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Religious Tolerance

Bosnian Grand Mufti Ceric is No Peacemaker and Should Not receive Ducci Foundation Peace Prize

March 6th 2012

Mustafa Ceric Bosnian mufti
Bosnian Grand Mufit Mustafa Ceric

The decision by Italy’s Ducci Foundation to award Grand Mufti Cerić its peace prize for his contribution to reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina has sparked a wave of protests from those opposed to his divisive and provocative statements.His name is Mustafa Cerić. He is the highest Muslim religious authority in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A prominent Italian institution, the Ducci Foundation, has decided to honour him for his “contribution to peace and reconciliation” by granting him its peace prize next March, at Rome’s Campidoglio. But there is a setback – according to some Bosnian human rights activists, Cerić is nothing less that a fundamentalist, hidden under a fake image of tolerance.

This was repeated for Il Piccolo by Refik Hodžić, an influential activist for human rights and a leading documentary film-maker. Cerić “has been and is playing an increasingly important political role among Bosniaks, that often surpasses that of any politician”, explains Hodžić. “He is perfectly aware of that power and uses it often to present himself as a counterpart to the president of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, in the continuation of wartime-like discourse of division and mistrust between Serbs and Bosniaks. Cerić uses populist rhetoric identical to Dodik’s, portraying Bosniaks as constantly under threat of repression and physical elimination, drawing on the suffering they endured during the nineties, and the Islamic Community and himself as their sole defenders”, illustrates the activist. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Between Iran and a Hard Place: Obama Could Remake Himself into a War President.

March 5th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

When U.S. President Barack Obama entered his White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today -- angling to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities -- there was one seemingly mundane issue on his mind that he may be too uncomfortable to share with his guest: gasoline prices.

There is no gainsaying the corrosive political impact that high gasoline prices have on an incumbent president’s chances of getting reelected. With prices projected to hit a national average of $4.25 a gallon by Memorial Day, and with a new poll finding that seven in 10 Americans find the gas price issue “deeply important,” the president should be concerned. The tension with Iran has already pushed crude prices to their highest level since the onset of the Arab Spring, adding at least 30 cents to a gallon of regular gasoline. Investors, concerned about potential escalation in the Persian Gulf, are likely to push oil prices even higher. Other factors -- a decline in the dollar, tensions and supply disruptions in oil-producing nations such as Nigeria and Sudan, stocks building up in refineries in preparation for the summer driving season, and a sense that the American economy is improving, to name a few -- have also contributed to the upswing. Read more ..

The Mideast on Edge

The Future of Land-For-Peace Accords Depends on Egypt, not Palestinians

March 5th 2012

Dan Meridor
Israeli Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor

Amid the din of debate over a possible Israeli strike on Iran, perhaps it is unsurprising that Israeli Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor's press conference on February 20 attracted so little international attention. But in a world that claims to view an Israeli-Palestinian deal as a top priority, it should have sounded alarm bells. Israelis, warned Meridor, may never again sign another land-for-peace deal if Egypt unilaterally alters or abrogates its treaty with Israel.

Meridor is not the first Israeli to issue this warning in recent months, but he is one of the most prominent. Moreover, despite serving in a government usually dismissed overseas as "hard-line" or "right-wing," he is a politician far more popular on the left than on the right, an outspoken advocate of an Israeli-Palestinian treaty who even supports freezing construction in the settlements (outside the major settlement blocs). When someone like that warns that the entire land-for-peace paradigm is in danger, it is worth paying attention. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

The Need for Consistent U.S. and Israeli Public Messaging on Iran

March 4th 2012

Obama and Netanyau

Iran seems certain to be the main topic of discussion during Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's March 5 White House meeting with President Obama. Whatever the substantive content of their conversations on the Iranian nuclear program, they need to address their public messaging, which has undermined mutual trust and efforts to achieve their common objective: a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis with Tehran.

For its part, the Obama administration must spend less time messaging Israel and Congress, and more time messaging Iran. It also needs to iron out contradictory elements in its public messaging that undermine ongoing efforts to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran and risk bringing about the very outcomes it hopes to avoid: an Israeli preventive strike or a fateful miscalculation by Tehran that could lead to war. Specifically, these contradictory elements pertain to U.S. policy objectives (no nuclear weapons capability, or no nuclear weapons), the red lines that flow from these policy objectives (achieving a capability to rapidly build a bomb, or the actual decision to build one), and U.S. attitudes toward the use of force (as a last resort, or never). Read more ..

The War in Afghanistan

US Policy in Afghanistan: Imperative Considerations Need to be Addressed

March 3rd 2012

Afghani Taliban
Afghani Taliban

Although the situation in Afghanistan has spiraled downward over the past 10 days, before making hasty decisions on next steps, U.S. policymakers need to consider what has contributed to this ominous turn of events and what options there are for adjusting the U.S. strategy to avoid further such incidents. U.S. policymakers should also be aware that leaving Afghanistan prematurely would likely lead to the revival of al-Qaeda and increase the threat of further attacks on the U.S. homeland. President Obama’s laser-like focus on timelines for troop withdrawals over the past two years has signaled that the U.S. is more interested in getting its troops out of the country than in achieving its goals. This has led Afghan President Hamid Karzai to become a less reliable partner for the U.S. as he seeks to hedge against an early U.S. drawdown. As events over the past 10 days demonstrate, America cannot carry out the mission in Afghanistan without reliable Afghan partners.

The manner in which the Administration has sought to engage the Taliban has raised further questions about U.S. strategy. The U.S. needs to take into account the views of Afghan civil society and coordinate its peace moves more closely with the Karzai administration. The public disagreement between U.S. and Afghan officials over the opening of a Taliban office in Doha, Qatar, revealed weakness in the strategy and gave the impression that talking with the Taliban was leading to splits between Washington and Kabul. Moving forward, the U.S. should be more transparent about the negotiations with the Taliban and reassure Afghans that it will not sacrifice the progress on human rights, including for women, made over the past decade. Read more ..

Israel's Advocate

Israel would have no Conflict if its Neighbors Were not Predators

March 2nd 2012

John Batchelor

He categorically said, “Jews are very good neighbors; you can't say any more about them.”  When I had the opportunity to sit with John Batchelor earlier this week, he was sanguine about his opportunity to speak before the One Israel Fund 18th Gala Anniversary Dinner on Wednesday, March 14 where he will also be honored.  Batchelor, the nationally syndicated radio talk show host will address the audience of the organization dedicated to not only supporting Israel, but promoting the unification of Judaea and Samaria as a pivotal mainstay of the Jewish State.

The distinction of advancing the eternal attachment of the West Bank to the Greater Israel, makes the support of someone like Mr. Batchelor unique among non Jewish advocates for the only Democracy in the Middle East.  However, while raised as a Protestant in the Presbyterian church and married to a pastor, he does not attribute his attitude toward Israel as so much a religious consideration as it is a practical levelheaded belief in the people. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Fuel

"Freedom" Makes Strong Case for Ethanol: Viable Energy Source

March 2nd 2012

Biofuel Field

Several years ago, as we at The Auto Channel opened our eyes to the potential of alternative fuel and energy sources, we championed the entire suite of domestic solutions: wind, solar, compressed natural gas, propane, alcohol (ethanol and methanol), electric, the variety of algae-based fuels, and even some really exotic ideas such as compressed air-powered motors. We liked them all. At the earliest stage we also subscribed to the common notion that there was not one single bullet solution to ending our energy dependency by replacing gasoline. However, as my business partner, Bob Gordon, and I delved further into our studies on the issues we realized two key things: First, that maturation of some of the solutions, like electric, was decades away from practical reality. Moreover, battery production and the dependence upon rare earth elements from foreign sources to make the batteries left us in the same vulnerable supply position as dealing with the OPEC terrorists.The second key point was that supporting a myriad of solutions was actually tantamount to inaction because it insured that nothing would get done. We came to understand that the main advocate for multiple solutions was the petroleum oil industry itself. If nothing would be accomplished in finding a serious alternative to gasoline it means that the oil and gasoline producers would remain in firm control of the world’s economies.

As we learned more and more we recognized that there really is one single bullet solution: alcohol. Referring, of course, to ethanol and/or methanol, both of which are produced by distilling alcohol. We were extremely fortunate to make the acquaintance of some very experienced and knowledgeable ethanol proponents, most notably David Blume (permaculture expert and author of “Alcohol Can Be A Gas”) and Ted Chipner, president of Ohio BioSystems Cooperative.

This isn’t to say that CNG or propane are not also important candidates in their own right to be single bullet solutions, but you have to keep in mind that even gasoline is not truly a single bullet fuel source. We still need diesel to power heavy vehicles and large stationary machines, and home heating oil or gases are needed for residential uses. Therefore, the so-called single bullet only really refers to the primary fuel used to power the overwhelming number of vehicles on the road: passenger cars, light trucks and motorcycles. If we can decide on one fuel to replace gasoline for these vehicles then everything else would fall into place because our domestic supply of petroleum oil would be more than adequate to provide us with all the diesel we need; particularly when we add in or replace petroleum oil-based diesel with bio-diesels. Consequently, as the supply of domestic natural gas and propane increases, home heating oil becomes unnecessary. Read more ..

Edge of Geopolitics

Regional Chauvinism in South America poses a Challenge for Obama

March 1st 2012

Argentina Falklands flag
Flag of Argentina with 'We Shall Return' and Falklands map superimposed

In recent months the government of Argentina has launched a new political and public relations campaign aimed at putting pressure on Great Britain to negotiate the future of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. The islands constitute an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean 300 miles from the Argentinean coast. These islands have been ruled by Great Britain since 1833 except for a short period in April 1982 after the Argentinean navy invaded and conquered the islands.

Argentina has continued to claim the islands, arguing that the country acquired them from Spain after Argentina became an independent state in 1810. The United Nations called for the Argentineans and the British to conduct a dialogue over the future of the Islands. The British government has asserted, particularly since 2009, that there will be no talks since the residents of the islands do not wish to be part of Argentina. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Lampert and Fleischman: A Nuclear Iran isn't Just Israel's problem

February 29th 2012

Iran Nuclear

There are some who argue that Iran is a threat to Israel alone and not to the U.S. or the rest of the world. It is no wonder that the possibility of an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear facility causes some people more panic and concern than the threat of Iran itself.

Some have claimed that Iran is developing nuclear weapons because, like Israel, it feels surrounded and threatened by enemies. A few analysts, and even some public officials in the U.S. and Europe, have maintained that the U.S. could contain Iran should it develop a nuclear bomb. Those who expound that argument claim that it is possible to live with a nuclear Iran as long as clear conditions are imposed on Tehran, such as imposing a threat of retaliation should certain conditions exist. Read more ..

The Politics of Hate

The Odious 'Israel First' Claims and their White House Connections

February 27th 2012

Alan Dershowitz

It’s the kind of virulent hate speech you’d expect to find on a neo-Nazi website or in a Patrick Buchanan column: American Jews who support current Israeli policies are accused of dual loyalty and called “Israel firsters.”

AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) fares even worse: “Saying AIPAC is guilty of dual loyalty is giving it credit for one more loyalty than it holds.”

In other words, this widely respected American organization, and the hundreds of thousands of Jews (and Christians) who support it, have absolutely no loyalty to our nation; their sole loyalty is to the foreign nation of Israel. This false accusation of disloyalty to country was a central tenet of Nazism, Stalinism, and other anti-Semitic regimes. Today, it is the mantra of Jew haters and neo-Nazis.

So who is spouting this hateful rhetoric today?

I first came across some of these vile quotes about “Israel firsters” and “dual loyalty” on an actual neo-Nazi website. Surprisingly, however, they were attributed not to the usual suspects, but to a spokesman for Media Matters, a hard left Democratic media attack and watchdog group that started out as an antidote to Fox News, and that still has close connections to the Obama White House. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Is the Iranian Regime Rational?

February 26th 2012

Ahmadinejad Nuclear

In a recent remark that has stoked considerable controversy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey called the Iranian regime a "rational actor." Dempsey underscored the importance of this assertion when he described it as the basis for his belief that the current U.S. approach to Iran "is the most prudent path." To determine whether Gen. Dempsey is right or wrong, it is important to understand what it means for a government to act rationally. It does not necessarily imply that the government sees the world the way we do, or makes the decisions we would make. Simply put, there are two essential criteria for rationality -- first, that decisions are arrived at through a process of logical reasoning; second, that the decisions made are the best ones given the choices available.

Most discussions of whether the Iranian regime is rational focus on the first criterion. Does the regime make its choices by weighing costs and benefits, or through a capricious process guided by whim and claims of divine revelation? The U.S. intelligence community believes that it is the former: for all of the regime's unhinged rhetoric, the regime is calculating in its decisionmaking. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program puts it this way: "Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs." However, this conclusion raises a critical question -- what does the Iranian regime see as costly, and what does it see as beneficial? Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Aligning the Planets and the West to Oppose Iranian Nuclear Threat

February 25th 2012

Iran Long-Range Missile

Israel, the United States, and Europe share grave concern over the Iranian theocracy's politics and its serial use of violence in pursuit of its goals. The Islamic Republic formally declared war on the west and is the major state sponsor, funder, and trainer of terrorism, including plotting terror in the United States. The regime abuses human rights, violates international accords, materially supported violence against American troops in Iraq, props up the Syrian dictatorship, destabilizes Lebanon, and targets Israeli diplomats.

As Iran stands on the cusp of achieving a nuclear weapons capability and tests and deploys missile delivery systems, the U.S. administration and some in Europe appear to be parting ways with Israel.

Interminable negotiations have served only to further convince the Iranian government that possessing such weapons will give it the clout it desires. For Washington, the Iranian threat is manageable, but for Israel it is increasingly viewed as one of survival. Iran has explicitly and repeatedly announced its intention to 'wipe Israel of the map.' Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Harvard to Host Conference Calling for an End to Israel

February 24th 2012


It is shocking, but perhaps not surprising. On Saturday and Sunday, March 3 and 4, Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government will host a conference entitled "One State Conference: Israel/Palestine and the One-State Solution." The goal of the conference is "to expand the range of academic debate on this issue. Thus, our main goal is to educate ourselves and others about the possible contours of a one-state solution and the challenges that stand in the way of its realization." Notice how delicately it is put: "to expand the range..." To be sure, this conference will discuss ending the State of Israel. Nothing more and nothing less. A so-called "one state" solution means the end of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. Harvard knows it. Anybody with a brain knows it. The only question is, how has it come this far?

Caroline Glick argues that the academic elite is now leading the charge of Jew-hatred. Consider the long list of "professors" who will be speaking at the conference. My sense is that the reason the Holocaust was more successful in killing Jews on a genocidal scale than say the Russian czars' pogroms is because the Holocaust was fueled from above - from elitist anti-Semitism and elitist xenophobia. It wasn't the feudal lords who organized the murder machine. Those lords just let their Cossacks murder couple hundred Jews to get their bloodlust satisfied for the year. Most of the surviving Jews were permitted to pack their suitcases and run away. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Mitt Romney’s Cutting-Edge Middle East Strategy

February 24th 2012

mitt romney

As the U.S. electoral process grinds on and the Republican primary debates fold into state primaries and caucuses, the candidates’ views on national security and foreign policy are being carefully scrutinized by voters who consider them to be crucial components of the total policy package a candidate will carry into the Oval Office. Citizens’ attention is understandably riveted to candidates’ proposals for solving our national economic crisis. And, while there is little doubt that the condition of our economy will weigh heavily in the final outcome of the 2012 election, U.S. national security will undoubtedly play a huge role in the evolution of our national economy for the foreseeable future. After 9/11, and throughout the first post-9/11 decade, we have known that a meltdown in the Middle East would destabilize economic partnerships and jeopardize the flow of oil and energy to the West. We’ve also known that an increase of jihadi radicalism in the region will boost the chances of war and human rights abuses and lead to more terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland. The security of the United States and other democratic societies will be at risk if the Middle East is abandoned to radicals and radical regimes.


The Iranian Threat

Obama Pressures Israel Does Not Understand Need for Self-Defense

February 24th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

Senior officials from the Obama administration have begun descending on Israel once again to ensure that Jerusalem holds off on an attack on Iran. At least, that is the message the White House is seeking to generate. "The national security advisor Tom Donilon and the American intelligence head James Clapper are coming for an urgent visit. They will ask Israel not to attack Iran right now," a front-age caption said in this Sunday's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. Donilon arrived on Sunday, and began a series of meetings with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Clapper is due to arrive later this week. Indeed, the two visits, together with recent comments by other senior figures warning Israel not to strike Iran, suggest that a media campaign is underway to prevent any surprise Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear weapons program. America's close ally, Britain, issued its own warning to Israel against an attack in recent days as well. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

America's Security Requires Interagency Collaboration

February 24th 2012

NYPD and flag
US Security Personnel

Recently, authorities arrested a man in an attempted suicide attack on the U.S. Capitol. The attempt marks the 45th publicly known attempted terrorist attack against the United States at a minimum, since 9/11 and is the sixth such attack targeting Washington, D.C. Terrorists continue to seek to harm the U.S., as evidenced in the detainment of Amine El Khalifi, a 29-year-old Moroccan man present in the U.S. illegally. El Khalifi was carrying an automatic weapon and a suicide vest laced with what he believed to be explosives, with the objective of making his way to the U.S. Capital. A statement by Capitol Police indicates the “arrest was the culmination of a lengthy and extensive operation during which the individual was closely and carefully monitored.” Sources indicate that El Khalifi has been under investigation for over a year. Undercover FBI agents, whom El Khalifi believed to be al-Qaeda operatives, provided him with what he thought to be explosives and a gun to carry out his attack. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

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

February 23rd 2012


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 ..

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