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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! Read more ..


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 ..


Obama and Israel

Obama – Good for Israel, Even for Those who Don’t Think He Is

January 1st 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama AIPAC

For anyone who may have not been paying attention lately, President Barack Obama has been making greater attempts to demonstrate just how dedicated he is to Israel and therefore, for Jews in America.  The debate rages on as to whether Obama has been the best or the worst president for Jews as far as Israel is concerned, and in this election year we can be assured of one certainty; both sides will make the claim that benefits their own candidate for the White House, but what is the true and what is hyperbole?

To best answer the question, first we need to separate how good Obama is for the Jews versus how good he might be for Israel.  The two need to be divided, as without Israel Jews have little else to set themselves apart as Americans and voters as any religious group or any national group within our union.

Jews, like Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Moslems and all others, want religious freedoms. As a community, Jews seek social justice just as many advocate groups do, advocating for laws regarding welfare, education, and similar matters.

Read more ..


Palestine and Israel

What Would a Hamas-Fatah Agreement Mean?

December 31st 2011

Palestine Topics - Hamas-Fatah handshake

There are repeated efforts to forge a unity agreement of some sort between Hamas and Fatah, leading to a new “unity government” for the Palestinian Authority. Such a coalition was briefly in force in 2007 after the Saudi-sponsored Mecca Agreement. It quickly broke down into violence and led to the Hamas coup in Gaza. What would it mean today?

One immediate effect of such an agreement would be a new PA cabinet in which Salam Fayyad would no longer be prime minister. Fayyad’s presence has meant, first, transparency and a struggle against corruption. His departure almost guarantees that the integrity of the PA’s books and finances will decline. But Fayyad as prime minister not only oversees the books; he also oversees the security forces. What were once thirteen armed gangs reporting to Yasser Arafat is an increasingly professional sector, keeping order in the West Bank and working well with the Israeli army and police against terror. With Fayyad gone, it is predictable that the PA services, including the American-trained police, will tend to become more corrupt and more political, serving the interests of Fatah or of certain Fatah leaders. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

An Unacceptable Squeeze on Defense Modernization

December 31st 2011

Military - F-22s at Sunset

Following the enactment of the Budget Control Act earlier this year, the budget for the core defense program is already operating under stringent spending caps. At the same time, per capita expenditures for paying military personnel and operating the force are high and growing rapidly.

Under these circumstances, funding for the procurement of new weapons and equipment and for research and development on new defense technologies will be squeezed to a dangerous degree. Both the Obama Administration and Congress will be tempted to leave the defense spending caps in place—if not to go to even lower caps—now that the sequestration process could be applied to the defense budget under the Budget Control Act. This is a result of the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (“super committee”) to agree on an alternative deficit-reduction plan and adopt a policy of “people over platforms” in slicing up the defense budget pie. Given the uncertainties in the application of the sequestration process, it is impossible to calculate precisely how much more the modernization accounts will be squeezed if that process kicks in. Suffice it to say that the problem is likely to become dramatically worse. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

On Iran, Pressure Works

December 28th 2011

Iran - Iran Nuclear Equipment

President Barack Obama, like President George W. Bush before him, has stated that it would be unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons. Recently, Mr. Obama has taken this a step further by declaring that he is determined to prevent the Iranians from acquiring the bomb.

Does that mean that the use of force against the Iranian nuclear program is inevitable? No, nor should it be. I don't say this because I believe we can live with a nuclear-armed Iran; I do not. An Iran with nuclear weapons would confront the world with many dangers, including the very real danger that it will trigger a nuclear war in the Middle East.

Consider that once Iran has nuclear weapons, nearly all of its neighbors will seek them as well to counter Iranian power and coercion. Israel, given Iranian declarations that it should be wiped off the map, will feel it has no margin for error and cannot afford to strike second in the event of a war.

But Israel won't be the only country operating on a hair trigger. Each country, lacking the ability to absorb a nuclear strike, will adopt a launch-on-warning posture in a region that has many local triggers for conflict and enormous potential for miscalculation. Containment does not address that risk. Even the offer of a nuclear umbrella, with its implicit promise to obliterate the Iranians after a strike, can provide small comfort for any country in the Middle East, particularly Israel. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Could Ron Paul be Just Wrong for America and Americans?

December 27th 2011

America Themes - Ron Paul
Ron Paul

Just three weeks after the Republican Jewish Coalition branded Ron Paul "too misguided and extreme" for its debate with other GOP presidential candidates, one of his former top aides is perhaps shedding light on why that may be so.

According to Eric Dondero, who worked for the Texas congressman between 1997 and 2003, Paul is "categorically not an antisemite" but is, however, "most certainly anti-Israel.

He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all. He expressed this to me numerous times in our private conversations. His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the America taxpayer. He sides with the Palestinians, and supports their calls for the abolishment of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs.:

He's apparently also "completely clueless when it comes to Hispanic and Black culture," Dondero adds, and "he is most certainly intolerant of Spanish and those who speak strictly Spanish in his presence." Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Jews Would Not be Welcome in a Palestinian State

December 27th 2011

Palestine Topics - Maen Rashid Areikat
Maen Rashid Areikat

Buried in news stories about the conviction on a former president of Israel on rape charges was a telling insight into the Jewish state: The three-judge panel that convicted Moshe Katsav and the three-judge tribunal that rejected his appeal each had a justice who is an Israeli Arab.

Arabs make up 20 percent of the population of Israel, and, as the Katsav story indicates, they are able to play prominent roles in the country’s governmental life, including service in the Knesset.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews live in communities in the disputed West Bank territories. To Israelis, the West Bank is known as Judea and Samaria, reflecting its crucial role in the ancient and modern history of the Jewish people. If a peace settlement is ever reached — a big if given the history of Palestinian intransigence — could some Jews living in the West Bank choose to opt to remain and pursue their lives under a new Palestinian state?

No, according to Maen Rashid Areikat, the representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the United States. In a recent meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board, he condemned the Jewish residents of the West Bank — he put the number at 550,000 — as unlawful settlers and declared that all of them must leave as part of any Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Read more ..


The Arab Fall

Prague’s Havel is Gone; Waiting for the Middle East’s Havels to Come

December 25th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Walid Phares new

Watching the carriage transporting the late Václav Havel—the first President of free post-Communist Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic—into the Prague Castle, I was sobered and deeply moved. Having been a witness to major world changes spanning from the end of the twentieth to the start of the twenty-first centuries, I was now watching the departure of a giant of his time, who happened to be a modest and a shy man leading a small Central European nation. His words, his life story, and his commitment to liberty have brought hope to many people around the world, far beyond those who speak Czech.

In 1979 I observed the rise of a Jihadi regime in Iran under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In the 1980s I witnessed the assassinations of President-elect Bashir Gemayel of Lebanon, who had fought a heavy Syrian occupation; of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, who ended a war with Israel and signed the Camp David Peace Agreement; and the rise of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who began to spread Glasnost and Perestroika in a disoriented Soviet Union following the withdrawal from Afghanistan. But during that troubled decade, when the world was unsure about the future of the Cold War and only vaguely aware of the oppression of millions of citizens trapped behind the Iron Curtain, men and women of extreme courage rose from inside the Red Empire and relentlessly spoke of freedom.

Budapest’s uprising happened before I was born (1956). The Prague Spring (1968) bloomed while I was still in the middle school. But I saw the Gdansk strikes of the 1980s in Poland and I admired Lech Walesa, the Catholic worker who stood up to the Soviet bear.

In my weekly newspaper in 1982 I wrote about Solidarity resisting a diktat of the one party system. As part of the Mediterranean wing of the free world, we knew who the Russian dissidents were; Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov were popular among those who defended freedom in the Middle East. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

The Truth about Palestinian Desire for Peace with Israel

December 25th 2011

Palestine Topics - Israeli Flag being burned

Israel's quest for peace with its neighbors starts with a desire to engage in mutually beneficial cooperative activities and to build confidence and positive attitudes to encourage coexistence and lasting peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with President Obama, has spent most of the last three years trying to convince Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to simply sit at the negotiating table to reach a peace agreement. Abbas has stubbornly refused to engage in peace talks. Worse, he is now doing everything in his power to prevent other Palestinians from engaging Israelis in any way.

The West Bank-ruling Fatah party declared war on normalization with Israel, Bethlehem's (Palestinian) mayor called for a total boycott of Israel, and hundreds of Palestinians successfully interrupted and stopped two conferences about peace whose participants included Palestinians and Israelis.

Senior Fatah official Hatem Abdel Kader announced Fatah's plans to "thwart any Palestinian-Israeli meeting, even if it's held in Tel Aviv or west Jerusalem...In Fatah we have officially decided to ban such gatherings." Last week, Palestinians stopped an attempt by the Israeli Palestinian Confederation to hold a conference in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and the following day, another anti-normalization protest forced the group to cancel another planned meeting at which Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh planned to speak. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Between Responsible and Irresponsible Isolationism

December 24th 2011

Politics - Ron Paul

There is one fundamental element that is absolutely necessary for an isolationist foreign policy. Isolation. Isolationism without physical isolation is as much good as belligerence without an army to back it up. 

American isolationism might have been feasible during WW1 when its neighbors were either friendly or no threat, there was no danger from the Pacific and a fleet crossing the Atlantic seemed unlikely. Though it wasn't so unlikely even then.

As far back as 1897 and long before any American involvement in Europe, Operational Plan Three called for shelling New York and seizing parts of Virginia, as a staging base for attacks on Washington and Baltimore. Plans were drawn up in Germany for the occupation of Boston and Philadelphia.

Vice-Admiral August Thomsen wrote, "At the moment every thinking German officer is occupied with the consequences of a belligerent conflict between Germany and the United States of America."

No American politician was thinking the same thing. America had not intervened in any European wars and had no interest in Germany. But that didn't matter. The Kasier wanted to seize parts of the hemisphere and that meant breaking the dominant power in the region. America's weak fleet made it seem like an easy target. Read more ..


North Korea After Kim

What Kim Jong-il's Death Means for Israel

December 23rd 2011

Korea Topics - Kim Jong Ul

As North Korean's mourn the death of their Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-il, Israelis are wondering if his 28-year-old son will be any less of an enemy of the Jewish state.

While it's too early to tell what changes Kim Jong-un has in store for the reclusive nation of 24 million people, Israeli officials aren't particularly optimistic they will be for the good.

"Nothing from the outside penetrates them," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, noting that Jong-il's death still leaves the country "distant and dangerous" for Israel.

North Korea has never been a friend of Israel, choosing to support its communist allies and others whose political interests usually run counter to Western values. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Terrorists in Europe's Backyard

December 21st 2011

Islamic Topics - Islamic Terrorist

Europe's security is being threatened by a terrorist organization that many people have never heard of. Last week, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), based in north Africa and active since 2002, posted pictures of five Europeans kidnapped in November and currently being held in Mali. Formerly known as the Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat, AQIM is an al Qaeda affiliate whose principal aim is to overthrow the Algerian government and establish an Islamic state governed by Shariah law in north Africa, Spain and Portugal. The group has a presence not only in Algeria but also in Mali, Niger and Mauritania. It has not yet solidified its foothold elsewhere in the Maghreb, including Morocco, Libya and Tunisia.

AQIM regularly funds its operations through criminal activity in Europe and the kidnapping of Western tourists and aid workers in north Africa, and is now in possession of weapons galore from the fallen Gadhafi regime. It is also actively involved in courting north African immigrant communities in the west. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Where Did Nick Kristof Get the Idea That the Muslim Brotherhood is Moderate?

December 21st 2011

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

Parliamentarians' offices typically feature self-flattering photos and patriotic paraphernalia, so I was taken aback by the decor of recently elected Muslim Brotherhood MP Saber Abouel Fotouh's Alexandria headquarters. The walls were mostly blank, except for a tremendous banner commemorating a protest that the Muslim Brotherhood had sponsored outside the local "Zionist consulate," complete with an image of a burning Israeli flag. (The demonstration took place following an August 18 incident along the Egyptian-Israeli border, in which Israel responded to a cross-border attack in Eilat that resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis by inadvertently killing six Egyptian soldiers when it chased the attackers back into the Sinai.) When I asked Abouel Fotouh whether it was appropriate for a future parliamentary leader to display a neighbor's flag in flames, he got rather defensive. "We burned [the Israeli flag] for our soldiers and for Gaza, and we will burn it again and again if they infiltrate anything in the region," he said. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Word of Caution On Assad’s Fall

December 19th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syrian Protesters

Defense Minister Ehud Barak was reported this week as predicting that the regime of Bashar Assad would fall within weeks.

Certainly things are not going well for the Assad family dictatorship. The bloodletting continues as the Free Syrian Army and other insurgent groups continue to strike at government forces. Economic sanctions endorsed by the Arab League are to take effect December 27. The economy is expected to sharply contract in the year ahead, in the wake of EU sanctions already in place and the collapse of the tourism industry.

And yet, observers should be careful before confidently predicting the imminent fall of the house of Assad. They have being doing so since April, but the dictator is still there. Notwithstanding his recent absurd performance on ABC News, he may well be with us for some time to come. The factors that have kept him in place so far largely remain. Read more ..


Palestine and Israel

What Palestinian Membership Means for UNESCO and the Rest of the United Nations

December 19th 2011

UN Topics - Palestinian Flag and UNESCO Flag
Palestinian Flag alongside a U.N. Flag at UNESCO ceremony

Earlier this year, president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas announced that he would seek Palestinian membership in the United Nations as “Palestine.” Under the U.N. Charter, a recommendation from the U.N. Security Council is required before the General Assembly may admit a new member. The U.S. has a veto in the Security Council and the U.S. has the power to unilaterally block the Palestinian membership bid. As President Barack Obama made clear in his May 19 speech on Middle East policy, the U.S. does not believe that the U.N. is an appropriate venue for addressing the Palestinian statehood issue:

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

This statement was widely interpreted as a threat by President Obama to use America’s veto in the U.N. Security Council to block the Palestinian membership request.

Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Unnecessary Keystone XL Pipeline Delay Obstructs Energy, Jobs

December 19th 2011

Energy / Environment - Keystone Pipeline

The Obama Administration announced in November that it would neither approve nor reject the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would provide Americans with an abundant and secure supply of oil, until after the 2012 presidential election. The pipeline, which would be built by TransCanada, would connect a major oil production region in Canada to American Gulf Coast refineries. The permit proposal to build the pipeline pits two of President Barack Obama’s largest constituent groups against each other. Environmental activists oppose the construction, arguing that extracting oil from Canada’s tar sands, where dense petroleum is buried in a mixture of sand, clay, and water, is harmful to the environment. Labor unions, which would stand to benefit from the jobs created by construction of the 1,700-mile-long pipeline, are pushing for approval. Executive Order 13337 states that because the project crosses the U.S. border, TransCanada must submit an application to the U.S. Department of State, with final approval coming from the President. Instead of moving forward with this pro-jobs project, President Obama called for an additional environmental review—to examine the reroute of the pipeline path around a Nebraskan water aquifer. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

How Can Israel Please the American Government, Media, and “Experts?” It Can’t

December 18th 2011

Israel Topics - Western/Wailing Wall

There is a constant effort—especially by the anti-Israel left—to portray those who express mainstream Israeli public opinion and the views of professional analysts as “right-wing” or “Likudnik.” This leads me to wonder what one would have to say to please these people. What would be the equivalent of a “liberal” position for Israel according to them? What kinds of positions would they see as legitimate?

What follows is not meant to exaggerate in any way but is, I believe, a genuine list of what they demand. To please them, I presume one would have to say the following:

–President Barack Obama is the best president for Israel ever (even he says so!). There are no problems in the relationship and if there are these are all due to Israel’s government being so selfish, short-sighted and unreasonable.

–Israel would have to agree to the following: a long-term freeze of all construction on existing settlements; to drop the demand for the PA’s recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, drop the demand for demilitarization of a Palestinian state and that Palestinian refugees be resettled in the new state of Palestine (or remain where they are living now), and accept the partition of Jerusalem. Israel could keep its demand for security guarantees but would have to ask for the minimum on this point, too, since Israeli demands block peace. Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

Japan’s Nuclear Withdrawal: Bad for Japan, Bad for the U.S., Bad for the World

December 18th 2011

Japan - Rad monitor Japan

After an earthquake and tsunami caused equipment failures, meltdowns, and release of radioactive material at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant in March, there has been much discussion in the Japanese government and among the public about whether to continue production of nuclear power. While Japan’s former head of government (prime minister at the time the accidents occurred) Naoto Kan aggressively pursued his country’s withdrawal from nuclear energy, the new prime minister (since September), Yoshihiko Noda, has acknowledged its enduring role for Japan. He has not, however, endorsed a new policy. Japan’s official post-Fukushima energy policy is scheduled for release in summer 2012. Despite this lack of policy clarity, Prime Minister Noda has said that existing reactors would be brought back online as quickly as possible, that construction on reactors that began pre-Fukushima could continue, and that exporting nuclear technology would remain a priority. However, he also has stated that Japan should reduce its reliance on nuclear energy, and has been vague on policies regarding any new reactor construction. Read more ..

War Against the Weak

Eugenics Is Coming Back

December 18th 2011

Eugenics - Twins-Height-Verschuer

When most Americans hear the word “eugenics,” what probably comes to mind is a doctor wearing an SS uniform.

Sadly, as I have said before however, the Third Reich learned much of what it knew about eugenics from Americans. It was Americans who showed the Nazis it was legally possible to prevent the “wrong kind of people” from reproducing. And it was Americans who launched what journalist Edwin Black called the “war against the weak,” a war that was supposed to have ended with the fall of the Third Reich.

Except that it didn’t, as a recent New York Times story made frighteningly clear. The story was about North Carolina’s debate on how to compensate the victims of its mandatory sterilization program. Between 1933 and 1977, the state sterilized an estimated 7,600 people, almost entirely on the basis of social workers’ say-so.

The decisions to involuntarily sterilize people were based on a combination of IQ tests and the individual’s personal history. For instance, when Charles Holt, who had been described as having a “low mentality,” prepared to leave a juvenile mental institution, his release was conditioned on having a vasectomy. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Are We Winning the War on Terror Finance?

December 16th 2011

Terrorism - Twin towers burning

A few days after the most successful terrorist attack in U.S. history, President George W. Bush stated, "Money is the lifeblood of terrorist operations. Today we are asking the world to stop payment." Ten years later, has that request been fulfilled?

The short answer is both "yes" and "no." Completely eradicating terror finance is impossible. There is no doubt that our financial countermeasures have not been as smart or efficient as they could be. However, after ten years of concerted effort, it is also now harder, costlier, and riskier for terrorists to raise and transfer funds, both in the United States and around the world.

The learning curve has been steep. For example, in the years immediately after September 11th, policymakers within the Treasury Department were convinced that "financial intelligence" was the key to following the terrorist money trail. They had misplaced faith in the approximately 18 million pieces of financial intelligence that are filed annually with Treasury, and in the countless million pieces of additional financial information filed by members of the international community. The intelligence comes from a wide variety of sources, including banks, money service businesses, and individuals. Read more ..


China's Military

America's Naval Presence in the Pacific

December 16th 2011

China Topics - Chinese Aircraft Carrier

Too long neglected, the Pacific region will soon be getting its due. As U.S. forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan and have already departed Iraq, it is to the strategically important Pacific that American attention will be directed. And not a moment too soon.

Friends and allies in the region have spent the better part of the last decade seeking greater U.S. political support and military presence in the face of China's aggressive expansion of its power.

While our focus was necessarily on Southwest Asia, Beijing was using its military to back up tendentious claims on energy fields hundreds of miles from its coast beneath the South China Sea. Beijing's attempt to mark claims lying within the Philippine and Vietnamese exclusive economic zones has sparked small-scale naval confrontations. Tensions continue to run high. China also has claims in the waters abutting Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. 
Read more ..


Immigration on Edge

Immigration Enforcement Shatters Families

December 15th 2011

Social Topics - Praying to a purple sky

The federal government appears to be taking a close look at immigration enforcement. Recently, the House Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement conducted a hearing on Secure Communities, a federal program that will soon involve every local police department with the deportation of immigrants. Next week, the Department of Homeland Security will initiate a six-week pilot program in Denver and Baltimore that it says will result in quicker deportations of immigrants who have convictions, while providing relief for those considered low-priority. Unless these programs address the needs of families through clear policy guidelines, tragic separations will continue, especially for those also involved in the child welfare system. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

A Teaching Moment for Professor-in-Chief Barack Obama

December 14th 2011

Politics - Rep Dennis Cardoza

After observing President Obama for the last three years, it has become obvious to me that the president might prefer to be a university professor rather than do the job he holds today. While he might not realize that he feels this way, the evidence is very clear to those who work with or watch him closely.

Let me be clear — I’m not trying to disparage professors. But anyone who wonders why the president is not crushing the weak Republican field only needs to examine how President Obama has behaved more like Professor Obama:

‘IDEA DISEASE’

In the president’s first year in office, his administration suffered from what I call “idea disease.” Every week, and sometimes almost every day, the administration rolled out a new program for the country. There was no obvious prioritization and, after the rollout, very little effort to actually pass the latest idea/imperative/plan/edict. Instead, the new programs just kept coming, with the new proposals constantly stepping on the previous day’s message. This rampant “idea disease” squandered the tremendous goodwill generated by the Obama campaign’s message of “hope,” tainting the president’s personal appeal. As Democrats in Congress, we often felt like we were drinking water out of a fire hose, trying to simultaneously deal with past failures of the Bush administration and the avalanche of new initiatives from Obama. This lack of focus also made it easy for congressional Republicans to stall and foil many of President Obama’s best initiatives — which they did with relish!

Early in his administration, President/Professor Obama repeatedly referred to “teaching moments.” He would admonish staff, members of Congress and the public, in speeches and in private, about what they could learn from him. Rather than the ideological or corrupt “I’m above the law” attitudes of some past administrations, President Obama projected an arrogant “I’m right, you’re wrong” demeanor that alienated many potential allies. Read more ..


America and Israel

Disturbing and Anti-Semitic Tones of DoD Secretary Panetta Remarks about Israel

December 13th 2011

Presidential - Barack Obama

As next year’s presidential election approaches, U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies have moved in a more pro-Israel direction and his supporters have been desperately trying to make the case that he is Israel’s friend.

Last week’s comments by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have done much to undermine that case, however, and appeared to make Israel the scapegoat for any negative consequences that could arise from the Jewish state having the audacity to defend itself against the existential threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Worse than the actual comments were the disturbing anti-Semitic undertones inherent in Panetta’s remarks. The secretary warned of the potential negative consequences to the world economy of a military strike against Iran, but he only raised the danger to the world economy before the discussion with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The impact on the economy would apply to any country attacking Iran, but the timing of his remarks were clearly aimed at Israel as that meeting took place amid a flurry of reports about Israel considering an imminent attack. Read more ..


The Musical Edge

Music Is The World

December 13th 2011

Jewish Topics - Klezmer (credit: Mitaskim)
credit: Mistakim

While I’m mostly inclined to listen to what is called “classical music,” upon occasion other musical genres have proven enticing and powerful. I grew up with classical music, but along the way, a few musicians not necessarily in that category have impinged their way onto my consciousness. I will humbly offer up a few of their names to make my point that what makes music great is not necessarily its genre.

Foremost among them was Giora Feidman, the greatest of the Klezmer musicians. The first time I heard him was in a small synagogue as the result of an invitation by an old friend, Marshall Levy, an amateur clarinetist and magician who said I just had to hear Giora.

As we sat on small uncomfortable wooden chairs, and I was intent on the stage, from behind me came this most haunting song being played on a clarinet.

Then this almost Charlie Chaplain-like figure strolled down the aisle, and my neck craned as he sauntered past me, clarinet in his mouth, and his arms holding the rest of the instrument on high. As he mounted the stage, he was playing Dixieland and Gershwin. Then he switched to “Jewish” music—you could hear those ancient tunes from Safed as if you were there. He also played Jazz, even cool Jazz. He was much better than Benny Goodman, who was his obvious inspiration. I didn’t know the clarinet was capable of such grand music. Read more ..


Latin America on Edge

Big Hopes for CELAC, but Little Outcome (At Least for Now)

December 12th 2011

Latin American Topics - Hugo Chavez somber

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held its first summit on December 2 and 3 in Caracas, Venezuela. The group’s purported purpose is to create a deeper relationship among the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, one that is able to function free of the all-pervasive daily political and economic influence coming from Washington. In fact, out of all the sovereign nations in the hemisphere, the United States and Canada are the only ones that are not scheduled to be included in the organization. For some of CELAC’s members, their far from hidden aims are to substitute membership in CELAC for their current reliance on the OAS. Presidents Hugo Chávez and Sebastián Piñera were appointed by the members of CELAC as its co-leaders, which could be an ironic development given that Chávez is maybe the most radical chief of state of the organization, and Piñera maybe its most conservative. Read more ..


The Arab Fall

Middle East Studies’ Failure to Predict or Address the “Arab Spring”

December 12th 2011

Egypt - Flames in Cairo

When the young Tunisian burned himself in protest against authoritarian oppression and lack of economic justice, triggering massive demonstrations in this small North African country, commentators hesitated to coin the movement as an Arab Spring. It took months, and events exploding in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria before the West labeled the upheavals “Arab Spring.”

And as the movement was developing throughout the region the West was also unsure as to which direction these revolutions are going to go. The main slogan in the media, and often in academia was—for many months—“we don’t know who the rebels are, we don’t really know if the Arab protesters are liberal, Islamists, or populists.” And at times few months before and still as elections have been taking place in Tunisia and Egypt, scholars and Government experts have been arguing that the Islamists who are winning the elections, “probably will behave as democrats and would be moderated by the political process.” What was intriguing in these Western reactions was the number of questions: we don’t know, perhaps, maybe, probably. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Pentagon can Make Great Savings with Enforcement of Financial Management Requirements

December 9th 2011

Military - F-22s at Sunset

Among the amendments pending to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 before the Senate is one sponsored by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R–NH) that seeks to move up the date in the law for the Department of Defense (DOD) to produce auditable financial statements. The amendment would move this date up from 2017 to 2014. This is in keeping with a pledge made in October by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to make the DOD audit-ready in half the time.

The Senate is right to be pressing the DOD to improve its financial management system. The objective is to make the most efficient and effective use of U.S. tax dollars dedicated to defense, and it is appropriate to hold Secretary Panetta to his pledge. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Resetting the Missile Balance with Russia

December 8th 2011

Military - 50 Minuteman
Minuteman missile launch

Section 1228 of the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1540), sponsored by Representative Mo Brooks (R–AL), would impose an absolute ban on sharing sensitive missile defense technology with Russia, including the technology for performing hit-to-kill intercepts of attacking ballistic missiles.

On the other hand, the provision would permit the sharing of non-sensitive technology with Russia after the Administration certifies that the technology will not be proliferated to third countries and that Russia is providing reciprocity. As such, Section 1228 is a carefully balanced legislative guide to pursuing missile defense cooperation with Russia.

The Obama Administration has been pursuing missile defense cooperation agreements between the U.S. and Russia and between NATO and Russia as part of its policy to “reset” the U.S.–Russia bilateral relationship. The Administration’s efforts to reach these agreements have not advanced very far because Russia is demanding a lopsided agreement that will give it direct control—and therefore a veto—over the use of U.S. and NATO missile defense systems.

Russia is interested not in cooperating with the U.S. and NATO in the area of missile defense but in limiting or curtailing the capabilities of U.S. and NATO missile defense systems. While the Administration has stated that it will not accept agreements with Russia that limit U.S. and allied missile defense options,[1] it has declared its intention to limit U.S. missile defense capabilities to the extent necessary to preserve the strategic balance between the U.S. and Russia.[2] This is code for keeping the American people vulnerable to Russian nuclear-armed ballistic missile attacks. Read more ..



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