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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.


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.


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. 

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:


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 ..

Obama and Israel

Obama’s Middle East Policy: A Unified Field Theory

December 6th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama AIPAC
President Obama at an AIPAC convention

In the history of physics, the “unified field theory” was an attempt to bring together an understanding of all forms of energy in a single explanation. Albert Einstein tried and failed to discover this. I don’t know much about physics but I know about Middle East policy.

So here’s an effort to bring together all of Obama’s regional policy into a single analysis and explaining everything in 1100 words.

The first point  is that the Obama Administration’s behavior must be divided into two phases. They overlap and feature the same kind of thinking but they are also quite separate.

Phase One, from January 2009 until December 2010 was characterized by an emphasis on Israel-Palestinian peacemaking.  Obama’s Administration believed that it was possible to make rapid progress toward peace and also thought that this was essential to achieve anything else in the Middle East.

To achieve peace, they thought, required mainly putting pressure on Israel for more concessions and winning support from Arab states and Muslims by proving that the United States was more sympathetic to them than any previous presidency. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Panetta Blames the Victim, but Obama Should Back Away from That Stance

December 6th 2011

Jewish Organizations - Abraham Foxman
Abraham H. Foxman

The notion that Israel is primarily responsible for deteriorating relations with Turkey, Egypt, and the Palestinians, as claimed by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in his speech to the 2011 Saban Forum, is more than simply inaccurate. It is disturbing and potentially dangerous.

While bad at any time, his finding fault with Israel at a time of great instability and uncertainty in the region is particularly distressing. More than ever, Israel stands out as an island of stability and friendship with the United States.

The defense secretary's comments need a clear repudiation from the White House. Letting the secretary's views stand as is could serve to bolster those in the region who seek to return to days when Israel truly was isolated. Rather than scoring points for this administration in the Muslim world, it will reinforce their perception of American weakness for not sticking with a friend and will embolden enemies of Israel to increase their hostility toward the Jewish state.

Mr. Panetta's analysis of developments in the region is quite strange. That Israel is facing difficulties with Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinians is, of course, a fact. Why that is so bears no resemblance to what the defense secretary said.

In the case of the Palestinians, it is Israel that has called for negotiations time and again, only to be rejected by the Palestinians. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Enforce Existing Laws against Iran: Obama's new get-tough policy is weaker than Current Measures

December 6th 2011

Iran - Iran nuke reactor 3
Iran's Nuclear Reactor

In recent years, the United States has imposed punishing sanctions on Iran's financial sector. Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new measures intended to hamper Iran's ability to raise and move funds internationally. Several Western allies have followed suit in an attempt to tighten the noose around the Islamic Republic and curb its ability to achieve nuclearization. Yet a close analysis of Treasury's action demonstrates that the new sanctions regime is far weaker than existing laws and falls short of the moves that members of Congress are demanding. What is needed is not new measures, but better implementation of existing statues.

Despite four rounds of sanctions by the United Nations and a concerted effort by many Western allies, a large number of banks around the world continue to do business with Iranian financial institutions that are complicit in supporting terrorist groups and spreading nuclear weapons. The Central Bank of Iran (CBI), for example, still has unfettered access to the international financial sector, even though it has been accused of helping fund Iran's nuclear weapons program, facilitating money transfers to terrorist organizations, and proliferating weapons of mass destruction. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

First Panetta, now Ambassador Gutman--Listen to Obama Representatives, Not to Obama Promises

December 4th 2011

Israel Topics - Obama and Netanyau
President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu

First it was Leon Panetta, and now it’s Howard Gutman. President Barack Obama, who just last week told Jewish groups that he was proud that the U.S. considered Israel America’s “best ally,” now faces a torrent of administration appointees making it quite clear that for this administration, Israel is to be blamed for all of its failure in Middle East policy-making.
As readers of PJ Media already know after reading Barry Rubin’s recent post, Leon Panetta told  the Saban Center in Washington, D.C., on Friday that Israel is responsible for its isolation in the world, that it hence must take bold action of a diplomatic nature to restore stability in the region, and that it must “get to the damn table.” When he was asked what the repercussions might be of a military strike against Iran, the secretary answered that if Israel struck the U.S. might be blamed and “could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran.”
The clear implication is that Panetta thought it should not be done, and although he said all options are always on the table re Iran, any  Mullah worth his salt would take his words to mean the U.S. secretary of Defense was advising against such tough military action by Israel. Panetta concluded with these words of warning: Read more ..

American History

What Ended the Great Depression

December 4th 2011

America Themes - USANRA

What ended the Great Depression?  Contrary to the popular view, the New Deal did not, at least depending on who you ask.  Some conservative economists believe the New Deal possibly extended its length.  What everybody agrees ended the Great Depression was World War II marked the end of the Great Depression.   Liberal economists point to the vast increase in government spending during the war as a reason for the end of the Depression.  (Of course, organized labor had its own plans for the recovery, and some economists still dispute the centrality of the war in ending the Depression.)

One may ask how on earth a war could bring economic prosperity to a nation.  War is a machination for destruction, not production.  Common results of war include the bombing of buildings and infrastructure, the loss of human lives and an emphasis on the production of war materiel rather than products that actually enhance a person’s status and happiness—like refrigerators, clothes, food, radios and medical advancements. Read more ..

Ecuador on Edge

Ecuador's Media Caught in the Crossfire between a Popular President and Defenders of Free Speech

December 4th 2011

Ecuador Topics - el-universo-protesta

Throughout its history, free speech in Ecuador has been under constant threat by the government. After the country’s democratic life resumed in 1979, León Febres Cordero soon became one of the presidents who most abused his power to intimidate the media. Since then, there has not been a lack of heads of state who have done the same - among them Sixto Durán Ballén, Gustavo Noboa, Abdalá Bucaram, and Lucio Gutiérrez. Such leaders had been intent on closing down radio and television networks, while accusing the journalists of corruption, or encouraging the public to burn copies of newspapers. An example of the press war between the presidential palace and the media dates back to November 2003 when then President Lucio Gutiérrez accused El Comercio of being “satirical." Read more ..

The Way We Are

Self-esteem is Critical to Sustaining Wealth

December 2nd 2011

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong_Williams

While reflecting on my childhood recently, I realized that self-esteem has a phenomenal impact on one's ability to become an entrepreneur. In order to do something new, one must believe in oneself, and that is very difficult with low self-esteem. It is critical that every child be brought up in an encouraging environment. I remember my father once said, "if we only tell them (referring to us, their children) negative things, and then the world reinforces that, how will they ever develop confidence?"

Self-esteem is the knowledge that you are a capable human being, able to learn from mistakes and turn them into triumphs. When you step out into the world, you must be able to converse and act with confidence in business and with friends. Home is one of the best places to start. Everyone needs encouragement and a sense that they are doing something right; without this feeling, it is easy to fall into the habit of self-doubt and pity.

In starting a business, you must have the self-esteem necessary to defend your ideas while listening to accomplished people contradicting you. The story of Famous Amos illustrates the confidence and lack of self-pity necessary to succeed in business. Famous Amos not only had his company stolen, but the rights to his own name as well—but he went on to create a new company; Uncle No Name cookies. In the face of his defeat he did not complain nor make excuses, he simply made up his mind that he would do well again, and he did. Read more ..

The Arab Fall

Fundamentalists by any other name would be as frightening

December 2nd 2011

Islamic Topics - Moslem Brotherhood
Muslim Brotherhood

In Egypt it is called the "Freedom and Justice Party." In Tunisia, it is called the "Renaissance Party."  They are benign sounding names. But in both cases they are political arms of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A couple of weeks ago, I warned that events in the Muslim world which we naively saw as the result of a yearning for freedom and democracy were in fact the product and brainchild of the Muslim Brotherhood. I would venture to say that the Brotherhood has plotted the overthrow of the existing governments for years even as many of its leaders were in exile. The events in Tunisia provided the opportunity for the Brotherhood "to unleash the Kraken" everywhere else.  And I suspect that they had their people well placed to start revolution all over the Middle East map.

Now we hear talk about the moderate Islamists, even about a moderate Brotherhood. And the Brotherhood, understanding us better than we understand them, salted and peppered their rhetoric to play into that Western delusion. In fact, the Brotherhood is not even on the State Department's terrorist list. There are two reasons for that. One reason is that the Brotherhood is a religious organization and the other is that the Brotherhood had renounced terrorism in the 1970s. Yet, they were the impetus for Hamas and al Qaeda. Read more ..

Military on Edge

Are We Entering Another Interwar Period?

November 30th 2011

Military - Korean War Memorial, OlympiaWA
Korean War Memorial, Olympia, Washington

“A nation that does not prepare for all forms of war should then renounce the use of war in national policy. A people that does not prepare to fight should then be morally prepared to surrender.”

– T.R. Fehrenbach, in his classic study of the Korean War, This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness

Our nation has been in five big fights in my lifetime, and many more smaller ones. In four of those big fights, we were either totally unprepared or we had prepared for a completely different kind of fight than the one in which we found ourselves. Desert Storm was the only exception.

Military professionals and historians know this and are perpetually repeating to each other the cliché about preparing for the next war instead of the last one. Knowing, however, that we have been wrong four out of five times, it is a curious phenomenon how frequently we then hear the assertion, often in the next breath, that “the next one” will take a very specific and predictable form, such as insurgency or counter-terrorism. To make such assertions is to ignore the lessons of history. The operative lesson is that no one can state with certainty what form “the next one” will take. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Spare the Victory Dance

November 30th 2011

Terrorism - Osama bin Laden

Aproaching the 10-year anniversary of September 11th, senior U.S. officials have all but declared victory over al-Qaeda. Former top spy and newly-installed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed this summer that the United States was “within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda.” Indeed, a recent Washington Post headline declared: “Officials: Al-Qaeda Close to Collapse.”

Killing Osama bin Laden undoubtedly was a major milestone. Counterterrorism officials trumpet that the al-Qaeda reins are now held by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is commonly seen as uninspiring and divisive. “I have yet to see a debriefing of a suspect in a significant terrorism plot who said, ‘I was inspired by the videotapes of Ayman al-Zawahiri,’” a former intelligence deputy recently remarked.

Yet analysis that places personalities above ideas is deeply flawed. It provides Americans a false sense of security, blinding them to the significant terrorism challenges we face.

Consider Bin Laden’s vision. According to the Congressional Research Service, Bin Laden and his associates “have sought to serve as the vanguard of a religious movement that inspires Muslims and other individuals aspiring to join a jihadi movement to help defend and purify Islam through violent means. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Assault on Jewish Jerusalem

November 27th 2011

Israel Topics - A map

The ongoing pressures exerted against construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem like Gilo reflect intensified global efforts to redivide the city.

Like many aspects of the Israeli-Arab conflict, the issue of Jerusalem is being reviewed in a vacuum without relationship to the reality on the ground. It also overlooks the abominable restrictions on freedom of worship in the eastern part of the city between 1948 and 1967 when the city was occupied by Jordan. Jewish holy sites, including the 2000 year-old Jewish cemetery at the Mount of Olives were desecrated, with tombstones used to build latrines.

In the Old City, all 58 synagogues were razed to the ground, including the ancient Hurva synagogue. Read more ..

The West on Edge

A Trans-Atlantic Partnership

November 25th 2011

UN Topics - US-EU handshake

At precisely the same moment on Tuesday, October 4, parliamentary hearings started on each side of the Atlantic on the very same issue. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, began his testimony on the economic outlook to the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, just as his counterpart in Europe, Jean-Claude Trichet, then president of the European Central Bank, started his regular evidence session with the Economic and Monetary Committee of the European Parliament.

The reality revealed by this episode is that, in the face of a serious economic crisis affecting both our continents, lawmakers in America and Europe are in fact working more and more to a common—and hopefully increasingly converging—political agenda. On many issues—whether it be financial market regulation, farm reform, climate change, transport security, cyber crime or energy scarcity—we are very often grappling with similar problems in a world where, sadly, our individual influence is shrinking.

We have strongly argued for the completion of the transatlantic market—by removing tariff and nontariff barriers to trade and promoting regulatory convergence—just as we recently endorsed the Transatlantic Jobs and Growth Initiative. We look forward to momentum being carried forward on this front at the upcoming European Union-U.S. Summit. Read more ..

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