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Religious Tolerance

Anti-Semitism is Alive and Well in Academia

May 16th 2012

Johan Galtung
Johan Galtung

In a recent lecture at the University of Oslo, Norwegian sociologist Professor Johan Galtung claimed there was a possible connection between the terrorist responsible for the massacre of youths in Norway last summer and the Mossad. "The Jews control US media, and divert for the sake of Israel," he said. Galtung added that one of the factors behind the anti-Semitic sentiment that led to Auschwitz was the fact that Jews held influential positions in German society. He also recommended reading the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Coming from one of the founders of the discipline called "Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution," as well as a founder of the international Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Galtung's remarks were both shocking and depressingly familiar.

It is under the guise of peace that Galtung launched a ferocious ongoing campaign to delegitimize Israel. A neo-Marxist scholar, he has spent much of his career perpetuating the notion that Israel is a colonial state, a concept that was later adopted and popularized by the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said.

In a 1971 article "The Middle East and Theory of Conflict," published in the Journal of Peace Research, Galtung wrote that "Israel was conceived in sin, born in sin and grew up in sin." He described the Balfour Declaration (and the UN Partition Proposal) as one of "the most tragic mistakes of recent history," and blamed Israel for starting and fueling the conflict. His views have not deviated from this but have only become more hostile, not to mention bizarre and conspiratorial. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

What Happened to Israel's Reputation?

May 15th 2012

soldiers pray at wailing wall

This year Israel is celebrating . . . a series of accomplishments that have surely exceeded the expectations of its most visionary founders. It is one of the most powerful small nations in history. . . . [It] has tamed an arid wilderness [and] welcomed 1.25 million immigrants. . . . The Israelis themselves did the fighting, the struggling, the sacrificing in order to perform the greatest feat of all—forging a new society . . . in which pride and confidence have replaced the despair engendered by age-long suffering and persecution.

So Life magazine described Israel on the occasion of its 25th birthday in May 1973. In a 92-page special issue, "The Spirit of Israel," the magazine extolled the Jewish state as enlightened, robustly democratic and hip, a land of "astonishing achievement" that dared "to dream the dream and make that dream come alive."

Life told the story of Israel's birth from the Bible through the Holocaust and the battle for independence. "The Arabs' bloodthirsty threats," the editors wrote, "lend a deadly seriousness to the vow: Never Again." Four pages documented "Arab terrorist attacks" and the three paragraphs on the West Bank commended Israeli administrators for respecting "Arab community leaders" and hiring "tens of thousands of Arabs." The word "Palestinian" scarcely appeared. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Could Mexico's Elections this year Affect the Country's Progress?

May 14th 2012

Mexico presidential debate 2012

On Sunday, May 6, Mexican voters got a rare chance to compare presidential contenders Enrique Peña Nieto (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Democratic Revolutionary Party—PRD), Josefina Vázquez Mota (National Action Party—PAN), and Gabriel Quadri de la Torre (New Alliance Party—PANAL) in the first of two national televised debates.

Rare indeed, as the major networks skipped the debate for a soccer match and regular programming, forcing viewers to go to cable or the Internet. Even at that, it was difficult to tell where the candidates stood on important issues, as they came with carefully prepared statements, answered only prearranged questions, and launched verbal attacks at each other.

This was sad, because important course changes for the next six-year presidential term will be determined on July 1 when voters head to the ballot boxes. And as Mexico borders the United States, what happens there will affect U.S. citizens in terms of security, economics, and politics. Read more ..


States on Edge

California’s High-Speed Spending Spree

May 14th 2012

Hollywood

The State of California keeps sinking into a deeper hole of debt, with reports showing that the state’s budget shortfall is projected to be $16 billion , up from $9.2 billion in January. But despite all the red ink, the state is still going ahead with a high-speed rail boondoggle that would cost billions.

The LA Times reports: If California starts building a 130-mile segment of high-speed rail late this year as planned, it will enter into a risky race against a deadline set up under federal law.

The bullet train track through the Central Valley would cost $6 billion and have to be completed by September 2017, or else potentially lose some of its federal funding. It would mean spending as much as $3.5 million every calendar day, holidays and weekends included — the fastest rate of transportation construction known in U.S. history, according to industry and academic experts.

That $6 billion is for just part of the project, which has been estimated to cost as much as $98.5 billion. But note the perverse incentive to spend. California stands to receive as much as $4 billion in federal funds that have either been provided or set aside for the project. If they don’t complete it on time, the LA Times reports, that money disappears. Now the race is on to spend. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Splits in the Democratic Party May Plague Obama

May 13th 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

The West Virginia Democrats who voted for an imprisoned felon instead of President Obama are accused of being racists by at least one national Democrat, according to ABC News, which declined to name the high-profile Dem. Forty-two percent of Democrats voting in Tuesday’s primary voted for Keith Judd, or rather, Federal Inmate No. 11593-051, who won 10 counties in the Mountain State and, like Obama, didn’t campaign there. He’s not even incarcerated in West Virginia, but Texas. He merely met the most minimum of standards, paying the $2,500 filing fee and submitting a notarized “certificate of announcement.” No campaign manager, no pollster, no endorsements — it literally took nothing to get 42 percent against Obama among Democrats, now making it rather difficult for them to tout the alleged “split” in the Republican Party.

Obama also lost 21 percent of the primary vote in North Carolina against someone named “no preference.” No word yet if “no preference” will have a speaking role at the Democratic convention this summer in … North Carolina. Read more ..


America on Edge

Rights for Indigenous Peoples and the Rest of Us

May 12th 2012

Mount Rushmore

In early 2011, President Obama announced that the United States would sign the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Now the U.N. wants us to give Mt. Rushmore to the Indians. James Anaya, U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, spent twelve days in the U.S. meeting with representatives of Native Americans. Returning to Geneva, he urged the government to turn over control of lands considered sacred to the tribes, including the Mt. Rushmore site.

It was bound to happen.

With typical overstatement, the president said as he announced U.S. participation in the Declaration, "The aspiration it affirms, including respect for the institutions and rich cultures of native peoples, are ones we must always seek to fulfill."

Always? Americans happily adapt and adopt parts of other people's cultures (Chinese food unlike anything served in Beijing, pizza Italians wouldn't recognize, St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo parties) and respect other parts (forms of dress, holy days and fasting for Ramadan). But there are aspects of "native" cultures that simply do not warrant respect: honor killings, female genital mutilation, slavery, stripping trees for cooking fuel, clubbing baby seals, and governance by the sword come to mind. Read more ..


Mideast Peace on Edge

The Myths of Past Middle East Peace Negotiations

May 11th 2012

Abbas Hillary and Bibi

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was interviewed last Friday by CNN’s Christiana Ammanpour and sought to give his audience the impression that he had been on the verge of a historical peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, and only because of the interference of individuals from the US that brought in outside money, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement was not reached. Whatever his political motives, Olmert was feeding the international myth machine that Israelis and Palestinians were close to a historic breakthrough which needed to be bridged by muscular American diplomacy.

Leaving aside his dramatic accusations about millions of dollars that were transferred from what he called “the extreme right wing” in the US to hamper his peace initiative, Olmert was not even close to a final agreement, as he implied to his CNN audience. In fact, when carefully examined, Olmert’s secret talks with Abbas should be seen as the latest proof that the fundamental gaps between the most maximal concession made by an Israeli prime minister did not meet the minimal requirements of Abbas for an agreement. This was not the first time that the myth of an impending Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, that never happened, was widely promoted. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

DOJ Lawsuit Against Arizona Sheriff is Blatantly Political

May 11th 2012

Joe Arpaio

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday announced the intent of Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Thomas Perez to file a civil suit against Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio for alleged racial profiling, according to the DOJ press office. Holder had previously requested that Arpaio  cooperate in the implementation of a court monitor inside Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office who would have the authority to clear the activities of the patrol officers and the sheriff's deputies assigned to the county jail and detention facilities.

Arpaio categorically denies all of the profiling allegations and said he will never allow the Obama Administration to "call the shots in his department."

DOJ officials stated that Arpaio’s refusal to agree to a court monitor ended those negotiations. "I do not tolerate racist attitudes or behaviors. We at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office do not foster a 'culture of cruelty,'” Arpaio stated. Many of Arpaio's colleagues nationwide claim that this latest action by Holder and the DOJ is political in nature and an abuse of power by a supposedly federal law enforcement official. 

"Ever since Eric Holder first became Attorney General, after hiding information about his own background during confirmation, he's been harassing Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Now Holder is using the DOJ to attack someone he sees as a political threat to President Barack Obama," said former New York police lieutenant Thomas Bruno.   Read more ..


The North Korea Threat

North Korea Rocket Launch Fails, So Does US Policy

May 9th 2012

NK Military Parade Apr 2012

Speaking in 2009 about America’s approach to North Korea, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates famously remarked, “I’m tired of buying the same horse twice.” President Obama just repurchased that horse — and it’s a scrub. North Korea’s uncontested rocket launch marks a gross failure of Washington’s North Korea policy. That the launch was ultimately a failure itself is no consolation. Pyongyang may have collected valuable data (though fortunately not much given the length of the flight), which it will use to further its missile technology. More importantly, Kim Jong-un learned that in the face of North Korean provocations, the United States remains unwilling to use force, one of the very few tools that the North respects.

That the launch was ultimately a failure itself is no consolation. Failing to take advantage of a potential opportunity, U.S. forces did not shoot down the missile, an act which would have signaled American resolve both to North Korea and U.S. allies alike and would have finally changed the rules of the game in America’s favor. (If it is the case that the military lacked the wherewithal to intercept the rocket, the administration has only itself to blame, having quashed promising missile defense programs like the airborne laser several years ago). Nor do we know if any attempt was made to use cyber-sabotage to prevent the launch or if the administration even considered the admittedly provocative act of striking the rocket on the launch pad, as Ashton Carter and former defense secretary William Perry recommended doing in 2006. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

The Obama Health Plan Will Squeeze the Middle Class

May 9th 2012

Obama in front of AMA

President Obama promised that the brunt of any financial reckoning will fall mostly only on those making more than $250,000 annually. Under his healthcare plan, the economic agony starts at income levels that fall much lower than that.
Middle class families take note. A family of four with an aggregate income of more than $88,000 annually or an individual earning around $44,000 could find themselves badly strained by healthcare costs under the Obama plan.

Many of these folks currently get their health coverage from work. They benefit from an implicit subsidy built into that workplace coverage that lets them spend pre-tax dollars through their employer to purchase health insurance. Depending on their tax rate, that subsidy helps offset some of the premium costs.

Under the Obama plan, many of these families could instead find themselves buying their health insurance on the new state-based exchanges that get started in January 2014. For a family of four, premiums on even one of the lower priced "silver" options could still cost more than $15,000 annually on the exchanges. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

The So-Called 'Arab Spring' Has brought No Democracy for Christians

May 9th 2012

Egyptian Coptic Persecution

A seminar was held at the European Parliament in Brussels today to consider the effects that the so-called Arab Spring has had upon the Christian communities living in the Muslim-majority countries of the Mideast. On May 9, European parliamentarians met with representatives of advocacy groups and churches to examine questions such as the following: To what extent is the 'Arab Spring' meeting the demands for more liberal values such as democracy and human rights? Will the diverse communities and cultures be respected?

The session was organized by representatives of the EP and ECR blocs in the parliament, and the Commission of the (Catholic) Bishops Conferences of Europe. Also attending were Middle Eastern diplomats, and representatives from Aid to the Church in Need, Open Doors International, and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

"The European Union, when cooperating with and supporting the democratic movements, shall condition its involvement upon the respect for democratic rules, such as religious freedom", underlined Jan Olbrycht MEP, EPP Group Vice-Chairman responsible for intercultural relations. "Democratisation of the Middle East does not bring relief to the people who live there; it is a very bitter truth a year after the Arab Spring. The EU, if it wishes to remain credible as a defender of human rights, of which it is widely teaching the world, has to take a clear stance in defence of Christians in the Middle East. We demand reaction to every single act of discrimination and also expect that this problem is always present in political or trade talks between the EU and the Arab World", said Konrad Szymański MEP of the ECR Group. Read more ..


Catholic Church on Edge

Catholic Church Misapplies its own Canons about Marriage and Divorce

May 9th 2012

catholic wedding

The National Catholic Register (NCR) says, "'Loose canon' on annulments may get tighter." I ask, when will the Vatican address the ignored canons regarding separation and divorce for Catholics.

In John Allens Jr's May 1, 2012 NCR story, he covered a conference at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross held April 26-27 about canon 1095. This law provides the Catholic Church courts a reason for declaring that a couple was never really married based on either party having a grave lack of judgment about the essentials of marriage itself.

Pontifical University of Holy Cross's website announced the conference event in Italian. A simple English translation discloses the premise of the conference: "The experience of almost thirty years of application of canon 1095 shows that it is often applied in a manner not in accordance with the guidelines set by the Law of the Roman Rota and the Pontifical Magisterium." The Rota serves as a supreme court for Catholic canon law matters, while the magisterium refers to the Catholic Church's teaching authority.

Bishop Antoni Stankiwicz, the Dean of the Roman Rota, which handles appeals cases about annulments, spoke at the conference. The NCR story says, Stankiwicz, "told the conference that interpretation of canon 1095 must avoid an 'anthropological pessimism' that would hold that 'it’s almost impossible to get married, in view of the current cultural situation. We must reaffirm the innate human capacity to marry.'" Read more ..


The Gender Edge

Arming Afghan Women may promote Peace in Afghanistan

May 9th 2012

Afgan Women in Burka

Some believe that the legacy of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton depends on how Afghan women fare following the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO combat troops. E.g., Paul Richter, “Status of Afghan Women Threatens Hillary Clinton’s Legacy,” L.A. Times, April 8, 2012. Raising the issue of Afghan women in the context of Mrs. Clinton’s legacy is truly an American-centric viewpoint. From the point of view of Afghan women, it is not about legacy. Rather, it is existential, a matter of life-and-death.

It was not al-Qaeda, but the Taliban, who oppressed Afghan women from September 1996 to October 2001: requiring the windows of their homes to be blackened (so men on the street could not see them), requiring them to wear the burqa outside the home (again so men on the street could not see them), denying them any employment (other than in the medical sector, so male medical personnel would not see them), requiring them to leave their homes only in the company of a male relative (though many women, after continuous war, had no living male relatives), denying them an education, denying them work, denying them the ability to drive, subjecting them to lashes and execution. (See, for example, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe (2011)). The Taliban placed half of all Afghans basically under house arrest. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

New York City Police vs. So-called 'Moderate' Supporter of Jihadism

May 8th 2012

Sheikh Reda Shata,
Sheikh Reda Shata

To the outrage of some in the media, the NYPD secretly kept watch on Sheikh Reda Shata, the former imam of Brooklyn's Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, even though he condemned terrorism, dined with Mayor Bloomberg and, he thought, had a friendly relationship with law enforcement. On the surface, this sounds like the NYPD unfairly targeted a Muslim it should uphold. Left out of this story is an important fact: Sheikh Shata supports Hamas.

Shata was the subject of a glowing Pulitzer-winning New York Times series in 2010. In one article, the reporter describes him as viewing the Hamas terrorist group as a "powerful symbol of resistance." He condemns terrorism and violence but in 2004, he spoke at a funeral service honoring the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike. He told the crowd that the "lion of Palestine had been martyred." In another lecture, Shata bestowed the coveted title of "martyr" upon a mother who suicide bombed a border post in the Gaza Strip, killing four Israelis.

The Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, where he served as imam from 2002 to 2006, has a "long history of association with radical Islamic organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, going back almost 20 years," said Patrick Dunleavy, a former Deputy Inspector General for the New York State Department of Corrections and author of The Fertile Soil of Jihad. Read more ..


France After Sarkozy

Hollande's Socialism May Put Us to Sleep

May 7th 2012

President-Elect Francois Hollande
President-Elect Francois Hollande

As predicted, Francois Hollande, Socialist, ousted French incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy Sunday in French elections.  In the larger sense, France, like the rest of Europe's more profligate spenders (see Greece, Spain, Italy etc), does not like austerity. Traditionally, the French like le spending.  And les taxes.  Hollande answers the mail on both counts: He has pledged to raise taxes on top earners from 41 to 75 percent and hike the corporate tax rate up as well (not, we should add, as high as the corporate tax rate in the United States).  A la fin, France's election was about domestic policies, not foreign policy.
 
Nonetheless, Hollande’s defeat of Americain Sarkozy does matter when it comes to foreign policy because Sarkozy has arguably been the most alliance-friendly French leader in decades—perhaps ever.  Cynics might argue that is not an especially high bar to clear to lay claim to such a title but, as in all things political, “better is always good.”
 
So what will President Hollande mean for foreign policy? Contrary to those who believe Sarko was the George Bush of France ("dragging" Obama into Libya, taking a hard line on Iran’s nuclear program), and have hopes that the long-time head of the French Socialist Party will take a severe turn to the left, Hollande is likely to disappoint.  Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Israel of the Future Needs to be Forged Today

May 7th 2012

Modern Women Leaders

Tzipi Livni quit the Knesset last week and offered parting words of warning that Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is in danger.  Having lost the March elections for leadership of the Kadima Party, the former peace negotiator and opposition leader who had served in Ariel Sharon’s government, opted to leave rather than remain a deposed giant.

The warning she offered though, rings with a deeper meaning that mere sour grapes.  Livni is a long time advocate who was once one of the country's most popular leaders. She founded the centrist Kadima Party with the hawk Sharon, and was foreign minister for three years, when she also served as Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians. This is not the resume of someone who would wantonly take a mean jab at the country she loves.  The warning means a lot more and anyone who cares for Israel must understand just what Livni meant and heed the message which might be an inevitable product of the circumstances the young Jewish state exists with. Read more ..


Election Edge

Socialist Victory in France is a Warning to Americans

May 7th 2012

Le president Hollande

The French have now elected a socialist government. This event should be instructive to us.

France currently has a government that absorbs more than 50 percent of its economy. They have a cradle-to-grave employment system, where once you have a job it is virtually impossible to lose it no matter your level of performance.

The retirement system for many union and government employees allows a person to retire at age 55 at close to full pay. For a while they had in place a 35-hour work-week law, which is still followed by many businesses and government entities. With these types of policies, it would seem difficult to imagine what a socialist government would change. But there is still room for movement to the left, according to the folks who are running. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

An Argument in Favor of the Death Penalty

May 6th 2012

Lethal injection room California
Lethal injection facility, California.

A New York Times editorial on April 27 continued the paper’s ongoing campaign over the years to end the death penalty in the United States.

The editorial points out that only 33 states retain the death penalty. New York is not one of them. Wikipedia notes how that came to be. It reports:

People v. LaValle, 3 N.Y.3d 88 (2004), was a landmark decision by the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the U.S. state of New York, in which the court ruled that the state’s death penalty statute was unconstitutional because of the statute’s direction on how the jury was to be instructed in case of deadlock. New York has since been without the death penalty, as the law has not been amended.”

The Times cites a recent report issued by the National Research Council. The Council “has now reached the striking and convincing conclusion that all of the research about deterrence and the death penalty done in the past generation, including by some first-rank scholars at the most prestigious universities, should be ignored.”

Why?

The Times editorial continued, “A lot of the research assumes that ‘potential murderers respond to the objective risk of execution,’ but only one in six of the people sentenced to death in the last 35 years have been executed and no study properly took that diminished risk into account.” Read more ..


Chile on Edge

Chile Still Seeks Social Justice for Students and Children

May 5th 2012

Sebastian Pineira
Chilean President Sebastian Piñera

The student protests in Chile took place in March 2011 when the period of popular manifestations became known as the “Chilean winter.” Now, they have witnessed a winter sequel, as a second round of protests was launched in March 2012. These were led by Camilla Vallejo, a 24 years old student activist as well as the head of the Young Communists of Chile, and president of the University of Chile Student Federation (FECH). The expression of student disenchantment has been manifested in rancorous protests. These cries of despair have managed to rally about 40,000 students calling for a reconstruction of the country’s educational system. The bulk of the country’s students and their supporters have consistently accused the government of having drowned public education services under private market goals, as Chile’s available universities are mainly privately owned.

Not surprisingly, the police answered to the uprising with a surplus of violence. “For many, this use of force has been seen as excessive and unnecessary” reported Al Jazeera. The uprising resulted in the exchange of rocks and tear-gas between students and the police, according to the BBC on March 6, 2012, and Amnesty International urged an investigation into claims of “an excessive use of force, the unwarranted use of tear gas, the use of metal pellets and possible arbitrary arrests.” Read more ..


The Media on Edge

Media Accountability This Electoral Cycle

May 5th 2012

Newspapers

In 2008, the media largely put their fingers in their ears, closed their eyes and covered their mouths, choosing to ignore warning signs that perhaps the untested, unknown, inexperienced senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, was not quite ready for prime time, and not quite right for America — at least, not as the occupant of the White House. They played deaf, dumb and blind, but some might now have a regret or two, opting to put a toe in the water and experience what objective journalism feels like.

A September Gallup poll showed that 60 percent of Americans perceive a media bias, with 47 percent saying the media are too liberal and 13 percent saying they are too conservative, findings similar to the year before. While we still have a long way to go before there is equitable media treatment across the board for Republicans compared to Democrats, a handful of noteworthy hiccups in the press lately give me hope — even if it’s temporary or false hope — that the media feel a sense of responsibility to actually do their jobs with at least a modicum of fairness and objectivity.
Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Possible Israeli Strike on Iran Will Not follow an American Script

May 5th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

"Credible experts," wrote New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in March, "overwhelmingly" view an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities as "a catastrophically bad idea," deeming the benefits uncertain and the consequences dire: An effective strike would require multiple "sorties over many days," and an attack on that scale could inflame the Muslim world, spark a regional war and disrupt global oil supplies.

While "overwhelmingly" may be a stretch, many analysts certainly do hold this view. Yet their doomsday scenarios rest largely on a fallacy: the belief that an Israeli strike would necessarily employ the kind of massive force America would employ if it attacked Iran.

U.S. defense officials told The New York Times in February that any strike would require "at least 100 planes," including bombers, fighters, midair refuelers and electronic warfare planes, and would probably involve combat with Iran's aerial defense forces. If so, war would indeed be a likely outcome: An attack by over 100 planes culminating in dogfights over its territory isn't something any country could ignore; Iran would have to respond massively. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Embracing the Shale Revolution

May 4th 2012

LNG Tanker

If there is one conclusion that should be drawn from the boom in U.S. natural gas production, it is that supplies are so abundant that it makes economic sense to export some of our gas to countries overseas. No one could have imagined that possibility even a few years ago when the United States was actually importing natural gas, with much of it arriving on LNG tanker ships. Today America is completely self-sufficient in natural gas. In fact, we produce more gas than we can use, and soon we will not have enough room to store the surplus gas.  Even now, some of the gas produced as a byproduct of oil drilling must be burned off or “flared” as a waste product until customers can be found to buy it. Yet there are those in Congress who oppose plans to export natural gas because they are concerned that U.S. consumers and businesses would wind up having to pay higher prices for gas. Proposed legislation, backed by the U.S. chemical industry, has been introduced to ban gas exports. Such fears are overblown. Natural gas reserves are so abundant we would be foolish not to export some of the gas. There is plenty of gas in the United States to meet domestic demand and support exports at the same time. Read more ..


The Arab Winter in Libya

Libya's Elections Need More U.S. Support

May 3rd 2012

Libyan rebels celebrate

Despite trepidation over Libya's upcoming elections, they offer the best way to solve the country's legitimacy crisis, and Washington should tailor its assistance accordingly.

Conventional wisdom maintains that holding parliamentary elections in Libya without disarming the rebels will further destabilize the country. Yet the current instability results from a crisis in political legitimacy that only elections can ameliorate. Any election in a transition from dictatorship to democracy is risky, but perpetuating the status quo does not ensure increased rebel integration. Instead, it could mean more deadly clashes like those seen recently in Kufra, Sebha, and around Zuwarah -- and more political momentum for those demanding the country's dismemberment.

Libya's interim authorities, comprising Mustafa Abdul Jalil's National Transitional Council (NTC) and Prime Minister Abdul Rahim al-Keib's interim cabinet, have proved unable to govern effectively. Believing it lacks legitimacy, the unelected leadership has made slow progress in affirming existing business contracts, signing new oil and gas agreements, and granting visas and entry permits for skilled laborers and heavy machinery. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Bin Laden Dead, Mission Remains

May 2nd 2012

Military
Marines-Afghanistan

One year ago May 1st, Seal Team Six landed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and succeeded in bringing Osama bin Laden to ultimate justice. Though some may wish to bask in the glow of that success, now is not the time to celebrate or lay down arms. Bin Laden may be dead, but serious threats against the United States live on, both here in the homeland and around the globe.

President Obama, though, is using the occasion to boost his re-election efforts with a self-congratulatory campaign ad. Heritage’s James Carafano writes, “If Lincoln had spent the entire Gettysburg Address talking about himself, it wouldn’t have been quite that crass.” And last night, the president made a campaign stop in Afghanistan where he delivered a speech remarking that the “dark cloud of war” is breaking way to “the light of a new day on the horizon” as U.S. troops continue to be withdrawn from the country. “This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end,” he declared.

But hours before the president spoke, Americans received a stark reminder that threats do not end at the time and place of our choosing. Late Monday, the FBI arrested five self-proclaimed anarchists who had planted what they believed to be explosives at the base a bridge over Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio as part of the international May Day protest. Thankfully, law enforcement foiled their plot, and the men were using inoperable explosives obtained from an undercover FBI agent. Read more ..


America on Edge

The Price of Liberty: Providing for the Common Defense

May 2nd 2012

statue of liberty

Throughout history, as in many other parts of the world today, political rule was the privilege of the strongest or the most powerful. Property was the possession of kings, barons, and lords. Each was born to his or her destiny, and almost all were subject to someone else. America is different because it is uniquely dedicated to the universal principles of human liberty: that all are fundamentally equal and equally endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our government exists to secure these God-given rights, deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed. Our Constitution limits the power of government under the rule of law, creating a vigorous framework for expanding economic opportunity, protecting national independence, and securing liberty and justice for all.

In his Farewell Address, George Washington wrote that early United States foreign policy was designed “to gain time for our country to settle and mature its recent institutions, and to progress, without interruption, to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, command of its own fortunes.” But then, as well as now, we could not command our fortunes in the world, protect national independence, and secure liberty without first providing for the nation’s security. Read more ..


Broken Government

Domestic Barbarism

May 1st 2012

victim

A number of politicians have used concerns about women’s rights, violence against women and “medieval tyranny” in their argument for the invasion and ongoing expenditure of American blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Many also use xenophobic rhetoric about the “barbaric” practices of Sharia law — from Iowa to Oklahoma and beyond — in a manufactured crisis to stoke fear. Yet some of these same politicians argue efforts to update the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by incorporating lessons learned and ensuring the law better addresses the realities of domestic violence in 21st century America are an attempt to “pick a fight” or part of some secret pro-gay, amnesty agenda.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the United States, and on average 24 people a minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime, yet domestic abuse continues to be the most underreported violent crime in America. Only an estimated third of women who are injured or raped receive medical treatment for their injuries. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Target Cyber-Oppressors, Not U.S. Businesses

April 30th 2012

Hackers

The Obama Administration has been heavily criticized for not acting forcefully to stem human rights abuses in the Middle East. Criticism of the Administration has largely focused on Iran and Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s government is guilty of atrocious bloodshed against its own people. In response, President Obama announced several new initiatives on April 23, including an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board and a new presidential executive order to protect Internet freedom, taking effect the same day. In a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Obama explained that the order was aimed at curbing the abuse of information technology, targeting Syrian and Iranian cyber-activists. There is good news and bad news in this. The good news is that the Obama Administration, under pressure, is finally putting teeth into its two-year-old Internet freedom policy, showing seriousness by sanctioning regimes that perpetrate human rights abuses via the Internet. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Pay-Go’s a Pain

April 29th 2012

Obama working a crowd

In yet another election-year display of blatant presidential pandering, President Obama launched a nationwide college tour to erroneously claim that House Republicans were doubling student loan rates. Federally subsidized Stafford loan rates will double on July 1 of this year, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, if Congress fails to act. It’s unlikely the president is ignorant of the fact that Democrats and Republicans have been working on the issue so that it is remedied before the deadline. Instead, he chose to lie about what congressional Republicans intend. Republicans will fix the law put into place by Democrats that triggers the increase in the rate, and will adhere to the pay-as-you-go (pay-go) rules dictating that when Congress causes an increase in expenditures in one area, it must find the budget offset in another area to pay for it, rather than simply passing the cost on to future budgets and generations. President Obama is finding out that sometimes, pay-go’s a pain. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Who Won the War on Terror?

April 28th 2012

Leon Panetta and Hamid Karzai
DoD Secretary Leon Panetta and Afghan President Hamid Karzai

The Middle East has undergone systemic and radical change since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring over a year ago. The leaders in Egypt and elsewhere are different-and in their place, well, there is not overwhelming evidence to suggest that the new guys are any friendlier to the West than the old ones.

But that's not all. The change has also had a major impact here, at home, as policymakers desperately try to cope with new realities, trying to figure out how U.S. policy can remain current.

Who, policymakers try to figure, will the United States be dealing with in these Arab countries over the next couple years? Should the U.S. support uprisings (as was done in Egypt, but not in Syria)? And, perhaps most challenging, how will the U.S. conduct its foreign policy if, as expected, members of Islamist parties, say in Egypt, take control? After all, these new partners might be members (or were in the past members) of parties designated as terrorists groups by the U.S. government.

These are all difficult questions.

So it's with that backdrop in mind that we try to understand the meaning behind an unnamed senior State Department official's statement to a reporter that, "The war on terror is over." Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Only Israel Can Make Peace

April 27th 2012

Abbas Hillary and Bibi

In the spirit of Yom Ha’atzmaot, Israel’s Independence Day, there has been a lot of talk about the bleak situation Israel finds herself in.  The lack of progress on the peace front, the looming threat of Iran, the discord across the religious divides within Israel and the tentative relationship Israel has now with the United States administration, all paint a picture of more of the same to come from the Israel and Middle East.  That does not bode well, and it will get to the point where stagnancy breeds indifference.

Just as the tribal wars, violence, and death in ominous African countries often get remanded to obscure mentions in the media and in people’s minds because nothing seems to make a difference, rendering it routine rather than unusual, the often clichéd sequence of events between Israel and its neighbors gets tired, too. 

The rockets fall into Israel, Israel retaliates; Israel hinders movement of Palestinians, PA leadership declares it will not yield in its demand for a right of return.  Israel expands its building of Judea and Samaria, and rockets fall into Israel.  In the process, American Jews lobby their government leaders, the Israel Prime Minister stands obstinate at the American President who time and again declares solidarity with Israel and pays lip-service to Jewish constituents, but does little to actually get invested in the real issues it faces.  Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Missile Defense Needed despite Attacks by Detractors

April 27th 2012

Iron Dome
Israeli 'Iron Dome' missile defense system

Today, missile defense is under attack. This is not a new thing, however. Opponents tried to eliminate funding for ballistic missile defense when Ronald Reagan was President, sneeringly calling it "Star Wars" to denote how foolish they thought the idea to be. Under President Bill Clinton, defenses against long-range missiles were zeroed out in his first defense budget, along with nearly 40 percent of defenses against rockets of shorter range.

After eight years, despite a new legislative requirement to deploy a missile defense for the continental United States, President Clinton decided not to go forward with a missile defense system to defend the U.S. population. In the 2000 presidential campaign, the Democratic Party platform warned about "ill-conceived" missile defenses, warning about a new arms race should they be pursued. Read more ..


The Edge of Lobbying

Trayvon Martin Case Sheds Light on Powerful ALEC Lobbying Group

April 27th 2012

Juan Williams 02
Juan Williams

The big news in the world of political lobbying last week was the flight of major corporations from the American Legislative Exchange Council. In recent years ALEC had become the model for coordinated, effective lobbying on Capitol Hill as well as in state capitols. ALEC pioneered thestrategy of creating one-size-fits all legislation on a wide range of issues and then pushing it into law across the country.

Name a controversial conservative piece of legislation from the last two years — from South Carolina’s Voter ID law to Alabama’s “Papers Please” immigration law to Wisconsin’s effort to strip unions of collective bargaining rights — and ALEC had a hand in writing it.

The group counts Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Govs. Scott Walker (Wis.), Mitch Daniels (Ind.) and John Kasich (Ohio) as “alumni.” That means they attended private conferences put on by ALEC to write prospective legislation to be sent to Capitol Hill and state legislatures. ALEC is bankrolled by some of the wealthiest and most powerful corporate interests in the world. For instance, the Koch brothers have been among the group’s major benefactors for years.

Part of the key to ALEC’s success was that few Americans ever heard of the group. That all changed with the Trayvon Martin murder case. It was ALEC, working to advance the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) agenda, which expertly guided passage of the now infamous “Stand Your Ground” law.

When the unarmed Martin, 17, was shot dead, his assailant was initially not charged with any crime apparently because of the “Stand Your Ground” law. Prosecutors reasoned that the law made it legal to shoot any person viewed as being suspicious — even a teenager walking home after buying candy and iced tea. ALEC’s success in getting such a radical idea put into law has attracted far too much attention for any lobbyist.  Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

America Should Show Leadership in Stemming Violence in Syria

April 27th 2012

Bashar al Assad Stop Killing

Speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel turned to the president and said, “I cannot sleep at night after what I have seen. We must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country.”

The occasion was the opening of the Holocaust Memorial, the president was Bill Clinton and the country was Bosnia, in the former Yugoslavia. Nineteen years later, at the same location and to a different president, Wiesel said about Syria, “How is it that Assad is still in power? Have we not learned?”

American policy on Syria today seems paralyzed by the understandable fear of getting into another war like those in Afghanistan or Iraq. But no one, least of all the Syrian people, wants to see an American invasion and occupation of Syria.

On its present course, the United States is in danger of repeating a different bad experience — that of Bosnia, where three years of refusal to allow the Bosnian Muslims to have weapons to defend themselves resulted in the death of an estimated 200,000 people — mostly civilians — including 8,000 in the single terrible massacre at Srebrenica. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Holocaust Survivors Deserve Equal Justice before the Law

April 25th 2012

Holocaust survivor and flag

They endured horrifying physical, emotional and psychological torture at the hands of the Nazis and, for almost seven decades, Holocaust survivors have been further victimized and denied their rights — first, by insurance companies demanding policy documents and death certificates in order to make claims on Holocaust-era insurance policies and subsequently, by opaque bureaucracies and red tape. This must not be allowed to continue.

For the past three Congresses, my colleagues and I have introduced legislation to address the lingering injustices of the Holocaust by restoring the rights of Holocaust survivors. The latest version of the bill that I introduced with my fellow Floridian, Rep. Ted Deutch, passed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs with unanimous support. However, as Holocaust survivors come closer to having their grievances heard, the propaganda and misinformation campaign against legislative efforts to make them whole intensifies. Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

It is Time for America to Condition Aid to Egypt

April 24th 2012

Egyptian Arms

Providing the Egyptian military with unrestricted military assistance no longer serves American goals. While conditional aid is a relatively weak diplomatic tool, it is the only approach left to the United States to alter meaningfully Egypt's negative trajectory that is propelled by an economy nearing collapse, ongoing human rights abuses, and a pronounced lack of individual liberties and protections for women and religious minorities.

Furthermore, the Egyptian military has demonstrated a clear lack of will to adequately police the Sinai, which is being lost to terrorist groups that threaten Israel.

Due to its paramount desire to continue receiving the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. defense funding and the fact that it has enormous equities in the economic sector, the Egyptian military is uniquely suited to be an agent for change. It is disciplined, centrally controlled and, through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), plays the dominant role in the running of the country. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, prioritizes maximizing its political gains regardless of the national turmoil that is likely to ensue from the policies it would pursue. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

The Gold Price-Oil Price Nexus

April 22nd 2012

Oil Prices

A recent conversation with John Tamny of Forbes.com turned to an old, favorite issue of Ronald Reagan and Robert Bartley, among other great figures; namely, that some of the volatility in the price of oil represents the weakness of the dollar (since oil is priced and traded in dollars) and as such the relation between the price of oil and the price of gold is one possible proxy for understanding important aspects of the oil market. The clear implication here is that a strong dollar policy might do more to relieve pain at the pump than drilling for more oil. Here’s how the Gipper put it in his very second press conference in 1981:

One economist pointed out a couple of years ago—he didn’t state this as a theory, but he just said it’s something to look at—when we started buying the oil over there, the OPEC nations, 10 barrels of oil were sold for the price of an ounce of gold. And the price was pegged to the American dollar. And we were about the only country left that still were on a gold standard. And then a few years went by, and we left the gold standard. And as this man suggested, if you looked at the recurrent price rises, were the OPEC nations raising the price of oil or were they simply following the same pattern of an ounce of gold, that as gold in this inflationary age kept going up, they weren’t going to follow our paper money downhill? They stayed with the gold price. Of course, now, if we followed that, why, they should be coming down, because the price of gold’s coming down. But I think that that’s like the inflation-contributing factor that you’ll have sometimes simply because of a poor crop. That is not based on the economy, that’s simply supply and demand. And if there’s a crop failure and you’ve got a bigger demand than you have supply, the price goes up. Read more ..


Broken Government

Too Small to Fail? The Case for Post Office Closures

April 21st 2012

The post office in Hope, Minnesota, is no doubt a quiet place. During a typical business day it sees eight customers, who require a total of seven minutes of service. The Postal Service wants to close the facility, and instead serve the 90 residents of Hope from the adjacent town of Ellendale, 10 minutes away. Home delivery of mail would not change. The closure is being appealed to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC).

Coyote, New Mexico, 70 miles from Santa Fe, may also be losing its post office. Open 42 hours per week, the two postal employees in Coyote see on average seven customers a day. The Postal Service wants to close the office, sending its business to the post office in Youngsville, just four miles away. This decision is also being appealed.

It is no secret that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is in financial trouble. Its business is shrinking, with first-class mail revenue dropping 25 percent since 2006. As a result, the government-run enterprise is facing a sea of red ink, losing some $25 billion in the past five years. Losses of up to $20 billion annually are predicted for coming years. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad Must Be Forced to Allow Peaceful Assembly

April 21st 2012

anti-assad-demonstration

Videos and reports from Syria over the past week show that Bashar al-Assad's forces continue to violate the ceasefire outlined by UN special representative Kofi Annan on April 12. The regime has neither ended its use of heavy weapons in population centers nor -- an additional obligation -- pulled back its military. This suppression of dissent in centers of resistance has obviously constrained the people's right to freedom of peaceful expression and assembly, a key tenet of U.S. policy that is clearly outlined in point six of the Annan plan. As a result, Syrians are afraid to express their demands as part of the "Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralist system" and have demonstrated in lesser numbers than expected over the past week. Even if a viable ceasefire can eventually be brokered, protests and other forms of civil resistance will be the key means to judge what the people want going forward. Read more ..

World Economy on Edge

Advancing Economic Freedom Through the World Bank: A Worthy Goal for Jim Yong Kim

April 21st 2012

Jim Yong Kim
Jim Yong Kim

On April 16, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of Dartmouth College, was elected as the next president of the World Bank. Kim, a physician with a background in public health, prevailed after an unusual race contested by two highly regarded economists from Nigeria and Colombia. Kim’s background raises plenty of questions regarding his suitability for the job and particularly his commitment to the free-market globalization that has so dramatically reduced poverty around the world. He will succeed only if he can rise above the outdated ideology he has espoused in the past and focus on what actually works in fostering economic growth and development.

Building on Robert Zoellick’s Legacy

In July, when Kim officially takes over the helm of the almost seven decades-old global development organization, he will inherit a multilateral institution that has already embarked upon far-reaching change under the leadership of his predecessor, Bob Zoellick. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Technology is Neutral in a Political and Ideological World

April 17th 2012

Russian computer user

Technology is politically and ideologically neutral. It would be comforting to believe increasing levels of technology alone could solve social and political problems and make the world a better place. But history has proved that false, alas! again and again. When German scientists with their traditional leadership in chemistry invented a new gas to murder Jews more efficiently in Nazi death camp “showers”, we got new proof. Complexities of new technology present new opportunities which may or may not be used for moral or beneficial utilitarian purposes. We are currently in the throes of new tests, were they needed, of the phenomenon. North Korea, an unprecedented cruel and retrogressive regime, is trying to preserve its existence with technologically advanced weapons of mass destruction. With those it could continue to blackmail the world into tolerating -- and even supporting its continued existence, if nothing else, by feeding a starving population. Read more ..



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