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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! 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 ..



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