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Israel on Edge

The Anniversary of the Six-Day War and an Explosion of Jewish Pride

May 26th 2012

Wailing Wall victory

The anniversary of Israel’s Six Day War not only commemorates an unlikely military victory, resulting in the Jewish liberation of Jerusalem, Hebron and other ancient Jewish cities, but also one of the last modern day catalysts of near universal Jewish self-regard.

Just recently I heard a Siberian Jew reminisce about just how proud he felt, “our heads were held high,” he said. Words that are routinely used to describe this period include; euphoric, hope and confidence. “The Jewish explosion of pride came in the wake of the Six Day War of 1967,” wrote Patrick Ercolano in a Baltimore Sun column.

These sentiments do not appear to have been confined geographically, nor even politically, for the most part. They were not limited to Zionists, and impacted all Jews of many stripes and orientations. This unified high was a product of a victory, a hard fought vanquishing of sworn enemies, beaten into retreat and respectful submission; an absolute triumph over a mortal threat.

Forty-five years later, some feel that 1967 was a plateau in terms of global positive appreciation for the Jewish state and its position in the world. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren bemoans, “Why has Israel’s image deteriorated?” and “why have anti-Israel libels once consigned to hate groups become media mainstays? How can we explain the assertion that an insidious “Israel Lobby” purchases votes in Congress, or that Israel oppresses Christians?” Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Mayor Cory Booker's Defense of Bain Capital Comes as No Surprise

May 26th 2012

Cory Booker
Newark Mayor Cory Booker

Winston Churchill captured what this presidential election is about when he observed, "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

It's why the young black Democratic mayor of Newark, N.J., Cory Booker, got high-level repudiation from the Barack Obama campaign, including from the president himself, when he insolently suggested that Bain Capital, the investment firm once headed by GOP nominee-apparent Mitt Romney, might actually do positive things.

Booker, an Obama campaign surrogate, went off script on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday when he refused to justify a campaign attack ad depicting the evils of Bain. "I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity," he said. "To me, it's just we're getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses."

After campaign heavy-hitters criticized him, Booker qualified his remarks. But his "MTP" comments were unmitigated heresy driving to the core of the Obama campaign message. The narrative, telescoping the theme of four years of this presidency, says that the American economy collapsed because of unbridled capitalism. To recover, the narrative continues, we must allow all-knowing, all-powerful, but compassionate political leadership in Washington to rearrange the American economy and make sure businesses never steamroll Americans again. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Campaign From Hell

May 26th 2012

Grover Norquist Photo Credit: Bbsrock

Now here comes Grover Norquist, who compares the senior senator from New York to members of the political party of Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Eichmann.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) believes that when the land of the free and the home of the brave gives an American the gift of being able to use his talents to become an extraordinarily wealthy man, it is wrong for that person to renounce his American citizenship to avoid paying his fair share of taxes. I cannot think of a proposal more worthy than the bill proposed by Sens. Schumer and Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) to redress this wrong. I believe the overwhelming majority of patriotic Americans would strongly agree with Schumer. Grover Norquist has every right to disagree and rise in defense of tax evaders who renounce their Americanism to avoid their taxes. He even has the right to compare Schumer to the party of Himmler and Eichmann. But I would propose that this is Exhibit A of what I call the campaign from hell, an intolerance and vindictiveness unworthy of our nation, in which one party is exponentially more guilty than the other. I cannot recall a time in American history when so many members of one party questioned the American citizenship or Christian faith of a president, and when so many leaders of that party were incapable of saying in clear and decisive terms that such attacks have no place in American politics. Read more ..

The Arab Winter in Egypt

Presidential Elections Will Not End Egyptian Instability

May 24th 2012

Voting Woman

Despite the relative openness and unpredictability of Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential election, the outcome will likely solidify two worrisome trends. First, radical ideologies will increasingly dominate Egyptian politics, steering the country in a theocratic, anti-Western direction. Second, Egypt may become more politically unstable, with the new president struggling against other power centers, including the military and the Islamist-dominated parliament.

The election is shaping up to be a competition between former Mubarak regime members and Islamists. Of the thirteen candidates, four are considered true contenders: former Arab League secretary-general Amr Mousa, who served as Hosni Mubarak's foreign minister from 1991 to 2001; former air force commander Ahmed Shafiq, who served as Mubarak's last prime minister; Muhammad Morsi, who chairs the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party; and former Brotherhood Guidance Office member Abdel Monem Abouel Fetouh, who was ousted from the group last year when he announced his candidacy against the organization's wishes. (A fifth candidate, former Nasserist parliamentarian Hamdin Sabahi, finished second in the expatriate voting that concluded last week, but he is considered a long shot.) Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

After 'Citizens United,' Is Constitutional Amendment Needed?

May 24th 2012

US Capital Day

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling in 2010, many Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups have proposed constitutional amendments to overturn the controversial decision — or attempt to curb its impact. But not everyone who disagrees with the decision thinks that’s the right approach to reducing corporate influence in politics. Opponents of the decision — which held that unlimited expenditures by corporations to independently advocate for or against federal candidates did not pose a threat of corrupting politicians — gathered at a forum Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

There, the case was decried as a “product of judicial activism” by Kent Greenfield, a law professor at Boston College Law School. And Jamie Raskin, a Democratic state senator in Maryland who is also a law professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, said the ruling has helped move the nation toward a government “by, of and for the corporations.” But while both Greenfield and Raskin railed against the threats they see from the influence of corporate money in elections, the men were in opposite corners about whether a constitutional amendment was the best way to fight it. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Al Gore and Jimmy Carter Were (and Are) Right

May 23rd 2012

Click to select Image

First things first. In a column I wrote a few months ago I advocated that the United States and others initiate a joint action to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, among other things. Since then I have advocated this behind the scenes, advocate this again today, and believe there is a fair chance it happens. This would support a lower price for oil, help stimulate the American economy, help stimulate the European economy and increase the prospects for a diplomatic solution with Iran.

Beyond this, I believe events have proven both Al Gore and Jimmy Carter correct. Gore is right that we need new sources of energy and an all-out campaign to reduce the dangers of climate change. Carter is right that we must reduce our dependence on oil with the passion, focus and commitment of what Carter called the moral equivalent of war, which also lessens the danger of real wars. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Too Early to Expect a Breakthrough on Iran

May 23rd 2012

Iran centrifuges

Another round of talks will take place between the United States, its negotiating partners in the P5+1 mechanism and Iran on May 23. While the venue of Baghdad is interesting -- and useful for an Iraqi government that would like to showcase its return to normalcy -- this round of talks will not be decisive. Nor should anyone expect that after two rounds of talks, Washington will suddenly be able to overcome its differences with Iran regarding nuclear ambitions.

This is not to say that Washington can afford to approach the talks with Iran without a sense of urgency. Iran continues to enrich uranium and has probably already accumulated four or five bombs' worth of material, and the United States has no interest in allowing this to continue under the guise of ongoing talks. Nor, of course, do the Israelis have such an interest. On the contrary, they fear Iran could drag out such talks to the point where, because of the depth, breadth, and redundancy of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, Israel could lose its military option for setting back the Iranian nuclear program. Furthermore, no Israeli leadership is likely to accept the reality that it has surrendered its military ability to deal with an existential threat. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

The Danger of Article 82 and Obama’s Latest Treaty

May 22nd 2012

Stormy Seas

Back in 1982, President Ronald Reagan decided not to sign a treaty known as “Law of the Sea” (LOST), a United Nations convention that would raid America’s treasury for billions of dollars, then redistribute that wealth to the rest of the world by an international bureaucracy headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica. But today, the Obama Administration has revived that treaty, and tomorrow Senator John Kerry (D-MA) will hold hearings designed to illustrate its supposed benefits and generate support for its ratification. Without a doubt, Reagan’s decision should stand, and LOST should remain relegated to the trash bin of history.

The rationale for LOST is that it supposedly brings order to the world’s oceans, defines the rights and responsibilities of nations as they navigate and conduct business across the seas, protects the marine environment, and allows for the development of natural resources of the deep seabed. On the surface, these all sound like worthwhile goals. The thing is, the United States doesn’t need to join another United Nations treaty to make it happen.

For more than 200 years before LOST was adopted in 1982 and for 30 years since then, the U.S. Navy has successfully protected America’s maritime interests regardless of the fact that the United States has not signed on to the treaty. The United States’ navigational rights and freedoms have been secure, and they are best guaranteed by a strong Navy. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Nadarkhani and the Iranian Masters of Deception

May 21st 2012

Iran centrifuges

It’s been quite the month for the Iranian regime. Following a mid-April round of talks over its nuclear program with the European Union’s Foreign Policy chief, Catherine Ashton, the mullahs were basking in newly found credibility. The talks were “constructive and useful,” Ashton said, adding that any agreement would respect “Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

Nobody doubts that the Iranians are shrewd negotiators. The diplomatic twists of the last few years prove that the regime has genuine expertise when it comes to using procedural wrangling as a delaying tactic. Leading up to the latest nuclear talks on May 23 in Baghdad, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it best: “It looks as though [the Iranians] see the talks as another opportunity to delay and deceive. Iran is very good in playing this kind of chess game.”

Away from the glare of the Baghdad parley, there is a different story percolating, one that hasn’t received anywhere near the kind of attention given to the nuclear talks, but which offers another telling illustration of how Iran’s leaders have become masters of deception.  Read more ..

The Defense Edge

The Price of Liberty Means Providing for the Common Defense

May 21st 2012

Washington Colonel

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 ..

Cuba on Edge

Time for a Freedom and Solidarity Agenda for Cuba

May 20th 2012

Castro Looking Distinguished

May 20 marks 110 years of Cuba’s independence from Spanish rule and America’s temporary occupation of the island. It also marks more than 53 years since Cuban revolutionaries—led by Fidel Castro (1927– ) and his brother Raul (1930– )—toppled the Batista regime and installed a one-party, Communist dictatorship on the island. The revolutionary generation of the Castro brothers is on the verge of extinction. A difficult period of succession or transition looms. Failure to stand with the advocates of genuine economic and political change in Cuba and to press for a policy of true transition and genuine democracy could condemn yet another generation of Cubans to lives without freedom, opportunity, or hope.   

The object of the Cuban regime under Raul Castro is to engineer a succession capable of carrying Cuba’s revolutionary model forward into the post-Castro era. The succession model will reserve political power and central control of the economy for the dictatorship and its supporters while reducing the scope of the state’s role in the economy. The regime calculates that it will be able to survive future economic tests by allowing a closely regulated private sector comprised of small-scale farmers, service providers, and the self-employed. There are currently 181 carefully prescribed categories, none of which involves larger enterprises, information technology, or professional services. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Why Republicans Aren’t the Only Ones to Blame For Polarization

May 20th 2012

Clenched Fists

The working assumption of many political commentators in Washington is that politics is more polarized than it has been in decades and that it’s the Republican Party’s rightward drift that’s to blame. The evidence bears this out—in part. But it also suggests a more complex story.

First, the electorate has polarized. Over the past two decades, the public’s ideological self-description has changed significantly. In 1992, when Bill Clinton campaigned for president as a reform-minded New Democrat, fully 43 percent of adults thought of themselves as moderate, compared to 36 percent conservative and 17 percent liberal. As the 2012 election got underway, the picture looked quite different. Moderates had declined by 8 points, to 35 percent, while conservatives and liberals had each gained 4 points, to 40 and 21 percent respectively.

As Alan Abramowitz has recently shown, a similar shift occurred among voters in presidential elections. In 1972, fully 71 percent placed themselves at or near the ideological midpoint, compared to 29 percent at or near the extremes. By 2008, the share of the electorate at or near the mid-point had fallen by 17 points—to 54 percent—while the share at the extremes rose to 46 percent. Read more ..

The Edge on Terrorism

Saving Somalia: The Next Steps for the Obama Administration

May 20th 2012

Click to select Image

In the past twenty years, the African continent has made progress toward democratic governance. Civilians now govern many countries once under military rule; political parties have emerged in what were previously single-party states; observance of civil liberties and political rights has strengthened; and inter-state conflict has diminished. However, some African countries have bucked this trend and either maintained an undemocratic status quo or plunged into chaos. Somalia, more so than any other African state, continues to be synonymous with intractable anarchy—a well-earned distinction, given that, for two decades, Somalia has lacked a functioning central government while serving as a haven for terrorism and piracy.

Since the infamous Battle for Mogadishu in 1993, the United States has constrained its engagement in the Horn of Africa. While Somalia’s challenges impact the United States, it is not considered a U.S. foreign policy priority—an unfortunate relegation that has undermined national security. With the United States and its allies under constant threat from terrorists, Somalia poses an international security risk not only to U.S. interests in the region, but also to the broader international community. Piracy, another condition of Somalia’s failed state status, imperils the flow of commerce and costs the shipping industry and consumers billions of dollars per year. Furthermore, the ongoing anarchy has prevented the Somali people from receiving the most basic services. Read more ..

The Economic Edge

Preventing Taxmageddon Is Congress’s Summer Job

May 19th 2012

Tax Protest

Conventional wisdom says that Congress and the President will get nothing done in 2012 until after the elections. Conventional wisdom appears to be at least mostly correct, but in one respect Congress should not fall prey to conventional wisdom: preventing Taxmageddon. Too much is at stake for families, jobs, and restoring limited government: Congress should heed the advice of House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) and Senator Jon Kyl (R–AZ) to act before the November election—and preferably this summer—to prevent Taxmageddon, the nearly $500 billion tax hike bearing down on America’s families and businesses.

One of Washington’s most apt expressions is the “lame duck Congress.” This is a failed or feckless Congress that must finish its work for the year after an election. Having squandered the 10 preceding months, and with almost two years to go before another, Congress then finally takes on the tough jobs it should have completed earlier. In a lame duck, Members who have retired, Members who have been defeated, and others who have moved on to other offices must finally complete the nation’s business in an environment of holiday- and transition-laden chaos. Conventional wisdom says that Congress will wait until the lame duck to finish its work on spending bills, short-circuiting a sequester that would devastate national security spending, likely yet another debt ceiling vote, and preventing Taxmageddon.

The Defense Edge

U.S. Doing Special Ops Exercise with Egypt and Pakistan

May 18th 2012


NATO's snub of Israel -- a "major non-NATO ally" and member of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue -- in its Chicago summit this weekend was simply waved away.  "Israel is neither a participant in ISAF nor in KFOR (Afghanistan and Kosovo missions)," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.  Israel didn't belong there, and that's that.  In the same press conference, however, Rasmussen acknowledged that thirteen other "partner" nations would attend because "[i]n today's world security challenges know no borders, and no country or alliance can deal with most of them on their own." Perhaps he, or someone, believes that Israel has nothing to contribute to meeting "today's security challenges."

Pundits quickly assumed that Turkey -- a full NATO member -- had vetoed Israel's participation, as it vetoed IDF participation in NATO exercises in the Mediterranean.  Rasmussen denied it--and maybe he's right, because that's not the only place where Israel is having trouble with its presumed military partners.

The Obama administration claims a special relationship with Israel.  The State Department says the "security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper, and more intense than ever before."  Assistant Secretary of Sate Andrew Shapiro told a Washington audience, "One of my primary responsibilities is to preserve Israel's Qualitative Military Edge [QME][.]"  QME is generally defined as Israel's ability to defeat any likely constellation of conventionally armed adversaries. Read more ..

Broken Banking

A Catholic's Vision of True Banking Reform

May 18th 2012

Loan applcation denied

Last Thursday, JP Morgan Chase's CEO Jamie Dimon announced that the company lost $2 billion in a risky trading scheme that had been implemented over the past few months. Mr. Dimon has long opposed increasingly strict government regulations of banking practices but, to his likely dismay, this latest blunder has reignited the debate on how strict government regulation should be.

Mr. Dimon, in an attempt to send a clear message about the company's ability to address the issue internally, has taken decisive action. He forced the early retirement of Ina Drew—the executive who oversaw the faulty trading strategy--and appointed industry expert Mike Cavanagh to ensure that the organization’s risk is handled appropriately.

For Wall Street critics, however, the move was not sufficient. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said this incident showed why it is necessary “to fully implement Wall Street reform.” Sadly, the moral dimension of this banking mishap is strangely missing from the media’s post-fall out discussion. As we learned so profoundly during the 2008 financial crisis, the victims of big banks’ poor trading practices are not simply the direct investors of those particular banks.With the size and complexity of world financial markets, the victims are often far away from the initial decisions. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

This Year, the Real Winner will be the National Security State

May 17th 2012

FBI dudes

Now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the media is already handicapping the presidential election big time, and the neck-and-neck opinion polls are pouring in. But whether President Obama gets his second term or Romney enters the Oval Office, there’s a third candidate no one’s paying much attention to, and that candidate is guaranteed to be the one clear winner of election 2012: the U.S. military and our ever-surging national security state.

The reasons are easy enough to explain. Despite his record as a “warrior-president,” despite the breathless “Obama got Osama” campaign boosterism, common inside-the-Beltway wisdom has it that the president has backed himself into a national security corner. He must continue to appear strong and uncompromising on defense or else he’ll get the usual Democrat-as-war-wimp label tattooed on his arm by the Republicans.

Similarly, to have a realistic chance of defeating him -- so goes American political thinking -- candidate Romney must be seen as even stronger and more uncompromising, a hawk among hawks. Whatever military spending Obama calls for, however much he caters to neo-conservative agendas, however often he confesses his undying love for and extols the virtues of our troops, Romney will surpass him with promises of even more military spending, an even more muscular and interventionist foreign policy, and an even deeper love of our troops. Read more ..

The Media on Edge

PR Firms Assist In Selling Arab Terror And Brutality

May 16th 2012

Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad in Vogue
Vogue Story now removed from its website

The U.S. Public Relations industry is one which is very high profile, but is a tiny, close knit industry, with only perhaps 75 American PR firms having more than 50 employees (i.e. enough scope/influence to represent a foreign government or foreign interests). Over lunch this week, one of my peers, who like me, owns 1 of the 25 largest US PR Agencies explained why his firm would no longer work with Jewish organizations and Pro-Israel concerns.  He explained there is simply too much money working for Arab organizations and interests, and between front groups, organizations and projects from a business perspective he was no longer working for Pro-Israel or Jewish organizations. It’s a trend which will grow – and will see Arab interests even more positively portrayed in American media.

In the latest news, Bahrain in the last 12 months has hired at least ten public relations companies since last year.  Yes, you read it right – 10 – including Qorvis, the Washington company hired by Saudi Arabia to salvage that kingdom's reputation abroad after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The regime of Bahrain which tortures its own citizens has an awful human rights record and doesn’t recognize the existence of Israel, also hired Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, Sanitas International, whose partner Christopher Harvin is a former Bush White House aide. Read more ..

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


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.”


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


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.

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 ..

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