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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 ..

Edge on Education

The Coming Higher-Ed Revolution

January 17th 2012

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

In recent decades, key sectors of the American economy have experienced huge and disruptive transformations—shifts that have ultimately yielded beneficial changes to the way producers and customers do business together. From the deregulation that brought about the end of AT&T’s “Ma Bell” system, to the way entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs forever changed the computer world once dominated by IBM, to the way the internet and bloggers have upended the business model of traditional newspapers, we have seen industries completely remade—often in wholly unexpected ways. In hindsight, such transformations seem to have been inevitable; at the time, however, most leaders in these fields never saw the changes coming.

The higher-education industry is on the verge of such a transformative re-alignment. Many Americans agree that a four-year degree is vastly overpriced—keeping many people out of the market—and are increasingly questioning the value of what many colleges teach. Nevertheless, for those who seek a certain level of economic security or advancement, a four-year degree is absolutely necessary. Clearly, this is a situation primed for change. In as little as a decade, most colleges and universities could look very different from their present forms—with the cost of a college credential plummeting even as the quality of instruction rises. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama is Running From his Record, but he Can’t Hide It.

January 17th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama serious

In his “60 Minutes” interview, President Obama offered a keen insight into his 2012 reelection strategy. It takes some decoding, but his underlying strategic goals emerge. He said: “The question next year is going to be—and then this is how a democracy is supposed to work—do they see a more compelling vision coming out from the other side? Do they think that cutting taxes further, including on the wealthy, cutting taxes on corporations, of gutting regulations—do we think that that is going to be somehow more successful? And if the American people think that that’s a recipe for success and a majority are persuaded by that, then I’m going to lose.”

Three relevant points emerge from an analysis of his comment:

He wants the election to be a referendum on the Republican candidate and his political philosophy. By posing the key question as whether the GOP remedy for the economy will be “somehow more successful,” he makes it clear that he wants this contest to be about the opposition proposals. Read more ..

Middle East on Edge

White House Insights: State of the Middle East Peace Process

January 16th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Barack Obama Israel speech

In September, 2010 U.S. President Barack Obama began his first major effort to get Israelis and Palestinians back to full direct negotiations. He had not only Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the East Room of the White House, but also Jordan’s King Abdullah, and then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, later to be ousted by the Egyptian version of the Arab Spring.

After months of stalemate, but also intense behind-the-scenes contacts, there may be some light finding its way into the dark tunnel of Middle East peace efforts. Jordan played host to two sets of face-to-face talks between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, with King Abdullah of Jordan pressing both sides, and the international Middle East Quartet (the United Nations, the U.S., the E.U. and Russia) also pushing for forward movement. Read more ..

Economy on Edge

The Slow Collapse of America’s Economic Might

January 14th 2012

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong_Williams

One of the foundations of the American Dream has always been the hope of someday purchasing one’s own home. In the past, however, it took nearly a lifetime of sacrifice before most people could afford to do so.

The aftermath of the collapse of the 1990s tech bubble was a troubling time in America. After a prolonged, losing battle to win back manufacturing jobs from overseas, America’s corporate and government leaders had been looking for a way out. Technology seemed to fit the bill. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the U.S. economy literally banked on the Internet, telecommunications, and biotechnology. Virtually any startup company with “.com” in its name attracted obscene amounts of venture capital and institutional investments.

All sound business decisions were thrown out the door and the capital market’s cognitive dissonance made everyone believe that sending the stock market through the stratosphere was indeed “good business.” The world media was more than happy to make these people and their businesses appear untouchable and mythical. At one point in the late 90s, companies with no revenue, no products, no service capacity—just a few high school kids with an idea—were able to have an initial public offering (IPO) and become overnight multimillionaires. It was the information highway to the riches. Stock options replaced paychecks, and everyone with an idea was starting a new company. In appearance and with the mainstream media public relations machine in overdrive, it certainly looked as if Americans had found the solution to its long-term growth challenges. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Time for some Concerted Action by the U.S. to Stem Iranian Saber-Rattling

January 13th 2012

Iran - Iran holy missiles

We should not be too surprised that Iran continues to defy international calls to open its nuclear program to greater scrutiny and transparency. Even as the toughest U.S. sanctions yet were enacted, and Europe was considering a ban on Iranian oil imports, the militant theocracy threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which nearly 40 percent of the world's seaborne supply of crude oil flows. But such bluster, typical of the Tehran regime, was also accompanied by the usual call for new negotiations, this time with both the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany), and also with the EU. Such talks have been going on for years with little to show for the effort.

While the various sanctions imposed by our country on Iran since 1996 have certainly made life increasingly difficult for the Islamic Republic, these restrictions have not been adequately implemented by any U.S. administration to date. The result has been all too predictable - continued Iranian defiance and support of worldwide terrorism, accompanied by increased efforts to accelerate nuclear programs leading to weaponization capability. Read more ..

Election 2012

Congress Keeps Digging a Hole for Itself and the Fossil Fuel Industry

January 13th 2012

Politics - US Capital Day

John Boehner’s got a problem — a statistical trap that’s going to take some real work to get out of.

His drive to completely discredit the institution of the Congress has stalled: 9 percent of Americans still somehow approve of the way our legislature functions. And those 9 percent must be kind of stubborn: I mean, 16 percent of Americans approved of the way BP handled the Gulf oil spill, and 13 percent approve of polygamy. If that hard-core 9 percent didn’t mind, say, threatening to shut the government down three times last year, it’s going to be next to impossible to turn them off.

Happily, the House Speaker seems to have a plan. Having attached a rider to the payroll tax cut that forces the President to make a decision on the Keystone pipeline in the next 60 days  — a rider the administration says will force it to deny the permit — he now is attempting to punish those representatives who didn’t go along. The National Republican Campaign Committee last week sent out press releases to 55 recalcitrant members of Congress, insisting they speak out against the president. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

The Pentagon's New Defense Strategic Guidance: Pivoting to Asia, But Still Stuck in the Middle East

January 7th 2012

Military - US Troops in Afghanistan

The Pentagon's new Defense Strategic Guidance is a thoughtful and necessary attempt to adjust to new geopolitical and fiscal realities. As with all plans, however, adversaries (and friends) have a vote. Time and again, vital U.S. interests (namely oil) and the politics of the Middle East have frustrated the designs of presidents who sought better opportunities elsewhere. For Nixon, it was the 1973 war and oil embargo; for Carter, the Iranian revolution and embassy hostage crisis; for Reagan, the Beirut fiasco, Lebanon hostages, and Iran-Contra; for Bush, the 1991 Gulf War; for Clinton, the Arab-Israeli peace process; and for the last administration, the second intifada, 9/11, and Iraq. So what surprises could the Middle East spring to upend the Pentagon's pivot from Europe toward the Asia-Pacific region?

What if Iran were to launch a covert campaign to harass international shipping in the Gulf instead of closing the Strait of Hormuz? Would the United States be willing to organize protective convoys, as it did toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War? If so, how long might such efforts last? Remember, the no-fly zones over Iraq were "temporary" expedients that wound up lasting more than a decade, creating tensions with allies and providing pretexts to jihadist enemies. What would be the political, military, and economic costs of open-ended convoy operations? Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Top Five Foreign Policy Moves in 2012

January 6th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama Bows to Saudi King
President Obama Bowing to the Saudi Prince

After three years of the Obama Doctrine, the place of the United States in the world is less secure than when the President came into office. That trend must change. Nor can foreign policy be left on the backburner any longer with Washington only focusing on domestic issues. The White House and Congress ought to make foreign policy a priority, and they ought to return to a policy where politics stops at the water’s edge.

Rather than shaping foreign policies through the lens of election politics, Washington ought to protect the nation’s interest first—even though that means admitting that right now the government is doing things more wrong than right and that fixing foreign policy in 2012 requires some bold moves. Here are the top five steps Washington could take.

1. End the Middle East Policy Muddle

A more robust policy needs to start with Iran. The strongest possible sanctions are important but not enough. The U.S. should more aggressively pursue a strategy to bring freedom to the people of Iran. In the long run, a free Iran is the best hope for peace and security in the volatile Middle East. Washington should make it clear that it stands with the Iranian people, not with the repressive regime of the ayatollahs. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Palestine's Pre-Conditions for Negotiating Peace with Israel

January 6th 2012

Palestine Topics - Mahmoud Abbas and Big Bro Arafat
Mahmoud Abbas

After three years of refusing to talk to Israeli officials, Jordan's King Abdullah persuaded the Palestinians to meet with Israeli negotiators in Amman, raising hopes that, at last, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was dropping his demand that Israel freeze all settlements before agreeing to enter peace talks. Israelis also were cautiously optimistic that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's longstanding invitation to discuss all outstanding issues would be accepted and that progress could be made toward achieving a two-state solution.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat threw cold water on those hopes immediately, saying the Amman meeting was not a resumption of negotiations. He continued to insist that "Netanyahu needs to freeze construction of settlements and accept the '67 outline for a two-state solution before we return to the negotiating table." This was never a precondition for talks in the past; in fact, Abbasheld 35 meetings with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert while settlement construction continued. When Netanyahu did agree to a 10-month freeze under pressure from the Obama Administration, Abbas still refused to negotiate until the last month of the freeze, when he nixed continuing the negotiations on the grounds that Israel would not extend the settlement freeze. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

They Have Turned Away from what I Commanded Them, Ex.32:8

January 5th 2012

Israel Topics - Bet Shemesh Sign about women

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai he saw a people decadent and corrupt who had forgone the Judaism which G-d had given them.  Prior to his descent, G-d saw this happening and told Moses, “Saru Ma’Hair, Min HaDerech Asher Tzvitem – they have turned away quickly from the way that I commanded them,” as he directed Moses to go down and set the people straight.

As the Jews worshiped the golden calf, they proclaimed that it was the G-d who brought them out of Egypt.  How soon they forget!

It did not take too long for the experience of the Exodus to leave the people and for their faith to be challenged to the point of creating a G-d whom they thought spoke to them at that moment.  They could have just abandoned religion and worship, but they still sought a higher power, and created it in the manner that they thought best.  That seems to have happened again.

Too bad there isn’t a Moses today!

The 2012 Vote

Can Romney Be Crowned King of GOP without Revealing his Tax Returns?

January 5th 2012

Politics - mitt romney
Mitt Romney

While the Republican establishment seeks to coronate Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee and crush any hope of conservatives having a nominee they can believe in, the next great issue of the presidential campaign will be a growing demand that Mitt Romney release his tax returns. Romney has been (as usual) evasive on the subject of his taxes. He has publicly said that if nominated, he would consider releasing his returns. He has also said that he would not be reluctant to take advantage of legal and appropriate moves to minimize his tax liability.

Politically there are several obvious issues to the Romney tax returns. The most immediate political issue is whether, and when, other GOP candidates such as Ron Paul and Rick Santorum will aggressively call on Romney to make his returns public. My guess: It happens before the New Hampshire Republican primary.

The second political question, which should be of paramount concern to all Republicans, is this: If Romney does not release his tax returns before the conventions, the Obama attack machine will launch a full-blast attack that could well be devastating to Romney and Republicans. Why doesn't Romney disclose his tax returns now? Why keep them secret? Read more ..

Peru on Edge

Humala Side-stepping Peru’s Democratic Institutions

January 4th 2012

Peru - Lerner and Humala
Former PM Lerner and President Humala of Peru

When Peruvian Prime Minister Salómon Lerner Ghitis resigned from his post early in December, it generated a panic reaction, both among government supporters and among the opposition.

Fear was focused mostly on the potential instability Lerner’s resignation could generate. Lerner had been praised by members of the opposition who thought he had done a good job because he had succeeded in generating business confidence and had secured the continuous flow of investment.

Lerner’s resignation is widely attributed to differences of opinion between him and President Ollanta Humala. This seems to be based on the resignation letter Mr. Lerner wrote Humala on December 9. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

2011: The Year that Began and Ended Anonymously

January 3rd 2012

guy fawkes masks

It’s something of a party game, this time of year, to look back and put together lists. Top ten this, bottom five that; trends that are in or out, predictions about the coming calendar year.
Of course, it is largely that: a party game. Of all the moments of 2011, all the events on which tragedy turned or innovations sprang forward, there’s really no way to boil it down to a simple list. Was the death of Steve Jobs #5 or #4 in significance? Purely a matter of perspective. Which was the more important story, the attempt by Egypt to erase that nation from the Internet (unsuccessful) or efforts by Syria to keep it going, but use tricks to monitor and eavesdrop on social media (still ongoing)? That story hasn’t yet been finished. Has Facebook become everyone’s creepy friend? Depends who you ask.
We’re not even going to play the game, instead leaving it to others for some fun on the New Years. Rather, we have just one nominee in a new category: Top Story That Remains A Mystery. That story starts and ends with one word: Anonymous. We’ve written copious items about the antics – some silly, some serious – of the Anonymous hacker hive. The year began with Anonymous trying to shut down MasterCard and PayPal, for their decisions not to process donations to the group Wikileaks. It continued with Anonymous targeting various Arabic governments trying to repress the civic unrest on the streets and online, moved to attacks on the U.S. government for various reasons, then to corporate titans such as Sony, in support of the “Occupy Wall Street” movements around the world, and the bloody Mexican drug cartels. Just days ago, as the year was drawing to a close, Anonymous hacked the private intelligence group Stratfor – of which yours truly is a user – and published the personal details of all those registered with the group to receive its services. Read more ..

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