edged out slowly by China, Brazil, Russia, and others.  And so, we would like to see President Obama take a very pro-active policy position with regards to Africa,” he said. Kimenyi said Obama, in his first term, maintained funding for programs initiated and promoted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, including HIV and AIDS treatment and research funding. He also said while the president introduced his own initiatives, such as the Feed the Future program and the Global Climate Initiative, such initiatives are small in scale and scope. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

US Leadership Needed as Iranian President Ahmadinejad courts Latin American Leftists

January 10th 2012

Venezuela Topics - Chavez and Ahmadinejad
Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez and Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

President Barack Obama’s authorization of the expulsion of the Venezuelan consul general from that country’s consulate office has further deteriorated relations between the two countries. Although the Obama administration has not been explicit as to the reason for the expulsion, the action is within Washington’s legal right. This decision makes it even more apparent that Washington is unwilling or unable to implement policies that will constructively influence Latin America.

The White House’s latest decision displays the hard truth that President Obama’s approach is to deal with left-leaning hemispheric regimes with a hard-line political agenda of ridicule rather than through constructive policy-making in the region. His administration’s attitude seems to be that no hemispheric issue has the potential to be a compelling factor in the next US presidential election. However, votes could be picked up from rightist exile groups coming from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela among other disaffected conservatives, who hold passionate thoughts on their personal political agendas. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

On Budget, Santorum Looks to Out-Cut Them All

January 9th 2012

Politics - Santorum
Rick Santorum

Republican White House hopeful Rick Santorum is proposing cuts to the federal budget that are firmly to the right of Republicans in Congress and his rivals for the GOP nomination. Santorum’s goal of cutting $5 trillion in federal spending over five years exceeds any budget-cutting proposal put forward by the congressional GOP. He would cut federal spending faster and deeper than the budget plans from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the conservative House Republican Study Committee. The cuts in Santorum’s budget even trump Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has proposed eliminating four Cabinet departments.

The House-passed 2012 GOP budget would cut spending by over $1 trillion over five years, while the RSC would cut it by $2.3 trillion and Paul’s would cut it by $3 trillion, when compared to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) baseline. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, has tried to distinguish himself from his rivals for the GOP nomination with his budget plan. But the approach also carries political risks, as his plan would almost certainly require immediate benefit cuts for current retirees, leaving him vulnerable to charges that he would destroy the safety net for seniors.

Mitt Romney, who beat Santorum in the Iowa caucuses by only eight votes, has said he supports a “cut, cap and balance” plan that would bring spending down to 20 percent of the economy from the current 24 percent.
This plan puts him in line with the numbers in the House-passed budget, which was the basis of the House’s “cut, cap and balance” bill this summer. The House budget gets to 20 percent over 10 years by cutting $5 trillion. Candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is also polling strongly in the GOP race, has released a full budget proposal that would eliminate five Cabinet departments, but that four-year plan would rack up only $4.1 trillion in cuts by 2016, compared to the CBO baseline. Read more ..

Research News

Americans Say R&D Essential to Reviving America

January 9th 2012

Science - Research and Development Chemistry

The new edition of America Speaks, a compilation of public opinion polls commissioned by Research!America, demonstrates increasing public support for research and innovation to improve health, create jobs and boost the economy. However, nearly 60% of Americans don't believe we are making enough progress in medical research, and 54% don't believe the U.S. has the best health care system in the world.

These polls reveal notable themes in Americans' views on health research and the country's global competitiveness. For example, 77% agree that the U.S. is losing its competitive edge in science, technology and innovation.

Despite these findings, many Americans (86%) believe that advances in science have benefited society and have helped make life easier for most people. A vast majority (91%) also believe that research and development are important to their state's economy. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Presidential Candidates Outspending Super PACs

January 8th 2012

Politics - mitt romney

The “super PACs” backing various presidential contenders spent at least $12.9 million last year to help their favorite White House hopefuls — that’s a lot, but it represents only a fraction of the amount spent by the candidates themselves.

Through the end of last September, the campaigns of Democratic President Barack Obama and Republicans Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Fred Karger, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Buddy  Roemer, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain combined amounted to $74 million.

That’s according to an analysis of campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics. Read more ..

Inside South America

Whither the Latin American Left in View of Ailing Chavez of Venezuela

January 7th 2012

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez sick
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez spent a long absence from his country in Cuba earlier last year, opponents and sympathizers alike wondered about his future as his nation’s undisputed commander in chief. But mounting speculations about the exact nature and implications of his ailment proliferated. Later, it began to circulate that Chávez was suffering from an advanced case of colon cancer after information was made public by the Spanish media. After his health circumstances became known, Chávez pledged to the nation that he would continue ruling Venezuela “until 2031.” In fact, he boasted that he would consider the years between 2020 and 2030 to be his “golden decade.”

The question now is whether Chávez was just being waggish or whether he realizes that his ultimate fate is not necessarily in his hands. Many experts are asking whether Chávez’s health will permit him to keep the Bolivarian Revolution nimble, with some arguing that Chávez won’t be able to accomplish all of his visions. This is because he may have “only…two years to live,” and he may be physically unable to run for the presidency, possibly even for the 2012 electoral cycle.

Indeed, Chávez’s current health condition has fostered many questions about the expectations of his left-leaning constituency in Venezuela, a cohort that already has presented some socioeconomic problems to his leadership within the country’s widely accepted ideological bounds, some of these had helped spawn no shortage of previous diplomatic blunders and triumphs abroad. The country’s traditional concerns for the poor have centered on whether the delivery of promised benefits would continue rather than be aborted by a precipitous oil earnings. Nevertheless, a rabidly anti-Chávez Wall Street Journal, insisted that his cure for Venezuela’s past and current maladies has always been for Chávez to “deepen the socialist revolution: socialism, socialism and more socialism. We have to deepen the struggle and defeat the vices of the past that still persist among us: violence, insecurity, corruption, selfishness, individualism.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Santorum Looks for Staying Power

January 6th 2012

Politics - Santorum
Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum’s near victory in Iowa has bought his campaign a second look. Now he must prove he’s not Mike Huckabee 2.0. Like the former Arkansas governor who emerged unexpectedly from the political backwoods to trounce the establishment candidates in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, Santorum has both serendipitous timing and the strength of the evangelical movement to thank for his dead-heat finish opposite Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s caucuses. But if Santorum has his way, the parallels will stop there.

Huckabee finished a distant third in New Hampshire’s primary with only 11 percent, and eventually faded from the race. The former governor was unable to score strong results outside the conservative Iowa caucuses and the South as he battled Romney and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who went on to become the eventual GOP nominee. Santorum, a two-term senator from blue-state Pennsylvania, thinks he’s different.

Eager to stave off misgivings that his appeal is as limited as Huckabee’s was four years ago, Santorum in a victory speech in Iowa used his earlier Rust Belt victories as proof positive that voters of all stripes will gravitate to his working-class message. “If we have someone who can go out to western Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and Indiana and Wisconsin and Iowa and Missouri, and appeal to the voters that have been left behind by a Democratic Party that wants to make them dependent instead of valuing their work, we will win this election,” Santorum told supporters on Tuesday while the last of the caucus votes were still being tallied. It was a reminder to a national audience now paying attention to Santorum that he won races in Pennsylvania territory that was inauspicious for a Republican — and won by sizable margins. To prove he has staying power, and to establish a feasible path to the nomination, Santorum will have to have to prove he can assemble a solid ground game in states where he has spent far less time, and with far fewer resources, than Romney. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Wealth of Tea Party House Members Exceeds that of other Republicans

January 5th 2012

America Themes - Tea Party Caucus
House Tea Party Caucus

Their politics may differ. But both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement have laid claim to representing the interests of the middle class, whose economic frustrations helped spur the groups' establishment and growth.

So which side's congressional lawmakers come closest to embodying that wide swath of the U.S. population? Or, in Occupy terms, which side is closer to the 99 percent?

Neither the members of the House Tea Party Caucus nor those of the House Progressive Caucus -- whose views most closely align with the Occupy Wall Street movement -- are remotely middle class, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics of congressional personal financial disclosure forms covering 2010, the most recently available data. The members of the House Tea Party Caucus are especially wealthy, the Center's research shows. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Gallup: Republican Race 'Most Volatile' Since Polling Started

January 4th 2012

Politics - Voting

The lead for the GOP presidential nomination has changed seven times says a new Gallup poll report which calls the Republican race the "most volatile for the GOP since the advent of polling." The Gallup report says this is the first time since 1964 where the GOP front-runner spot has seen so many changes. Gallup counts four front-runners and seven lead changes since polling began in May with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry all holding front-runner status at different stages in the contest. Gallup adds that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin both tied current front-runner Mitt Romney for the lead at early stages of the race. Both Huckabee and Palin however eventually declined to run for the nomination.

Looking for historical parallels, Gallup says the current GOP race most resembles the Democratic race for the 2004 nomination when Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle all took turns as the front-runner. In that race, the holder of the Democratic top spot changed nine times throughout Gallup's 2003 polling. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

‘Super PACs’ Spend $13 Million on Early Primaries, Romney Top Beneficiary

January 3rd 2012

Money - US Paper Money

New outside spending groups, dubbed super PACs, that can accept unlimited donations from corporations and wealthy individuals, spent $12.9 million in Iowa and other early GOP battleground states through New Year’s Day, according to an analysis of federal data. The top beneficiary was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. A total of $4.6 million was spent to help the nominal front-runner, the vast majority for ads torpedoing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Second was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who benefited from $3.7 million in outside spending.

According to analysis of Federal Election Commission data,12 outside super PACs spent money, mostly on advertising, with the intention of electing or defeating a GOP presidential candidate. Ten have not yet reported their donors. The two that have did so last summer. The upshot is that voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, all of whose contests will be held this month, won’t know who is paying for much of the advertising they see until after their votes are cast. The next reports on donors aren’t due until January 31, the day of the Florida primary. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Obama – Good for Israel, Even for Those who Don’t Think He Is

January 1st 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama AIPAC

For anyone who may have not been paying attention lately, President Barack Obama has been making greater attempts to demonstrate just how dedicated he is to Israel and therefore, for Jews in America.  The debate rages on as to whether Obama has been the best or the worst president for Jews as far as Israel is concerned, and in this election year we can be assured of one certainty; both sides will make the claim that benefits their own candidate for the White House, but what is the true and what is hyperbole?

To best answer the question, first we need to separate how good Obama is for the Jews versus how good he might be for Israel.  The two need to be divided, as without Israel Jews have little else to set themselves apart as Americans and voters as any religious group or any national group within our union.

Jews, like Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Moslems and all others, want religious freedoms. As a community, Jews seek social justice just as many advocate groups do, advocating for laws regarding welfare, education, and similar matters.


The 2012

Unlimited Presidential Fundraising: The Curse Of Steve Forbes

December 31st 2011

Money - Dollar Bills

It all started with Steve Forbes. Up until 1996, there were practical restraints on fundraising for a presidential race. In the primaries, the Federal Election Commission provided matching funds to candidates if they stuck to spending limits, both per-state and overall. Any candidate who wanted an influx of public funding had to limit the outflow, too.

In the general election, each major party's nominee took public funding with the proviso that he couldn't raise any money on his own. Sounds like a good deal, but the candidates haven't always been happy about it. They felt hamstrung by the spending limits in small but important early-voting states as well as the overall primary spending restrictions. Still, as recently as 1996, Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican Bob Dole ran for president while raising a mere $35 million each in campaign contributions. However, during the same election, Forbes refused matching funds so he could reach into his very deep pockets during the GOP primary. The billionaire put more than $37 million of his own money into his campaign. Read more ..

China and Latin America

China Seeks to Drive the Industrialization of Latin America

December 31st 2011

Latin American Topics - ollanta humala peru
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala speaks at China/Latinamerican Summit

On November 21, the Peruvian capital, hosted the fifth China – Latin America Summit, in which for two days were discussed a roster of urgent topics involved in order to achieve further development in terms of commerce and trade between China (PRC) and Latin America.  The Summit was attended by over a thousand business leaders and public officials from the PRC and from all of the Latin American countries.  Since the world financial crisis of 2008, Chinese corporations have devoted special attention to diversify their investment potential throughout South America in particular.
According to Mr. Zhang Wei, the Vice President of the Chinese Council of International Trade Promotion (CCPIT), in 2010 China and Latin America, reached record levels of USD 183 billion in inter-regional trade and commerce.  In the coming years, Chinese business hope to have a wider grasp and a more comprehensive investment expansion strategy in high production areas such as energy, infrastructure, mining and telecommunications.  It is believed that with the help of this year’s end gathering, Chinese business activists will reach a record level of their investments thrust, with growth pointed at an upwards of USD 22.7 billion.  Read more ..

Broken Banking

Whistleblowers Ignored, Punished by Lenders, Dozens of Former Employees Say

December 29th 2011

Finance - Wells Fargo

Darcy Parmer ran into trouble soon after she started her job as a fraud analyst at Wells Fargo Bank. Her bosses, she later claimed, were upset that she was, well, finding fraud. Company officials, she alleged in a lawsuit, berated her for reporting that sales staffers were pushing through mortgage deals based on made-up borrower incomes and other distortions, telling her that she didn’t “see the big picture” and that “it is not your job to fix Wells Fargo.” Management, she claimed, ordered her to stop contacting the company’s ethics hotline. In the end, she said, Wells Fargo forced her out of her job.

Parmer isn’t alone in claiming she was punished for objecting to fraud in the midst of the nation’s home-loan boom. iWatch News has identified 63 former employees at 20 financial institutions who say they were fired or demoted for reporting fraud or refusing to commit fraud. Their stories were disclosed in whistleblower claims with the U.S. Department of Labor or court documents. “We did our jobs. We had integrity,” said Ed Parker, former fraud investigations manager at now-defunct Ameriquest Mortgage Co., a leading subprime lender. “But we were not welcome because we affected the bottom line.” Read more ..

Inside Washington

Hollywood, Pro-Israel lobby, Unions Seek Exemptions from Ban on Lobbyist Gifts

December 29th 2011

Money - US Paper Money

Associations representing Hollywood studios and the pro-Israel lobby are among the powerful Washington groups seeking exemptions from a new ethics rule prohibiting federal workers from attending events sponsored by lobbyists.

The proposed rule takes aim at Washington’s influence industry by prohibiting all federal workers—career and political appointees of the executive branch—from going to widely attended gatherings sponsored by lobbyists or groups registered to lobby. In addition, they wouldn’t be able to accept social invitations or small gifts from those on K Street.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) argued that the rule could prevent federal workers from attending its movie screenings, while the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) argued it could keep people from visiting its popular annual meeting. A major union for public workers argued that unions should be exempt because the law would otherwise depress union membership. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

White House Casts Obama as Warrior for the Middle Class

December 29th 2011

Presidential - Obama Campaign 2012

President Obama’s latest makeover casts himself as a middle class warrior, a campaign theme his team thinks will resonate with voters in 2012.

After struggling to find a winning message, Obama has amped up his role as defender of the middle class and been rewarded with his highest bounce in the polls in months.

Just this week, for example, a Gallup poll revealed that more people viewed him favorably than unfavorably for the first time since July.

Observers say it’s no coincidence, crediting Obama’s sharpened populist pitch-- where he unveiled the American Jobs Act and stood his ground during the payroll tax extension stalemate – as a major part of his spike in popularity.

To be sure, congressional Republicans who bickered and botched that end-of-year debate deserve some credit for the president’s bounce. Read more ..

Inside Brazil

Brazil Surpasses Britain as Sixth-Largest Economy in the World

December 29th 2011

Brazil - Brazil slum baby

A leading economic research group says Brazil has overtaken Britain as the world's sixth-largest economy. The London-based Center for Economics and Business Research says Britain lost out to the South American country in 2011 and will likely slide further as faster-growing economies such as Russia and India surge ahead.

After a tough recession and a banking crash, Great Britain has fallen to 7th place, behind larger and faster-growing Brazil. The South American country expanded at a three percent rate in 2011 and is projected to grow five percent in 2012. Economist Armando Castelar says the new ranking is unimportant, but he adds it is a confidence builder for Brazil. "The position is more about statistics than economics," he says.  "The economy is what really matters.  "But," he adds, "it has a psychological effect that helps with attracting investments," Castelar said. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Hamas Says Talks are Just a Stage to Total Step-by-Step Israeli Destruction

December 28th 2011

Palestine Topics - Abbas Haniyeh

At a ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh said that Hamas may work for the “interim objective of liberation of Gaza, the West Bank, or Jerusalem,” but that this “interim objective” and “reconciliation” with Fatah will not change Hamas’s long-term “strategic” goal of eliminating all of Israel:

“The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers [Israel] … We won’t relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine.”

In his speech, Haniyeh also promised that Hamas will “lead Intifada after Intifada until we liberate Palestine—all of Palestine, Allah willing. Allah Akbar and praise Allah.” Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Massive Russian Protests Pose Growing Challenge to Putin

December 25th 2011

Russian Topics - Moscow Rally 2011-12-24
Moscow Rally, December 24, 2011 (credit: Bogomolov.PL)

When Russia’s protest movement started three weeks ago, many in the Kremlin calculated that winter would kill it off. The December 24 rally to protest alleged fraud in the December 4 parliamentary elections, however, was bigger than the first large protest on December 10.

The protesters shouted “New Elections, New Elections,” and organizers say their densely packed mass on Sakharov Avenue reached 100,000 people, which would exceed the numbers who showed up to protest at a similar rally in Moscow two weeks ago. Russian police estimated this Saturday's turnout at only 30,000.

The crowd Saturday protested the allegedly tainted victory on December 4 of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

The Truth about Palestinian Desire for Peace with Israel

December 25th 2011

Palestine Topics - Israeli Flag being burned

Israel's quest for peace with its neighbors starts with a desire to engage in mutually beneficial cooperative activities and to build confidence and positive attitudes to encourage coexistence and lasting peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with President Obama, has spent most of the last three years trying to convince Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to simply sit at the negotiating table to reach a peace agreement. Abbas has stubbornly refused to engage in peace talks. Worse, he is now doing everything in his power to prevent other Palestinians from engaging Israelis in any way.

The West Bank-ruling Fatah party declared war on normalization with Israel, Bethlehem's (Palestinian) mayor called for a total boycott of Israel, and hundreds of Palestinians successfully interrupted and stopped two conferences about peace whose participants included Palestinians and Israelis.

Senior Fatah official Hatem Abdel Kader announced Fatah's plans to "thwart any Palestinian-Israeli meeting, even if it's held in Tel Aviv or west Jerusalem...In Fatah we have officially decided to ban such gatherings." Last week, Palestinians stopped an attempt by the Israeli Palestinian Confederation to hold a conference in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and the following day, another anti-normalization protest forced the group to cancel another planned meeting at which Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh planned to speak. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Libya

Challenges Facing the Libyan Government

December 25th 2011

Abdul Rahim al-Keib
Abdul Rahim al-Keib

Escalating militia clashes and protests are challenging the legitimacy of Libya's interim government at a crucial period of transition from the chaos of the post-Muammar Qadhafi phase to that of statebuilding. Yet the National Transition Council (NTC) can successfully execute the last seven months of its statebuilding mandate before elections are held, as long as the government gets access to Libya's frozen assets, some of which were released last week. Foreign expertise, particularly U.S. experience, should also help.

Libya's interim prime minister, Abdul Rahim al-Keib, has charted a bold course. Choosing neophyte candidates over those with experience, he has formed a government of technocrats drawn from across Libya, a country where east-west tension runs deep. He also resisted the urge to nominate to his cabinet powerful Islamists from the Tripoli Military Council (TMC) or the Tripoli Revolutionists Council (TRC), even though these entities had pressed hard for portfolios, particularly in the Defense and Interior ministries. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il Dead—But the World Worries

December 19th 2011

Korea Topics - kim jong il and 'family'

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, 69, has died after nearly two decades in power.

The White House said it was closely monitoring reports that the reclusive leader was dead. President Obama has been notified of the reports, and the U.S. is in touch with South Korea and Japan, the White House said in a statement Sunday night.

“We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies,” the statement said.

Kim’s death introduces new uncertainties into the stability of Asia, where Obama has sought to advance U.S. economic and security interests. Asian stock indexes fell with the news he had died. Read more ..

Palestine and Israel

Hamas Overtakes the Palestinian Authority in Jordan

December 19th 2011

Terrorism - Hamas leader Khaled Meshal
Hamas leader Khaled Meshal

As of November 29, 2011, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal will visit Jordan officially for the first time since he was expelled in 1999. The meeting showcases Amman's warming relations with the terrorist group that now governs Gaza, as well as its cooling relations with Israel.

According to a statement made by Minister for Information Affairs Rakan Al-Majali, this significant visit will open with a meeting with King Abdullah II himself. Given Jordan's substantial Palestinian population, the Palestinian question remains integral to the country's public discourse. In the past, the monarchy sought to quell the Muslim Brotherhood and deny power to its Palestinian sympathizers in Jordan. But the uprisings of the Arab spring have put unelected leaders on the ropes—so much so that the king now seems willing to meet Meshal face to face. Read more ..

Middle East on Edge

What the American Withdrawal from Iraq Means for Israel

December 18th 2011

Israeli Military - Israeli Jets Parked

On October 21, President Obama announced the impending end of U.S. military operations in Iraq, ordering the complete withdrawal of American forces by the end of 2011. Unable or unwilling to strike a deal to secure a long-term military presence, the president confidently declared that “Iraqis have taken full responsibility for their country’s security,” leading to much anxiety amongst American commanders.

Although both governments have pledged to work closely together to continue securing Iraq from both external and internal threats, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, commander of the NATO Training Mission in Iraq and chief of the Office of Security Cooperation responsible for training and equipping Iraqi forces, has acknowledged that there will be a major “training gap” following the American withdrawal. Following comments made last month by Maj. Gen. Russell Handy, responsible for training Iraq’s fledgling air force, that there would be a minimum 2–3 year gap in Iraq’s ability to defend its airspace, the United States is leaving Iraq behind at a precarious period when it is not yet able to defend itself. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Israel’s Proposed Rebuilding of one Temple Mount Entrance is Not an Act of Religious War

December 18th 2011

Israel Topics - Mughrabi Gate

On Monday, December 12, 2011, Israel temporarily closed the single pedestrian walkway open to non-Muslims that leads to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Israel’s Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which closed the walkway to the Mugrabi Bridge, cited the public safety of visitors who use the walkway as the reason for closure. The ramp is a temporary structure that is unstable, a fire hazard, and prone to storm damage. It was built after an earthquake damaged the original ramp in 2004.

Israel wants to build a safer, permanent structure, but has been reluctant to do so because of the type of hysterical reaction of Arab officials that accompanied the brief closure of the current bridge. Egyptian, Jordanian, and Palestinian (Hamas and the Palestinian Authority) officials characterized the Israeli move as negative, and their statements range from calling it “illegal” and “unacceptable” to “a declaration of religious war.” Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Harvard's Middle East Outreach Center Headed By BDS Supporter

December 16th 2011

Education Topics - Statue of John Harvard by Daniel Chester French, in Harvard Yard, Harvard University
Statue of John Harvard at Harvard University

According to The Tab, a Boston-area newspaper, Newton resident Tony Pagliuso was shocked when he examined a reading selection on the treatment of women in the Middle East his daughter brought home from her history class at Newton South High School. The article, from a controversial textbook called The Arab World Studies Notebook, falsely accused Israeli soldiers of murdering Arab women. Pagliuso was incensed to discover such defamatory material disseminated in his daughter's school and raised the issue with school officials.
The incident prompts two critical questions that school systems need to address as they introduce the study of the modern Middle East to students: How do they identify reputable sources on such a contentious topic and what procedures do school systems need to put in place to evaluate curricular material supplied to them. Regrettably, some of the most prominent academic institutions educators turn to for training and curricula offer dubious scholarship tainted by partisan ideological agendas. Read more ..

Iraq After Withdrawal

A Fresh Start to U.S.-Iraqi Relations

December 14th 2011

Iraq - Iraqi Forces

As the United States completes its military pullout from Iraq, two events this week will offer the opportunity for a clear statement of Washington's postwithdrawal policy toward Baghdad: today, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with President Obama at the White House, and on Wednesday, the president will deliver a speech on Iraq at Fort Bragg. Ideally, this fresh start to bilateral relations will focus on establishing red lines concerning the protection of U.S. citizens in Iraq, counterterrorism cooperation, human rights, and the observance of democratic norms. Iraq should not be a place where Iranian-backed militants can threaten U.S. interests, nor where an authoritarian regime can violate the rights of its citizens with impunity.

The White House Visit

Maliki's trip to Washington was not a foregone conclusion -- Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters have pressed the prime minister to cancel the visit since mid-October. That Maliki decided to come despite these pressures is indicative of his ongoing desire for a strategic relationship with the United States. His recent actions suggest that he feels insecure on a number of fronts. Notwithstanding his paranoia - a trait seemingly bred into him during long years of exile from Saddam-era Iraq - Maliki's concerns have some basis in reality.

Coup worries

Intelligence reports provided by either the Libyan or Syrian government (media reporting differs on this issue) appear to have stoked Maliki's fear of a Sunni-led coup backed by Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Lagarde Meets with Rousseff and Mantega as Part of Her Visit to Latin America to Negotiate Brazil’s Lending to the IMF

December 13th 2011

IMF - Christine Lagarde
Christine Lagarde

For many years, Brazil was a constant borrower of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but this time the country has been formally requested to lend funds to the IMF, which shows a remarkable shifting of power in the international scenario. With that in mind, Christine Lagarde held a meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her finance minister Guido Mantega as part of her first visit to Latin America as the IMF’s managing director.

Although the details of the lending proposal are still in negotiation, after the aforementioned meeting, Brazil has indicated that it would lend to the IMF on the condition that it restructures its quota system. The quotas have been denominated as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), which is the IMF’s unit of account and affords the quota-holders voting power. Currently, Brazil accounts for 4,250.5 million SDRs, which represent 43,246 votes. Therefore, the country seeks to increase its influence with the previously mentioned quota restructuring initiative and take a more central role in the IMF’s decision-making process, a goal that is consistent with Rousseff’s aims to expand Brazil’s “great country” campaign to flex its influence in the global community.

According to Mantega, Brazil’s willingness to help is not only in response to the European crisis, but also with the destiny of the developing countries in mind: “I believe that the euro zone has the tools to overcome the crisis, but while it doesn’t happen, the situation is getting worse. Our concern is not only with the European countries, but mainly with the emerging countries.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Israeli Officials Slam Obama as Soft on Iran

December 12th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama in Thought

Despite maintaining a veneer of happy collaboration, Israeli officials are deeply unhappy with the Obama administration's approach to the Iranian nuclear program.

It has long been assumed by observers that this is the case, but thus far there has been no public confirmation of it. That changed on Sunday night, when officials speaking under the cover of anonymity said that all is definitely not well behind the scenes.

"While the House of Representatives and the Senate are promoting (anti-Iran) legislation," said one of the officials, the White House is operating according to an ideology which could be defined as "hesitant." The Iranian issue calls for a clear stance, but the administration has yet to take the necessary measures to significantly hurt the ayatollahs' regime. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

Hugo Chavez and Venezuela's Cloudy Future

December 12th 2011

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez sick
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela

As the 2012 Venezuelan presidential electoral season begins, many question whether Hugo Chávez will manage to remain in power and if his overall performance merits another term in office. As expected, Chávez’s presidency has been filled with instances of both success and failure since he came to power in 1999, and his past record has led the Venezuelan people to contend over the future of Venezuela and whether Hugo Chávez should be a part of it. An analysis of Venezuela’s current social and economic condition provide part of the answer as well as Chávez’s political actions, and each must be carefully assessed in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Chávez administration and its “Bolivarian Revolution.” In doing so, a more informative decision can be made as to whether or not, taken as a whole, the Venezuelan firebrand deserves reelection in the coming year.

Social Indicators

Beginning in 2003, the Chávez administration commenced a series of “Bolivarian Missions” intended to address the social problems facing Chavista Venezuela. These missions set out to improve a number of serious social problems festering in key sectors such as healthcare, education, housing, food and nutrition, and agriculture. Through a few of the most influential missions, Chávez has been able to improve such mainstays as healthcare and education, but Venezuela still struggles with a biting housing shortage and a crippling crime rate.

Missions Barrio Adentro, Robinson, and Ribas were great successes. Mission Barrio Adentro sought to provide free and high quality health care by increasing the number of primary care physicians twelvefold while constructing several thousand additional health centers across the country. As a result, over 300,000 lives have been saved and infant mortality has been reduced by twenty percent. Mission Robinson was a literacy campaign that used the help of community and military volunteers to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic to the underprivileged adult population. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia's Wasteland of Lawyers, Murder, Democracy and Justice

December 11th 2011

Colombia Topics - Armed Police

On May 25, 2011, Avocats Sans Frontieres Canada and the Colombian Caravana UK Lawyers Group launched a report detailing the findings of a visit to Colombia by an international caravana of lawyers. The visit by a large and impressive group of international legal talent was undertaken to carry out an inventory of the status of the Colombian legal system and the working conditions faced by Colombian lawyers. Their report painted a damning picture of the Colombian legal system, establishing that “there continues to be a large number of assassinations of and threats against Colombian lawyers, human rights defenders and trade unionists, indications of the continued violent activity of former members of paramilitary groups and challenges to accessing justice by victims.”

This represents a depressing indictment of the lack of progress made in upholding the autonomy and safeguarding the effectiveness and security of the Colombian legal system since 2008, when the first Caravana of Lawyers visited Colombia and reported that, on average, twenty-five lawyers and human rights advocates had been killed on a yearly basis since 1991. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Crash Course - Putin's Ambitions, America's Tolerance

December 9th 2011

Russian Topics - Putin

Despite the Kremlin's best effort, an Internet video emerged the other week of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin being booed by a full arena of fans at the end of a mixed martial arts fight in Moscow's Olympic Stadium. "Putin's spin-doctors came up with a variety of explanations of the booing-from anger at lack of access to toilets during the speech to abuse directed toward the departing losing fighter," the Daily Beast reported. "None made much sense...Suddenly, it seems, Russian everymen aren't so thrilled by their once and future Tsar."

Indeed, the Olympic Stadium scene proved to be an accurate precursor to the Parliamentary elections held over the weekend in Russia.

"United Russia, the governing party of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, suffered surprisingly steep losses in parliamentary elections on Sunday and was barely clinging to a 50 percent majority, with nearly three-quarters of the votes counted," the New York Times reported. But though Putin's popularity is waning, his power in Russia is not. Read more ..

The Edge on Terrorism

Palestinian Terrorists Show no Remorse Despite Israeli Clemency

December 8th 2011

Terrorism - Hamas head

Israel hoped that the 477 prisoners it released as part of the Gilad Shalit exchange deal in October 2011 would show remorse for their actions; however, the oldest prisoner released so far seems to be the only one with any hint of penitence.

Seventy-nine-year-old Sami Younis had served 29 years of a 40-year sentence for activity in the terror cell that murdered soldier Avraham Bromberg in 1980. While never explicitly expressing regret, Younis said that "what was correct for that time is no longer correct. Since theOslo accord, I've become a soldier for peace. Sixty years of war and bloodshed is enough."

Unfortunately, several other prisoners have shown no remorse whatsoever for their heinous crimes and immediately incited others to follow in their terrorist footsteps. These include failed suicide bombers and Palestinians who dispatched or drove other terrorists to attack Israeli bus stations, hotels and restaurants.

These killers and would-be murderers were welcomed home as heroes not only by their families and friends but also by Palestinian Authority officials. President Mahmoud Abbas, often called a "moderate" by wishful thinkers, declared, "You are freedom fighters and holy warriors." Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Nuclear-Equipped Iran is a Worldwide Game-Changer

December 7th 2011

Iran - Ahmadinejad Nuclear

Sanctions and sabotage have not stopped them. Neither have threats nor United Nations resolutions. Iran's leaders say they'll never give up their nuclear program, and evidence shows the Iranians are closer than ever before to acquiring the bomb.

So how would a nuclear-armed Iran change the face of the Middle East and the world?

According to reports, Iran already has enough enriched uranium to produce at least four nuclear bombs.

And unless something changes, it appears the writing is on the wall for Iran's neighbors.

"In the end, I would argue that Saudi Arabia, which is the most Sunni, most Wahhabi -- which is the most extreme of the Sunnis -- is in more danger than America or Israel or Europe or anybody else," Harold Rhode, a senior advisor to the Hudson Institute, told CBN News. See video here.

Rhode, a former foreign affairs specialist at the Pentagon, said nuclear weapons would allow Iran to dominate its neighbors and set the global price of oil.

"The Saudis and other people who are supplying the world with oil and gas would have to kowtow to the dictates of this tyrannical regime in Tehran," he predicted. Read more ..

Mideast on Edge

Fire Spreads Both Ways

December 5th 2011

Iran - Iranian clerics and sailors

Before the Arab upheavals of 2011, the Middle East was dominated by a cold war, pitting US-aligned regional states against a self-designated “Muqawama (resistance) Axis” of states and movements led by Iran. Both these blocs still exist. Both have been in different ways diminished by the ferment currently under way in the Arabic-speaking world.

The Iran-led Resistance Axis liked to portray itself as the representative of authentic local Muslim forces, arrayed against a corrupt and declining alliance of local collaborators aligned with the US and Israel. Contrary to its preferred script, however, various components of this bloc now find themselves under siege and threatened by forces unleashed by the Arab Spring.

This was not how it looked at the start. The first two casualties of the 2011 ferment were staunchly pro- Western Arab leaders – Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. The Iranian leadership at that point heralded the “Islamic Awakening” across the region. Syrian President Bashar Assad explained in a seminal interview with The Wall Street Journal on January 31 that Syria and its allies would remain untouched by the ferment because of their identification with the deeper desires of the peoples of the region; namely, opposing the West and supporting the Palestinians.

The Resistance Axis was looking forward to settling down and enjoying the sight of the rival bloc tearing itself apart. It hasn’t quite turned out like that.

America on Edge

Older Floridians Have No Backup Plan After Hanging Up Their Keys

December 5th 2011

Social Topics - walking-cane

Florida is home to one of the highest percentages of residents ages 65 and older in the United States, but very few of them have thought ahead to a time when they will no longer be able to drive a vehicle safely or considered how they will get around without a car, according to a new survey developed by Florida State University and the Florida Department of Transportation.

In fact, 13 percent of survey respondents indicated they would not stop driving at all, with 3 percent expressing the opinion that they would die before they would stop driving.

The findings reflect a serious issue in Florida—and across the nation—that older drivers are at a disproportionate risk for being involved in a fatal vehicular crash, according to John Reynolds, the Eagles Professor of Sociology at Florida State and director of the university's Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

November Jobs Not Quite a Feast

December 4th 2011

Economy - Unemployment Line in California
Unemployment Line in California

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of jobs grew in November by 120,000 and that the unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent, the lowest level since March 2009. The sharp drop in the unemployment rate was a result of solid job growth in the household survey and also, worryingly, a large exodus of people from the workforce. The payroll survey continues the story of a slow recovery. November job gains were a bit lower than the average for the past year, but revisions in previous months were up 72,000 jobs. This is a jobs report that contains some good news, although it is likely that the sharp drop in the unemployment rate is more of a blip than a new low.

November Report

The household survey reported that the unemployment rate fell from 9 percent to 8.6 percent. Some of this decline is attributable to job growth of 278,000 jobs, according to the household survey. However, a large increase (487,000) in the number of potential workers reporting “not in labor force” was the second reason for the drop in the unemployment rate. This causes the labor force participation rate to decline to 64.0 percent, the first decline since July. Read more ..

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