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Europe on Edge

The U.K. Governing Coalition: The Challenges Ahead and Why America Has a Stake in Britain’s Success

February 23rd 2012

CamObam

In May 2010, the U.K. general election resulted in a hung Parliament from which emerged a Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition with David Cameron, the Conservative leader, as Prime Minister. Britain has a long history of coalitions that were not unsuccessful, but since the Second World War, British party politics has been sharply polarized. So the 2010 outcome was a novelty. The experiment was, however, widely justified by the evident need to cope with the economic crisis and, in particular, the unsustainable budget deficit inherited from the outgoing Labour government. Mr. Cameron and his Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, also claimed to be introducing a new and better kind of politics, one based on reasoned discussion and a rejection of “tribal loyalties.” In practical terms, both sides then made a series of policy compromises. It is now clear how this bipartisan model of governing has fared.

The overall judgement must so far be a qualified negative, though the final outcome remains unclear. Certainly, the worst predictions have gone unfulfilled. Opposition to public expenditure cuts has been relatively muted; trade union protests and strike action have had little effect; and there is widespread public acceptance, in the short term at least, of the sharp pressure on living standards. Moreover, both the still-fresh recollection of the shortcomings of Gordon Brown’s government and the perceived failings of the present Labour opposition have kept up the coalition’s political ratings. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Libya

Libya's Floundering Transition

February 23rd 2012

Abdul Rahim al-Keib
Abdul Rahim el-Keib

February 17 marked the one-year anniversary of the Libyan revolution, yet the country's transition toward democracy has floundered due to mismanagement by the interim government. Plans to hold parliamentary elections by June 23 are under way regardless of the domestic situation -- or how many rebels remain armed. In response, Washington should do what it can to encourage a more amicable electoral environment, one that includes rebels as stakeholders. Since Muammar Qadhafi's fall, both Mustafa Abdul Jalil's National Transitional Council (NTC) and Prime Minister Abdul Rahim al-Keib's interim cabinet have been unable to exert authority evenly throughout Libya. As a result, the security situation has deteriorated, and public confidence in the transition has plummeted. Read more ..

Edge of Space

Up-Front Government Funding is Needed to Get America to Mars

February 23rd 2012

Mars mission

When Newt Gingrich proclaimed that the United States should establish a base on the moon, he was right: We need a major inspirational goal for space exploration. When Mitt Romney attacked Gingrich’s proposal as failing the rational business test, he was right, too: The cost would be enormous. But what neither presidential candidate discussed were the reasons why space travel is so costly or how those costs might be reduced.

The question both men should have asked was, “Why, after 55 years of launching rockets, does it still cost so much to reach orbit?” Launching a satellite today costs approximately $10,000 a pound, or tens of millions for a heavy satellite.  That high cost, not bureaucratic timidity, is why fewer than 600 people — the number of passengers on one Airbus 380 — have orbited the earth since 1961. Space travel cannot become cheap until the age of rocketry is replaced by an age of new propulsion technology — and only government investment can make that happen. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

You’d be Surprised to Know who Profited off Jewish Death

February 22nd 2012

Juda Engelmayer

Boycotts are sensitive issues to Jews, and they are often discussed and carried out in incongruous ways. When we see the BDS (Boycott Divest Sanction) movement gaining steam on college campuses across the United States, we want to lash out, telling them how wrong they are about Israel. However, when we know that many Eastern European Jews and their descendants cringe at the idea of owning a Mercedes or Volkswagen, it’s an oddity that we accept and even deal with as we conveniently park the German car around the corner so the neighbors don’t see.

BDS efforts were first introduced two years before Israel’s independence in 1948 when the Arab League established and has since maintained a blacklist of companies that trade with Israel. Names on that list are often blocked from the lucrative Arab markets.

Groups like the Anti-Defamation League, and others from the alphabet soup of Jewish organizations staged public, direct, and indirect campaigns at boycott compliant companies. The BDS movement has moved beyond products and trade to academia and education—to prevent the flow of knowledge from Israel’s thinkers to the world and to keep new ideas out of Israel as well.

Boycotts work, clearly, as it did in apartheid South Africa. It is the reason that so many who oppose Israel for everything from ideological and religious reasons to base anti-Semitism try to make the groundless and wounding comparison between Israel and the apartheid regime. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

California Effort Would Give Insurance Commissioner New Power to Fight Health Insurers

February 20th 2012

medicine and money #2

The biggest applause line Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) got at a gathering of Democratic Party activists last week came when she endorsed a ballot initiative to give the California Insurance Commissioner power to reject excessive health insurance rate increases. Consumer advocates there decided to go the ballot initiative route after the insurance industry’s friends in the legislature blocked a bill last year that would do the same thing. Feinstein became the first Californian to sign a petition. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones became the second. To get the measure before voters in November, the advocates, led by Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog, must collect half a million more signatures. In her San Diego speech before the party faithful, Feinstein pointed out that in the first quarter of this year, the five largest health insurers — UnitedHealth, WellPoint, Aetna, CIGNA and Humana — posted profits of $3.6 billion, 16 percent more than the same period a year earlier. One of the ways those companies were able to achieve such Wall Street-pleasing success was by jacking up the rates on policies bought by individuals and small businesses. Read more ..


Economy on Edge

Nearly Half of All Americans Don’t Pay Income Taxes

February 20th 2012

Unemployment Line in California

This year’s Index of Dependence on Government presented startling findings about the sharp increase of Americans who rely on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid or other assistance. Another eye-popping number was the percentage of Americans who don’t pay income taxes, which now accounts for nearly half of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, most of that population receives generous federal benefits. “One of the most worrying trends in the Index is the coinciding growth in the non-taxpaying public,” wrote Heritage authors Bill Beach and Patrick Tyrrell. “The percentage of people who do not pay federal income taxes, and who are not claimed as dependents by someone who does pay them, jumped from 14.8 percent in 1984 to 49.5 percent in 2009.” That means 151.7 million Americans paid nothing in 2009. By comparison, 34.8 million tax filers paid no taxes in 1984. Read more ..


Syria on Edge

Double Standard Against Israel: No Flotilla to Syria?

February 19th 2012

Mavi Marmara (Flotilla lead vessel)

Syrian security forces fired live rounds and tear gas last Saturday into a crowd of thousands marching in a funeral procession.  It turned into one of the largest protests in Damascus since the 11-month uprising against its President Bashar al-Assad began. Nearly 6000 people have been killed since the start of these Syrian uprisings in March 2011.

To one who reviews Middle East news closely, the silence has been deafening from so many who are supposedly concerned about peace in the Middle East, including human rights organizations. When Gaza was the liberal flavor of the month, we heard about the desperate need for “aid” and the calls for “flotillas” to save the helpless people of Gaza – but where are they today? With so many being butchered, where are the concerned Middle East watchers? What would the media do, what would international aid agencies do, what would be the public relations outcry if Israelis fired on a funeral procession?

There’s a sickening double standard against Israel.

A simple Google search for the term “Syrian flotilla” will show that an Iranian flotilla arrived and is providing training to Syrian forces, and it has conducted joint training exercises between their two countries.  There’s also been a large Russian naval flotilla in a Syrian port last month as a show of solidarity of President al-Assad. Yet, there is no Turkish led humanitarian mission sailing, nor have so called human rights groups, the same ones that felt compelled to send ships to Gaza, made any attempts to help the people of Syria who are indeed dying every day at the hands of a ruthless regime. Read more ..


Religion on Edge

The War on Women’s Freedom

February 19th 2012

Eleanor Holmes Norton
Eleanor Holmes Norton

Isn’t religious freedom for women too? So why did Representative Carolyn Maloney (D–NY) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D–DC) walk out of a committee hearing on the subject, claiming it was disregarding women? On Thursday, House Oversight and Government Reform chairman Darrell Issa (R–CA) held a hearing on a topic that has deeply concerned many Americans in recent weeks: Obamacare’s trampling of religious liberty. But some committee members seemed more interested in engaging in political theater than complying with required committee hearing process so that a serious constitutional issue could get some due consideration.

Disregarding committee rules, Maloney and Norton called at the outset of the hearing for the immediate seating of a female law student alongside the clergy on the first panel. As Issa explained, the proposed witness (who came prepared with testimony about a friend’s serious health problem) did not have the relevant credentials or appropriate contribution requested for the hearing’s focus on religious liberty. Nor was her name submitted for the panel in keeping with the committee’s requirement for advance notice, according to Issa: “I cannot, and will not, arbitrarily take a majority or minority witness if they do not have the appropriate credentials…and if we cannot vet them in a timely fashion.” The opening challenges (“Where are the women?”) and later press interviews by Maloney and Norton obscured the fact that women indeed testified at the hearing. Maloney told that there were “so few women there—practically zero.” With two female witnesses among 10 total, however, that can hardly be excused as a rounding error. (See testimony of Allison Dabbs Garrett, senior vice president for academic affairs at Oklahoma Christian University, and Laura Champion, M.D., medical director and physician at Calvin College.) Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Is Obama Undermining Peace in the Middle East?

February 18th 2012

Obama in deep thought
President Obama

Carl von Clausewitz, the renowned Prussian military theorist, famously wrote that war is merely a continuation of politics by other means. If so, then the Obama Administration has disastrously misunderstood the Clausewitzian dictum when it comes to Israeli security. By misconstruing the relationship between policy and security, the Administration has undermined rather than bolstered Israeli security. Repeating a line he first test-drove last June, President Obama has been touting that his “administration has done more in terms of the security of the State of Israel than any previous administration.”

The Obama Campaign even released a seven-minute video, detailing the unprecedented nature of the president’s policies. At the State of the Union, the President declared that “Our ironclad commitment—and I mean ironclad—to Israel's security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history.” Obama Campaign surrogate and former Congressman Robert Wexler, after cataloguing all that the president has done for Israeli security, caustically asked “But for President Obama joining the IDF, what more could he possibly do?" Read more ..


Mideast on Edge

Syria and Iran: A Watched Pot Boiling Over

February 17th 2012

Juda Engelmayer

Disturbing video images from Syria show civilians being used as shields for Syrian troops. They are first seen standing, then lying in front, serving the purpose of the advancing Syrian guards.  This, as documents leaked from President Bashar Al-Assad’s office reveal that Iran has been helping Syria circumvent sanctions by handing over $1 billion to continue slaughtering its civilians.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the ferocity of the Syrian assault, saying “I fear that the appalling brutality we are witnessing in Homs, with heavy weapons firing into civilian neighborhoods, is a grim harbinger of things to come.” He sees the inevitable end to this too.

The U.N. is frozen, unable to do anything about the slaughter of some 6000 people.  Security Council mainstays like China and Russia have vetoed any attempts at intervention.  Notwithstanding how easy it is for both to act fast when condemning the State of Israel for defending itself – even when it first drops leaflets warning civilians of its intent to strike, the Syrian government has little to worry about from the world body.

While the war against the Syrian people rages on, Iran’s fingerprints were found in some failed attempts to kill Israeli diplomats around the world; in India, Thailand and Georgia.  Although they deny it, the Iranian plot was exposed when the terrorists were caught in Thailand with Iranian passports in hand. That one blew his leg off trying to lob a grenade at Thai police only proves incompetence, not detachment. Read more ..


Foreign Policy on Edge

American Priorities and the Purpose of Foreign Aid

February 17th 2012

Ron Paul on Foreign Aid
A Tea Party Sentiment on Foreign Aid

It is a struggle to decide who, if anyone, has a claim to U.S. foreign aid dollars. It is, after all, money earned by American taxpayers and sent to people who didn't earn it, at least not in the traditional sense. Should it be used to encourage countries to accept American requirements -- or to reward countries that have done so? Should it be only for people who like Americans? That would be a small group. James Lindsay, senior vice president of he Council on Foreign Relations, reminds us, "Gratitude isn't the primary objective of U.S. foreign aid… Washington doles out aid primarily based on calculations about how to advance U.S. strategic interests."

If the minimal condition is that American money should advance American interests, it is worth considering money spent on the Palestinian Authority (PA) and on Egypt, as well as in support of what remains of the "Arab Spring." Read more ..


Broken Banking

BB&T On-Line Site Treats Its Customers Like Children

February 15th 2012

Corporate Logos - BBandT Logo

BB&T bank is among the nation's best regional banks. Certainly, it is among the fastest growing through a series of timely acquisitions in various states. Hundreds of cozy branches staffed by friendly officials now dot the commercial districts of North Carolina, Florida, and Maryland.

Unfortunately, in the opinion of some of its customers, the bank has taken a giant step backward with its new online security questions. It seems the bank has revised its security questions to emphasize childhood and child memories that may not apply to many grown up adults.

For example, "What was your favorite place to visit as a child. What was your dream job as a child? Who was your favorite childhood friend? What is the name of your favorite mentor or teacher? What was your childhood phone number? If you could be a character out of any novel, who would you be? What is your dream car? Where were you New Year's 2000? If you won a million dollars, what is the most extravagant purchase you would make?"

The winner may be "What is the name of your most memorable stuffed animal?" Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

This Just In: Insurers Required to Speak Plain English

February 14th 2012

Health/Medicine - StethoscopeAndKeyboard

All the recent attention paid to the debacle about coverage for contraceptives has obscured a broader, undisputed win for all consumers, including those who are pregnant or about to be pregnant.

While the media was obsessing about the contraceptives “controversy,” the Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a final rule that even the Catholic bishops should support. Starting this fall, insurers and employers that offer health care benefits must provide us with more clearly written information about what their benefit plans cover and how much of our own money we’ll have to pay if we get sick, injured or, yes, pregnant.

This is no small matter. Rumors had been circulating in Washington over the past several months that the administration would cave to the demands of the insurance industry’s trade organization that this requirement be gutted to the point of being meaningless for most Americans. The rule requiring that this information be written in plain English was part of the health care reform law. Read more ..


The Edge off Terrorism

Syria Slaughters, Hamas Terrorizes: Public Relations Firms Advance their Cause

February 12th 2012

Syrian Issues - Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad in Vogue

In recent days, we have seen an intensification of the Syrian regime’s attacks on its own people. If reports are correct, more than 5,000 Syrian civilians have been slaughtered on President Bashar al-Assad’s command since the effort to bring the so-called Arab spring to Syria began late last spring. The dead include hundreds of women and children, people who just wanted freedom from a tyrannical regime.  Supply lines have been cut; medical supplies are running out, and the United Nations admits that it can neither provide a reliable accounting of the number of dead, nor stop the killing.

This regime is the extension of one begun in 1970, when Hafez al-Assad seized power and which was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrian, including one of the most gruesome massacres in Middle East history, the destruction of the Sunni rebel stronghold of Hama, in which between 10,000 and 20,000 people were killed by government forces. Bashir al-Assad has ruled since his father’s death on 2000 and has been able to maintain his stranglehold on Syria’s people largely because of world indifference, lack of commercial resources, and because of its proximity to Israel. Read more ..


Academia on Edge

Why Yale Fumbled its Quarterback’s Rhodes Scholarship Pass

February 12th 2012

Social Topics - Payne Whitney (Yale) Gym and Walter Camp
Yale's Payne Whitney Gym; Inset: Walter Camp and Yale team

Until quite recently, Yale star quarterback Patrick Witt’s decision of last November 13 to decline a Rhodes scholarship interview, in order to lead his team against Harvard in New Haven on November 19, the only day Rhodes was willing to interview him in Atlanta, seemed the result of his straightforward reckoning with a real dilemma.

In a years-long quest for gridiron glory, Witt had transferred among several high schools and from the University of Nebraska to Yale, a record that makes his Big Decision of November seem over-determined. It seemed even more so when The New York Times reported on January 27 and more fully on February 4 that “The Rhodes Trust had informed Yale on November 1 that it was suspending Witt’s candidacy” because of a complaint of sexual assault against him by a female fellow student and that the Trust had informed Witt directly by phone on November 4.

“Suspended” is “a very reasonable characterization of what happened,” Rhodes official Eliot F. Gerson told the Times, exploding Witt’s insistence that the paper’s account had been wrong. Only if Yale had decided to reaffirm and re-endorse Witt’s Rhodes bid would the interview have remained an option. There was no chance of that. Yale had just weathered the embarrassment of having to fire his own Yale coach and mentor, Tom Williams, for claiming—falsely, as it turned out—that he, too, had once chosen a football game over a Rhodes interview. Read more ..


Edge of Diplomacy

Brazil's Voice in World Affairs Must Match its Ambitions

February 9th 2012

Syrian Issues - Assad and brazilian ambassador
Syrian President Basha Al-Assad

Amidst the clamor of international outrage in the wake of the failed United Nations Security Council vote for regime change in Syria, Brazil has remained conspicuously silent. While the United States closed its embassy in Damascus, and while the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called the vote “a great disappointment,” the dominant economic and political force in Latin America was not inclined to take action.

Aspirations for a permanent spot on the UN Security Council are keeping Brazil from taking a bold and assertive stance on human rights and democracy in the Middle East. Commercial concerns with China and Iran, both key trading allies with Brazil who oppose intervention in Syria, are of course also on the minds of the Brazilian leadership. But if the country wants to become a major international player, it must take a broader and more generous view when it comes to the Arab Spring. In short, Brazil needs to denounce President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and to join the international call for its immediate removal. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Islamist Iran Continues to Exhibit its True and Murderous Nature

February 7th 2012

Iran - Iranian missile

Two keen insights into the nature of Iran’s regime have appeared recently. The first is an account by a German journalist who was imprisoned in Iran in October 2010 “after interviewing the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.” The journalist, Marcus Hellwig, was freed a year ago and has only now told his story. Hellwig told the German press that he was beaten by guards during his nearly five months of imprisonment in Iran and that he heard constant, “horrible cries” of other inmates being tortured.

The second is an article in the Iranian press – apparently being circulated now in the Revolutionary Guard's Fars news agency but originating at the website Alef, which has ties to the Supreme Leader – that calls for genocide against Jews. Read more ..


Edge of China

Deng Xiaoping Speaks from Beyond the Grave as China Prepares for 18th Party Congress

February 7th 2012

China Topics - The East is Red

A Chinese new year is just beginning, and the undercurrents in Chinese politics are already surging up. The countdown to the 18th Party Congress has started, and various factions within the Party are now in hand-to-hand combat, resorting to all sorts of weapons to try to overpower their opponents and get the upper-hand in the power transition. Recently, mainland Chinese media used the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 southern tour to again bring out the late Party leader who died many years back. They used two things that Deng said during the southern tour to hint at what is happening now. It seems that there is more to it than meets the eye, and it has attracted a good deal of interest.

According to an article in Southern Daily, a journalist who had covered the 1992 tour said that what he “regretted most” about his reporting was that he left out two things that Deng said on the tour. The first was, “Don’t make political movements, and don’t engage in formalism; leaders have to be clear-headed and not let these things affect our work.” The other was, “When you get old, you need to know when to step down, otherwise you can make mistakes. . . . We old-timers should step down and devote ourselves to helping the young people take the stage.” Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

No More 'Peace Talks,' Please: The Arab-Israeli Conflict has no Clear Parameters for Resolution

February 5th 2012

Palestine Topics - Prime Minister Salam Fayyad  and PA President Mahmoud Abbas
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad  and PA President Mahmoud Abbas

The current round of Israeli-Palestinian meetings in Jordan ended with a Palestinian decision to leave. "The Israelis brought nothing new in these meetings," said one official, without bothering to note the obvious — neither did the Palestinians.

The talks were the result of a Quartet plan to have Israelis and Palestinians make proposals on territory and security in hopes of reaching a deal in 2012. Questions abound, but the most important is, "How many more times will this farce be played out without recognition of the real and incompatible bottom lines of the two parties?"

It is that fundamental incompatibility — not the lack of pressure or lack of bribes — that prevents the present creation of the mythical "two-state solution" embedded in the Oslo Accords, negotiated without U.S. participation, and signed in 1993. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Recognition to What End?

February 5th 2012

Palestine Topics - PLO Flags

In terms of economics the notion of mutual recognition refers to international agreements in which two or more countries agree to recognize one another and guarantee free movement of goods and services without the need to harmonize member states' national legislation. A good illustration of this would be the European Union. The Middle East is no Europe and in the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic, although the notion is referenced, it actually refers to a more basic construct that is one's actual existence -- in other words, do Palestinians recognize the existence of a Jewish State? And can Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in peace?

It has become clear that the answer is "no" and that Palestinians would rather ignore the basis of this understanding and focus on the so-called economics of the equation. That is, since there is no trade and no exchange of goods between Israelis and Palestinians they should ignore it altogether. But let us not forget that there is no actual Palestinian state and that Israel is dealing with a non-state actor governed by radical Islamist ideology and, second, the largest Palestinian export product is violence and terrorism, which, in turn, is used to target innocent civilians in Israel. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

US Support of the Syrian People Is Vital to Their Future Prospects

February 4th 2012

Syrian Issues - Syria protests Apr 2011

At the United Nations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for an international response to the crisis in Syria, warning that if the UN fails to act it should consider itself complicit with the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. There are certainly steps that the United States could take to assist in the downfall of one of the world's most despicable regimes, although such an outcome is far from certain. Furthermore, prospects for a post-Assad government that aligns with U.S. interests offer little basis for optimism, assuming the aftermath of similar "Arab Spring" revolutions is any indication. With fighting reported in the suburbs of Damascus and a near daily drama playing out at Turtle Bay, Syria has reached an inflection point. For the United States, however, attempts to contribute to a solution and take a constructive role in shaping Syria's future are hampered by a long list of unknowns. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Should the U.S. Support the Free Syrian Army?

February 2nd 2012

Syrian Issues - Day of Rage in Syria Urged
Syrian Protests

Last weekend's sharp spike in death tolls in Syria has come hand in hand with the rise of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) -- opposition members who believe armed struggle is the most efficient way of deposing the Assad regime.

Over the past two weeks, as Arab League monitors visited Syria, the FSA has expanded the scope and scale of their operation, wresting control of towns - and for a time neighborhoods of Damascus - from the Assad regime.

While the FSA is largely a franchise rather than a centrally commanded militia, it now represents a major force within the Syrian opposition that Washington is struggling to reckon with. The FSA emerged last summer as a collection of Syrian military defectors who fled to Turkey. Once dismissed as a mere Internet phenomena, the FSA and other domestically based groups of armed defectors joined forces to carry out attacks against regime forces throughout the country. Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

Egypt’s Precarious State: Precursor to War with Israel?

February 2nd 2012

Egypt - Egypt Riots #1

Last month, Victor Davis Hanson published a fascinating article on why Iran might nevertheless decide to start a war it can’t win. Within the body of the article, he analyzed several cases in which countries did exactly that, including the Korean War in 1950, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 Falklands War, and the 1991 Gulf War, and found three common factors: pressing domestic crises, belief that the West might acquiesce in their aggression, and conviction that even if it didn’t, the Western response would stop well short of regime change. In short, their leaders had something to gain (domestic distraction) and nothing irreversible to lose.

While surely relevant to Iran, Hanson’s analysis is equally relevant to another Mideast powder keg, one created by the combination of Egypt’s revolution and a troubling change in Western attitudes toward the Israeli-Arab peace process. The former left Egypt with a major economic crisis. And the latter has assured Arab states that attacking Israel carries no risk of irreversible losses. Even if a war results in Israel capturing Arab territory, the West will demand that it return every last inch. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Gingrich's Unkosher Call

February 2nd 2012

Jewish Topics - Kosher Senior Meals

Did it matter to Floridian voters that Republican candidate Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, may have cut funding for kosher meals in nursing homes?  Whether or not it mattered was less important than the importance put upon the Jewish vote by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.  Their vote seemed to be of such great significance to him, he needed to find a polarizing issue to throw at his opponent.

This begs the question, is the Jewish community so gullible that wider domestic issues and looming foreign matters are less important than whether kosher meals are funded by the public for seniors?

Putting the facts into perspective, the bulk of the Jewish seniors whom Mr. Gingrich was targeting with his robo-call this week are registered Democrats and had little say in the Republican primary.  He knew that however, as does any candidate who does the right research before allocating precious time and limited resources in a presidential race. So why do it at all? Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Attempts to Deceive are Transparent

January 31st 2012

Egypt - Qaradaqi in Cairo

Amid new strains in U.S.-Egypt ties, some in Washington are studying the tensions and results of recent voting for indications that democracy can take hold. Those who say the Muslim Brotherhood is showing new signs of moderation should compare its messages to outsiders, in English, with its message to Egyptians and other Arabs, in Arabic.

Take the Brotherhood’s official English and Arabic Web sites, IkhwanWeb and IkhwanOnline, from one day this month. In English, the home page featured no fewer than eight articles on the solicitude of the Brotherhood toward Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.

The Arabic home page, by contrast, included just two small pieces on this theme. The contrast is sharper on other key issues. On democracy, the English home page one January day featured several articles with headlines such as “Why Islamists Are Better Democrats” and “Democracy: One of the Objectives of Shariah?” There was nothing comparable in Arabic. Instead, Arabic readers saw three pieces against freedom of the press, attacking two top independent Egyptian dailies for printing criticisms of the Brotherhood. Read more ..


The Health Edge

An Alabama Girl and Family Struggle with Free Market Healthcare as she Fights for her Life

January 30th 2012

Health/Medicine - caroline richmond fundraiser

“It shouldn’t be this way,” read the subject line of an email I received Friday morning from a conservative friend and fellow Southerner. “People shouldn’t have to beg for money to pay for medical care.” At first, I thought he was referring to my column last week in which I wrote about the fundraising effort to cover the bills, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, that the husband of Canadian skier Sarah Burke is now facing. Burke died on January 19, nine days after sustaining severe head injuries in a skiing accident in Park City, Utah. I noted that had the accident occurred in Burke’s native Canada, which has a system of universal coverage, the fundraiser would not have been necessary.

But my friend was not writing about Sarah Burke. He wanted to alert me to another fundraiser, this one on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, to help pay for the mounting medical expenses for a beautiful 13-year-old girl fighting for her life at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Mobile, Ala. In late November, Caroline Richmond was rushed to the hospital after collapsing on the way home from school.  Doctors quickly determined she’d had a stroke and required immediate surgery. The bad news just kept coming. The stroke had been caused by leukemia. Read more ..


Inside Latin America

Latin America does not Appear on the Radar Scope for Obama or his Republican Opponents

January 30th 2012

Venezuela Topics - obama and chavez
President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

After President Barack Obama delivered the last State of the Union address for his current term, the Republican aspirants for the presidency immediately responded that his rhetoric sounded more like a “state of the presidential campaign.” Though there is some waggish appeal to this unlikely claim, in light of the steadily degrading and pumped-up and theatrical nature to the Republican candidates’ manner in characterizing the party’s optimism in recent weeks, not to mention that challenger Mitt Romney’s issuing his own “pre-buttal” pessimistic assessment prior to the Obama address, which criticized the President on any number of issues. Even amid the many instances of the two parties’ ideologically soaked clashes, one common feature was starkly, but depressingly clear: they hardly have evinced even a trace of dust in sounding the need of a comprehensive approach when it comes to U.S.-Latin American relations.

Aside from some slightly amusing last-minute anti-Castro bashing in an attempt to nail down Florida’s electoral vote, the Republican presidential hopefuls have framed their stance on contemporary U.S.-Latin American relations within the context of unadulterated schlock. They consistently serve up obsolete and sterile Cold War-era doctrines and diplomatic clichés with expired shelf lives. These have not only included weak (albeit fanciful) positions aimed at unhinging Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, but also upholding claims with absolutely no evidence that somehow Hamas and Hezbollah pose a grave threat by way of the Mexico border as a threatening route for terrorism. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt’s Parliament 75 Percent Islamist--So Egypt-Israel Peace Agreement "Dead" Even if Treaty Still Exists

January 29th 2012

Egypt - muslim_brotherhood
A Muslim Brotherhood Official at a Press Conference

We’re starting to get a good picture of what the lower house of Egypt’s parliament will be like. Close to 50 percent of the seats will be held by the Muslim Brotherhood. Another 25 percent will be held by the al-Nour party of Salafists. With 75 percent, the two Islamist parties will be able to do as they please.

However, they — or at least the Brotherhood — are determined to be cautious. Note that there is a big difference between actually being moderate and simply being patient, advancing step by step toward radical goals. The Western media will report that the Brotherhood is indeed moderate.

Actually, as I review coverage over the last year it is almost impossible to find even a single article in the mass media that reports any such evidence, much less analysis, despite the massive documentation available to the contrary. The non-Islamist seats will be held by the Wafd, nine percent, and the Free Egyptians Party, another nine percent, with the rest spread among a dozen different parties, mainly liberal with a small number of leftists. The Wafd will be willing to make deals with the Islamists in order to obtain a share of power for itself. Only the Free Egyptians will oppose them with determination. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Fossil Fuel Use Must be Reduced or Future Oil Prices may Rupture the Economy

January 27th 2012

Energy Topics - Oil Barrels 400px

Stop wrangling over global warming and instead reduce fossil-fuel use for the sake of the global economy.

That's the message from two scientists, one from the University of Washington and one from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who say in the current issue of the journal Nature that the economic pain of a flattening oil supply will trump the environment as a reason to curb the use of fossil fuels. "Given our fossil-fuel dependent economies, this is more urgent and has a shorter time frame than global climate change," says James W. Murray, UW professor of oceanography, who wrote the Nature commentary with David King, director of Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

The "tipping point" for oil supply appears to have occurred around 2005, says Murray, who compared world crude oil production with world prices going back to 1998. Before 2005, supply of regular crude oil was elastic and increased in response to price increases. Since then, production appears to have hit a wall at 75 million barrels per day in spite of price increases of 15 percent each year. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Limited Options for Wheeling and Dealing with Islamist Iran

January 27th 2012

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

Last week, I wrote on the strategic challenge Iran faces in its bid to shape a sphere of influence stretching from western Afghanistan to Beirut on the eastern Mediterranean coast. I also pointed out the limited options available to the United States and other Western powers to counter Iran.

One was increased efforts to block Iranian influence in Syria. The other was to consider a strategy of negotiation with Iran. In the past few days, we have seen hints of both. The city of Zabadani in southwestern Syria reportedly has fallen into the hands of anti-regime forces. Though the city does not have much tactical value for the rebels, and the regime could well retake it, the event could have real significance. Up to this point, apart from media attention, the resistance to the regime of President Bashar al Assad has not proven particularly effective. It was certainly not able to take and hold territory, which is critical for any insurgency to have significance.

Now that the rebels have taken Zabadani amid much fanfare -- even though it is not clear to what extent the city was ceded to their control, much less whether they will be able to hold it against Syrian military action -- a small bit of Syria now appears to be under rebel control. The longer they can hold it, the weaker al Assad will look and the more likely it becomes that regime opponents can create a provisional government on Syrian soil to rally around. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Despite Obama's Lofty Rhetoric, the Tide of War in the Mideast Remains

January 26th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama testifyin' 2012

In his State of the Union address, President Obama used the allusion that the tide of war is receding in the Middle East, suggesting that the U.S. has strengthened its position in that vital and volatile part of the world. He is wrong. The United States is receding from the Middle East, but the tide of war remains. Absent the stabilizing hand of American troops, the Iraqi government has been arresting its opponents, exacerbating political tension while a new period of sectarian bloodshed has ripped the country. On one terrible day in December, coordinated explosions ravaged Baghdad, killing more than 70 people and injuring more than 200. In January, scores of Shiites were killed and hundreds wounded across five days of pilgrimages during a holy period. Almost every day bombs go off somewhere, engendering fear among the people that their brief experience with relative freedom and relative openness is ending.

But, says the president, the war is over. "Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies. From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can't escape the reach of the United States of America." Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Iron Clad isn’t Necessarily Rock Solid: How Israel Fares to America

January 26th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Israel

Our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history.”  -- President Barack Obama

This 19 word sentence contained within the 6992 word State of the Union address, President Barack Obama practically singled out Israel as if to highlight to his Jewish supporters and detractors alike, that he is the best friend the Jews have had.  Other nations, or nation’s capitals were mentioned as allies, but only Israel was assured such an “Iron-clad commitment”.

For all the accolades and loud cheers in the House Chamber, however, the words that the President chose were quite careful and maybe even telling.  Unlike Europe and Asia, which he called America’s “oldest alliances,” and the “Americas”, with which he said our ties “are deeper,” America, he said, is committed to Israel’s security.  We accept that and know it, and have seen the “closest military cooperation between” Israel and the United States in history take shape in the iron-clad Iron Dome mobile missile defense system that the U.S. has helped build in Israel. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Symbolism and Empty Rhetoric Appear to link Jack Kemp to Newt Gingrich

January 25th 2012

Politics - Newt Jack & Bob 'Viagra' Dole
Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp, and Bob Dole in 1995

Here we are, sandwiched between two debates, wasting a lot of time and distorting the Republican brand. The repetitious Republican debates are not serving the cause of victory with this blather. Election politics are supposed to be about seeking victory, not debating points. Nomination and platform politics should focus on advocacy of concrete policy promises.

Instead of these, too often we only get to listen to Professor Gingrich deliver yet another lecture on arcane topics that only another effete historian would appreciate. If there were a national drinking game that requires a shot of rye whiskey for every time Newt mentions “Lincoln-Douglas debates,” and a snifter of brandy whenever he says “big ideas,” and a jigger of scotch each time “grand visions” flow from his lips, the whole nation would be drunk on what he’s been selling in these debates. Read more ..


Inside Mexico

Mexican Democracy is Encroaching on Mexicans' Human Rights

January 22nd 2012

Mexican Topics - Felipe Calderon in 2009
Mexican President Felipe Calderon

In recent months, the media has widely reported on the continuous human rights violations committed by members of the Mexican military. While news of these atrocities only recently surfaced on major news stations, Mexican authorities, in fact, have been struggling with human rights abuses since 2007 when these pivotal events first started to come to light. Such atrocities peaked during President Felipe Calderón’s six years in office, as police and armed forces have been found to be involved in at least 170 cases of torture, 24 extrajudicial killings, and 39 forced disappearances since 2006.

When President Calderon first came to power, he dispatched military forces throughout Mexico in an attempt to take down the drug cartels and deter the violence generated by rival criminal organizations fighting over territory and clientele. Instead of reducing violence, the military forces began perpetuating the very crimes they were charged with stopping. In a country where drug cartels have been coexisting with civil society for years, the police and military forces became embedded in the pockets of the traffickers.

In Mexico, the cartels are dominate specific geographical parts of the country, and the fight for influence and expansion of territory is constant. These drug cartels are not managed by corner thugs and criminal layabouts, but by sophisticated businessmen who employ a vast network of individuals which include financial officers, hit men, and lieutenants. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Jews Are in Palestine as of Right

January 21st 2012

Israel Topics - Sinai, Egypt-Israel Border

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister of Britain, called Israeli settlements “deliberate vandalism” at a press conference Tuesday, January 10, 2012. Nick Clegg is turning international law on its head and attempting to rewrite history.

Great Britain was entrusted in 1922 by the League of Nations with the responsibility to administer Palestine—the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, in accordance with the provisions of the articles of the Mandate for Palestine. The following two articles are the most relevant:

Article 5: “The Mandatory shall be responsible for seeing that no Palestine territory shall be ceded or leased to, or in any way placed under the control of the Government of any foreign power.”

Article 6: “The administration of Palestine ... shall encourage ... close settlement by Jews on the land, including State land and waste land not required for public purpose.” Read more ..


Media Madness

"Mainstream" Media Leans Left while Skewering the Right

January 20th 2012

Media - New York Times Bldg

Attempting to parse the often obtuse language in The New York Times has become an easier task than in the past due, in no small part, to the transparently hostile view of Republicans and the consistently admiring stance toward President Barack Obama.

Let me cite an interesting example from the Dec. 25 Jodi Kantor profile of Mitt Romney during his Harvard Business School years.

Kantor wrote: "And unlike Barack Obama, who attended Harvard Law School more than a decade later, Mr. Romney was not someone who fundamentally questioned how the world worked or talked much about social policy topics."

Several poignant questions emerge from this tendentious sentence: How can Ms. Kantor be sure that Barack Obama questioned how the world worked while a student at Harvard? How can she assert that Mitt Romney didn't discuss social policy topics? And what is meant by the word "fundamentally"? Read more ..


Middle East on Edge

The Challenges Facing Israel as January 2012 has already Filled its Plate

January 20th 2012

Israel Topics - Bibi arguing

2012 has thus far brought a lot of activity to Israel that could be indicative of the year it is expected to have.  The growing internal strife that has become very public between the religious right and most others to the left of them is threatening the foundation of Israel’s society.  In addition to the social difficulties it poses, the squeeze of the widening financial burden on those who produce income and those who rely on the State for services is taking its toll on the patience of the general society.

Adam Kaufman, of Adam B. Kaufman & Associates, PLLC and longtime Woodmere resident said, “What’s been happening between the religious and secular communities is disheartening.  Israel and Jews have enough people wishing harm without us wanting to harm one another.  Sadly, at times we can be our own worst enemies.” To Mr. Kaufman’s point, the internal conflict would be enough to keep such a small society busy.  Yet, that could be viewed as a minor bump in the road when looking at it in the context of the world it exists in.

This week brought news that Egypt’s leading presidential contender, former Arab League Chief Amr Moussa said that he would maintain the peace treaty with Israel, but in a modified version. He would seek to increase troop deployment in the Sinai, but what’s possibly more troubling is that he would reconsider supplying Israel with natural gas.  Moussa would do this to appease the naysayers within Egypt who are opposed to Egypt’s assistance to Israel in any practical way.  Cutting off the gas supply would be a hard hit for Israel and would affect the lives of its citizens in a real way. Read more ..


The Transportation Edge

Can Public–Private Partnerships Fill the Transportation Funding Gap?

January 18th 2012

Transportation Topics - Broken Road

The House of Representatives and the Senate are working to complete the legislative language for their respective highway reauthorization plans. Proposals circulating in the House and Senate indicate that Congress could exercise some degree of restraint in federal transportation spending compared with earlier proposals and the President’s exceptionally generous plan of February 2011.

As a consequence, federal, state, and local transportation programs may need to find alternative financial resources just to maintain current levels of inflation-adjusted spending. Under the right circumstances, public–private partnerships could play a targeted role.

Innovative Opportunities

To shrink the financial gap between wishes and reality, many have proposed that governments seek to negotiate public–private partnership contracts (P3s) with infrastructure investors and developers. These complex and carefully drafted agreements allow governments to leverage scarce public funds with private capital for major transportation projects. However, while P3s have demonstrated the ability to raise substantial sums of money for major infrastructure projects—especially those that add needed capacity in congested corridors—experience demonstrates that they can be complicated and time-consuming to create and that not every transportation project is amenable to the P3 approach. Read more ..


El Salvador on Edge

El Salvador's Unhealed Wounds, Twenty Years after the El Mozote Massacre

January 18th 2012

Latin American Topics - El Mozote massacre site El Salvador

January 16th marked the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Salvadoran peace accords.  FMLN President Mauricio Funes commemorated the occasion by asking the families of victims for forgiveness for the massacre of El Mozote—an unspeakably atrocious event of unprecedented magnitude that the government publicly had denied ever taking place for years. In the midst of the fiercely brutal civil war, the U.S.-trained Atlacatl battalion notorious for its brutality, entered the small village in Morazán and accounted for the massacre of one thousand innocent lives over the course of three days—December 11-13th, 1981. Death Squads targeted anyone suspected of rebel activity, leading to the torture, assassination, wounding and disappearance of twelve thousand of innocent men, women, and children, in the course of the civil war overall. Many of the victims bodies have yet to be found.

These human rights abuses have been denied of justice for over two decades, leaving a deep scar in the hearts of those who had survived the event. Standing solemnly at the massacre site, President Funes suggested that he could not be expected to erase the pain that the family members have carried, but that he hoped this act of public recognition would at least help dignify the victims lost in the tragedy. “I ask forgiveness of the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters of those who still today do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones. I ask forgiveness from the people of El Salvador, who suffered an atrocious and unacceptable violence,” pronounced Funes to the assembly made up of thousands of campesinos. It has been two decades of struggle for the country to gain even the minimum democratic footing and yet there is still an enormous amount of work to be done. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran is an Enemy, but who Passes for a Friend?

January 17th 2012

Turkish Topics - Erdogan
Turkish Prime Minister, Reccep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey is not a solid, reliable ally, ready to assist with the overriding challenge in the Middle East today: neutralizing Iran's nuclear program. So why does the Obama Administration behave as though it is?

Ninety years after the Ottoman Empire gasped its final breath, Turkey is again rising to a position of dominance.

For the discontented masses in the Middle East and beyond, non-Arab yet Muslim Turkey has become a rallying point, thanks to its government's strident defense of the Palestinians and, after decades of enforced secularism, its pious embrace of Islam as a foundation for Turkish society.

As a result, Turkey's Islamist Prime Minister, Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, has assumed a status much coveted by Middle Eastern leaders past and present: admired at street level and respected as a critical player by external powers, especially the United States. Read more ..



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