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The Edge of Justice

Rubashkin Sentence Must Be Fair—Not Shocking

April 26th 2010

Jewish Topics - Sholom Rubashkin
Sholom Rubashkin

As a former United States District Court Judge, I have a unique perspective on the criminal justice system.

Aggressive prosecution and strong sentencing advocacy are at the center of most US Attorney decisions. Federal judges have the sole authority to administer fair and consistent criminal sentences. These are certainly weighty responsibilities which require balancing the dual interests of punishment and deterrence with mercy and societal redemption of those convicted of criminal acts. In his now famous speech to federal prosecutors, then Attorney General Robert Jackson captured the difficult balance that must be reached by those who exercise authority over fellow human beings when he concluded “the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor [or judge] who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.”

Notwithstanding the best efforts of prosecutors and judges to administer justice, practitioners such as ourselves remain concerned about not only disparity in sentencing in the federal system, but specifically the shockingly high sentences being meted out in some white collar cases based on overinflated or overreliance on the dollar loss amounts in fraud cases. One particular case, set for sentencing in the coming days, is United States v. Sholom Rubashkin. Read more ..

Edge on Justice

Can Justice Meet Punishment in the Case of Rabbi Shalom Rubashkin?

April 19th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Shmuley Boteach
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

At middle age I have come to accept my limitations. Although I like to have an opinion on almost everything, I am conscious of the fact that I am not a legal scholar and do not understand all the complexities of the criminal case against Shalom Rubashkin, the former CEO of America's largest kosher meat plant, Agriprocessors of Postville, Iowa.

But I am not a stupid man either. And I, and a heck of a lot of other fairly intelligent and educated people are scratching our heads as to why government prosecutors are requesting that Rubashkin, who has ten children, including an autistic son, and a reputation for enormous philanthropy, be given a life sentence in prison.

A life behind bars. The very words are ominous. Isn't that reserved for society's most heinous offenders? Life sentence has one conjuring images of rapists and murderers, international drug cartel kingpins and white-collar criminals guilty of gargantuan fraud, like Bernie Madoff.

What did Rubashkin do? After an INS raid on the plant that found hundreds of illegal immigrants, the company was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy and Rubashkin, who had already been arrested for employing illegals, was subsequently found guilty of defrauding a bank and producing false invoices in order to keep the business going. There is no insinuation that he did any of this for personal profit or gain. Unlike Madoff, he had no Hamptons estate, no fancy yacht, and no Manhattan penthouse. By all accounts he and his family lived in incredibly modest circumstances. Read more ..

The Edge of Energy

Flex Fuel Vehicles Hold The Key

April 12th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Gal Luft

Two recent policy announcements revealed the Obama administration’s core strategy in addressing the nation’s growing dependence on oil. Early in April, President Barack Obama announced that his administration would allow new oil exploration along the Atlantic Coast and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The administration also announced new mandatory fuel efficiency standards of 35.5 mpg average within six years, up nearly 10 mpg from now.

By simultaneously promoting supply-side solutions (drill baby, drill) and demand-side solutions like increased efficiency, Mr. Obama is throwing bones to the two camps that for decades have dominated the nation’s energy debate. This may be smart politics, but when it comes to effectiveness—though there is nothing wrong fundamentally with either efficiency or drilling—both policies will do very little to address America’s energy security challenge, as they fail to address the root of the problem: oil’s virtual monopoly over transportation fuel (only 2 percent of U.S. oil demand is due to electricity generation).

Last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that opening the Outer Continental Shelf to exploration would affect oil prices by 11 cents per barrel by 2020, which would translate to less than a penny per gallon. On the flip side, going on an efficiency diet would not even offset the growth in demand due to natural growth. Read more ..

The Edge of Food

Does the Public have a Right to Know about Genetically Modified Meat?

April 5th 2010

Science - Mouse in Beaker

Is it a pig or a mouse pig? Relax I am told, it is just a bit of DNA and not species specific, putting mouse DNA into a pig won't affect it at all. Why then are researchers trying to bring a little piggy to market with mouse DNA spliced into the beast? The answer is simple and readily answered by people behind it, because the mouse DNA, when combined with E. coli, allows for the pig to process phosphorous in a way that the pig currently cannot.

To bring everyone up to speed on what I am going on about here, allow me to present Enviropig, an invention of the University of Guelph in Canada. The scientists behind Enviropig have been working on this animal for 11 years, trying to find a way to reduce the phosphorous output of swine herds raised through intensive livestock operations or factory farming. Professor Stephen Liss tells me that phosphorous run off can be a problem on farms, if the run off hits water supplies be it in streams or wells, the water can become contaminated, algae growth can overtake the water. The solution, Enviropig which can reduce phosphorous output by as much as 70 percent.

But this is not just about solving an environmental problem, the goal is to market this animal for human consumption and currently there are applications before the United States Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada, asking the regulatory bodies to approve the "transgenic" animal for the dinner plate. I'm not sure. Read more ..

Obama Edge

Stopping Iran by Appeasing Syria is a Diplomatic Illusion

March 29th 2010

Iran - Ahmadinejad and Assad3

After observing the Obama’s administrations attempts of engagement and rapprochement towards the Syrian regime it is logical to have deep concerns about the disturbing and negative results that these attempts have brought to the US allies and interests in the region.
As part of the Obama administration’s new approach towards the issues of the Middle East, reopening dialogue with the Syrian regime was advocated as the only way to detach Basher Assad from Syria’s 30 year old alliance with the Iranian theocratic regime. It also aimed at getting Syria to play a positive regional role in fighting terrorism and promoting stability and to participate in the peace process.

As it is obvious today none of the above objectives is close to happening. On the contrary the once cornered and ready to capitulate Syrian regime has slyly used the détente, freely offered to it, to strengthen its grip on the Syrian people, to continue its support of the terrorists who kill our soldiers and disrupt Iraq’s recovery process, to smuggle arms to Hezbollah and to intimidate the US allies in the region.  Read more ..

The Bad Arolsen Conflict

U.S. Holocaust Museum Owes Survivors an Apology Over Withheld Records

March 22nd 2010

Jewish Topics - BA Camp Documentation

As previously reported in the media, the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) and Footnote.com announced in September 2009 the forthcoming release of the Internet’s largest interactive digital Holocaust collection. The collection has recently been released and it includes 26,000 Holocaust related photos, millions of names and records which are now available online for the first time.

Dr. Michael Kurtz, assistant archivist of the United States NARA and author of America and the Return of Nazi Contraband commented: “working with ‘Footnote’ these records will become more widely accessible and will help people now and in the future learn more about the events and the impact of the Holocaust.”

The announcement goes on to explain: “The Holocaust collection is the latest in a continuing partnership between ‘Footnote.com’ and the National Archives to scan, digitize, and make historical records available online. The goal is to give more people access to these and other historical records that have previously only been available through the research room of the National Archives.”

Russ Wilding, CEO of ‘Footnote” stated: “These pages tell a personal story that is not recorded in the history text books; they give visitors a first-hand glimpse into the tragic events of the Holocaust and allow users to engage with content such as maps, photos, timelines and personal accounts of victims and survivors.” Read more ..

Israel on the Edge

Stepping Back from Biden's Trip to Israel

March 15th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Abraham Foxman Color cropped
Abraham Foxman

On some level, it couldn't have been worse. We have a situation where the most trusted member of the U.S. administration, Vice President Joe Biden, is in Israel seeking to win over the hearts and minds of the Israeli public which, according to the polls, is highly suspicious of the Obama government. And in his opening public remarks, the vice president shows he's cognizant of the need by the administration to state more clearly and vociferously than it had heretofore that the American-Israeli special relationship is as strong as ever.

Included in his comments was the important statement that when it comes to matters affecting Israel 's security, there is no space whatsoever between the American and Israeli positions.

In sum, the administration was paying attention to those of us who have been saying for some time that it was imperative for the president and vice president to use their bully pulpits to make clear that the outreach to the Muslim world did not in the least mean any erosion in the U.S.-Israel relationship. This was important for at least three reasons: to keep the trust of the Israeli people; to prevent illusions about a weakening American support among the Palestinians which could lead them to conclude that peace is not necessary; and to make clear to anti-Israel forces around the world, who are feeling their oats these days, that America is not a ripe target for their campaigns against Israel.

The stage was set therefore for the most successful effort for strengthening U.S.-Israel relations since the new administration entered office. And then came the announcement of plans for building 1,200 new apartments in East Jerusalem.

One doesn't have to accept the most cynical interpretation of that announcement, and I surely don't, that the prime minister knew about it, to recognize what a disaster it was. Whatever the motivation and whoever the responsible party, it is the government of Israel that justifiably is held accountable for converting an optimal moment in U.S.-Israel relations into a moment of crisis. The crucial point is that the government had an obligation to anticipate what might go wrong during the vice president's visit and to give firm instruction to all cabinet members about avoiding such pitfalls, particularly on the subjects of settlements and East Jerusalem . Read more ..

Edge on Automobiles

Toyota's Deadly Secret

March 8th 2010

Automotive - Dec 2009 Toyota Accelerator Accident
December 2009 Toyota accelerator mishap

That Toyota brand and fleet of vehicles: Matrix, Sequoia, Highlander, RAV4, Camry, Avalon, Corolla, Tundra and Lexus. If any of you are the proud owner of one of these vehicles over the past few years, I’m certain some of you have horror story after horror story you could testify about before Congress, just as several have done in recent days. Do you ever wonder whether anyone was ever listening to your cry in the wilderness?

Many of us are just too personally familiar with the crisis Toyota now faces as a result of its clandestine relationship with our government which has seriously jeopardized or killed countless Americans on our highways. Toyota, which is headquartered in Japan, culturally addresses issues of irresponsibility and neglect in much harsher terms than the U.S. In fact, the Japanese have long been known as a group in which personal sacrifice (even suicide) is encouraged as part of one’s display of grief, regret and responsibility sharing.  Their culture is quick to issue apology after apology and show deep humiliation for their transgressions. Unfortunately in this latest episode, just simply apologizing repeatedly will not be enough to satisfy the tremendous harm and lack of sensitivity to those who have long prized the Toyota brand as the standard of the global auto market. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

A Joint Arab Force Against Terror Is Needed

March 1st 2010

Contributors / Staff - Walid Phares new
Walid Phares

In a discussion with American and European legislators as well as with counter terrorism experts from the Arab world, the formation of an “Anti-Terror Joint Force” was suggested as an appropriate response to the expansion of Terror organizations throughout the region backed by both al Qaeda and Iran. Over the past few years, I have given briefings to the Anti-Terror Caucus of the US House of Representatives as well as to several defense agencies on how such an initiative could start among Arab Governments and expand later to Muslim countries. These countries in the Arab world—Yemen, Saudi, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq, and several Gulf states—are already fighting Terrorism in general and al Qaeda in particular. They are already confronting al Qaeda and Jihadi Takfiris in their homelands. and in some cases they are fighting networks backed by the Iranian regime, as is the case in Yemen, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Hence an Arab leadership on counter terrorism is the best idea to put all these resources together. The creation of an Arab special forces corps would benefit all countries involved and would be backed by many Western countries.

An Arab joint effort against terrorism is not only beneficial on military and security levels but also and mainly on ideological levels. Arab intellectuals and NGOs, when approached and supported seriously, can be efficient in countering radicalization and indoctrination by Jihadi Salafis and Khomeinists.

Furthermore, such a Trans Arab effort against Terrorism would enhance the image of Arab countries and societies in the West and at the international stage. After 9/11, connections were drawn between the Jihadists and entire Arab societies. With the rise of a common Anti Terror Arab force, these connections will be reversed as the international public opinion would then see these important efforts on behalf of several countries coming together to defeat a common enemy: al Qaeda and resist a global threat: Terrorism. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Federal Court Requires Washington State to Allow Felons in Prison to Vote

February 22nd 2010

Politics - Federal Court Building
Federal Court Building Ninth Circuit

You may have seen a headline like the one above following a January 5 decision issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (usually shortened to "Ninth Circuit"), the federal appellate court which handles appeals from federal district (that is, trial) courts in the State of Washington, California, and other western states. The headline seemed, shall I say odd, so I was prompted to read this Ninth Circuit decision (Farrakhan v. Gregoire), as well as other decisions on the same problem issued by three other federal appellate courts: Johnson v. Governor of the State of Florida (Eleventh Circuit 2005); Hayden v. Pataki (Second Circuit 2006); and Simmons v. Galvin (First Circuit 2009).

As we all learned from the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case following the 2000 presidential election, most of the law governing the eligibility of individuals to vote is state, not federal, law. One such federal law, however, is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was enacted to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, one of the amendments that followed the Civil War. Read more ..

Edge on Education

How to Make Higher Education More Affordable

February 15th 2010

Social Topics - Graduates

President Obama has proposed a new plan to cap student loan payments at 10 percent of the borrower's discretionary income. Borrowers with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty line (or approximately $33,000) would be required to make no payment, and the balance of a borrower's loan would be forgiven after 20 years for a private-sector worker and 10 years for a government employee.

Since college borrowers willingly take out loans in order to obtain a college degree, it is unclear why the federal government would choose to reduce their payments. This proposal would further shift the burden of paying for postsecondary education from the student or borrower--the person who directly benefits from the college degree--onto taxpayers.

In 2005, the Census Bureau reported that the annual earning of a worker with a college degree is roughly double the yearly income of a person who only earns a high school degree. The majority of American adults do not have college degrees. Shifting the burden of student loan repayments from college graduates onto taxpayers, many of whom did not attend college, raises serious questions about equity.

Increasing Subsidies, Increasing College Costs

Total federal student aid (including grants, loans, and tax benefits) was $117 billion during the 2008-09 academic year--a 99 percent increase over 10 years. Nevertheless, paying for college remains a challenge for students and families.

The cause of the affordability problem is ever-increasing college costs. The price of college tuition and fees grew by 439 percent since 1982--more than four times the growth rate of inflation (consumer price index: 106 percent) and almost twice the cost of medical care (251 percent). Read more ..

Edge on NATO

Macedonia's Admission to NATO is Long Past Due

February 8th 2010

Military - US - Macedonia cooperation
Macedonian soldiers in Iraq salute Major General Paul Levebvre, USMC

At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, NATO affirmed that Macedonia would become a fully fledged member of the alliance once its bilateral name dispute with Greece is resolved. Nearly two years later, Greece continues to block Macedonia's NATO membership and has extended its obstructionism to Skopje's ambitions to accede to the European Union, despite widespread support in the region and from the broader Euro-Atlantic community.

The Adriatic-3 countries--Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia--have successfully completed their Membership Action Plans, and as a result, Albania and Croatia have taken their seat at the alliance's table. It is well past time for Macedonia to join them. The United States must work with Macedonia's allies within NATO to push their accession up the agenda and pressure Greece to abide by NATO's long-standing precedent that one country does not block another's membership on a purely bilateral matter. Read more ..

The Hell of Haiti

Haitian Disaster Could be a Boon to U.S.-Cuba Relations

February 1st 2010

Latin American Topics - Rene Preval - Fidel Castro
Rene Preval and Fidel Castro

Why is there almost no media coverage of Cuba’s medical assistance to Haiti? The Cuban government has provided free health care to the Haitian people since 1998 as well as many full scholarships to its medical schools. It also should be noted that Cuban doctors work in all 10 of Haiti’s departments (administrative divisions). At the time the earthquake struck, 344 Cuban doctors were providing health service in Haiti along with over 500 local Haitian graduates of Cuban medical schools.

For years, the Cubans had been implementing their model Comprehensive Health Program in Haiti, but immediately switched to treating earthquake victims when the emergency struck. The Cubans quickly established field hospitals at the University Hospital in Delmas 33, and at Rennaissance and Oftama. Cuban personnel also began performing operations on an18 hours-a-day schedule.

Yet, not a word of this appears in the mainstream U.S. media. In fact, U.S. news organizations seem to make the charge that patients routinely die at US-operated makeshift medical clinics and hospitals in Haiti because of a lack of adequate facilities to care for them, yet what about Cuban-run hospitals on the island? Do they have a better record? Read more ..

The Obama Edge

The Lesson of Massachusetts Reaches Across America

February 1st 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Obama at peace

The people of Massachusetts handed President Barack Obama a stinging political rebuke on his first anniversary in office. The descent from “Yes we can” to “No we won't” was dizzying. Mr. Obama won the Bay State last year by more than 25 percentage points in his triumphal march to his historic inauguration. A year later, Republican Scott Brown won the special Massachusetts Senate election by five points to replace the late Ted Kennedy. The message is clear: Voters, especially independent ones, believe Mr. Obama's presidency is on the wrong track.

To avoid derailment, President Obama must learn from Candidate Obama to transcend partisanship. He must reread his analysis in The Audacity of Hope that America has moved beyond 1960s-style Big Government liberalism, even as it realized it must move beyond 1980s-style Reaganism, too. In short, Mr. Obama must renew his vow to lead from the center.

Although the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, ran a Keystone Kops campaign in Massachusetts, Mr. Obama should take her defeat personally, especially after campaigning for her on Sunday. Mr. Brown boldly made the election a referendum on Mr. Obama's leadership and Mr. Obama's health-care reform. Cries of “41” at Mr. Brown's victory party celebrated his new power as the 41st Republican senator, preventing the Democrats from blocking a Republican filibuster that could bury health care or any other major reform.

Campaign signs calling Mr. Brown “the people's candidate” captured his campaign's populism, immortalizing his greatest moment. Moderating a debate between the candidates, CNN's David Gergen asked Mr. Brown about the irony that, by sitting “in Teddy Kennedy's seat,” he might sink Mr. Kennedy's long-sought health-care reform for another 15 years. Mr. Brown's reply was one of those great political sound bites: “Well, with all due respect, it's not the Kennedys' seat, and it's not the Democrats' seat, it's the people's seat.” Read more ..

The Hell of Haiti

President Obama Risks a Katrina-sized Fiasco in Haiti's Bleak Prospects for Recovery

January 25th 2010

Disaster - Haiti Eathquake Devastation

As the days go by, it has become almost impossible to exaggerate the untold devastation left in the wake of the massive earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday, January 12, with its epicenter just southwest of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The quake, registering a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter scale and followed by over thirty serious aftershocks, left what is likely to be well over 200,000 dead and millions more injured. Many additional victims remained trapped in the rubble of homes, schools, hospitals, and government buildings as the primary three-day window for search and rescue ran out. Early this morning, a major aftershock registering a magnitude of 6.1 wreaked yet further havoc on the island.

The crisis has thus far drawn significant contributions of humanitarian aid from around the globe, including $100 million pledged by the US and tens of millions more by public and private agencies, in addition to relief efforts bearing food, medicine, and supplies for critical search and rescue operations. Still, the international response has been insufficient to keep up with the mounting challenges stemming from Haiti’s weak existing national infrastructure, social and political instability, and chronic underdevelopment, amplifying the disastrous impact of the earthquake. On Friday, January 15, the United Nations announced an emergency appeal of over $550 million in international humanitarian assistance for earthquake relief efforts over the next three to six months. However, the overpowering logistical and bureaucratic challenges that have complicated relief efforts so far may prove even more difficult to confront in the face of the enormous challenges posed by rebuilding the infrastructure and institutions of Haiti, above and beyond coping with the immediate devastation wrought by the earthquake. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Why Sanctions Help—Not Harm—Iran

January 18th 2010

Iran - Iranian nuclear facility

After giving Iran another full year to move closer to building a nuclear weapon, the Obama Administration is finally coming to the realization that its engagement strategy was a failure. Its fallback position has been to threaten new sanctions, but this approach will not succeed and may, in fact, help the Iranian regime and ensure it becomes a nuclear power.

Perhaps the most significant problem with the idea of sanctions is that it gives the impression of action without really achieving anything.

Sanctions are already in place and have not stopped Iran's progress. Proponents say that they simply need to be stronger, but a tougher sanctions regime has a number of problems. First, it will take yet more time to adopt any new measures and, with each passing day, Iran's program advances. Many experts already believe Iran can now build a bomb and the point of no return has passed. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

The Importance of Latin America to U.S. National Security Policy

January 11th 2010

Latin American Topics - Chavez and Latin American Presidents

The Christmas attempt at blowing up a Northwest Airline flying from Amsterdam to Detroit has rightly raised the level of concern regarding national security.

If some still believe that the 9/11 attacks were isolated cases that were not likely to be repeated, the Christmas event, as well as the massacre perpetrated by a radical Islamist at a military base at Fort Hood Texas and the capture of five Pakistani-Americans who tried to enlist with Al Qaeda, confirm that national security issues need to be comprehensively addressed. This is why paying full attention and giving priority to events occurring in Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan is imperative.

However, a national security policy cannot be subject to emotions or to the ideology of people who profess mere pacifism or wrongly believe that the enemy would not be our enemy if we treat it differently. Likewise, it is reasonable to say that no national security policy should be based only on a reaction to one specific dramatic event. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

A Restaurant in Tel Aviv and Hannah Rosenthal

January 4th 2010

Jewish Topics - Hannah Rosenthal
Hannah Rosenthal

In December, in a Tel Aviv restaurant, while I sat casually discussing my successor at the State Department with my dinner companions, I mentioned Hannah Rosenthal's J-Street affiliation, suggesting that this affiliation concerned me. Nearby sat a former US Foreign Service officer who upon the conclusion of her meal took it upon herself to—quite rudely—interrupt our meal to inform me in front of several other people, that in her opinion, J-Street was “a friend of Israel, not an enemy.” She then ran off out of the restaurant in a huff, shooting me a dirty look as she left. As publicly offensive as this woman proved to be, her rude declaration seemed to suggest a bothersome arrogance. Worse was the very public repetition of this effrontery by Ms. Rosenthal, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism when she publicly criticized and insulted Israel's Ambassador to the United States for purely political reasons.

Ms. Rosenthal suggested that Ambassador Oren “could have learned something” by attending the recent J-Street conference, which he refused to attend due to his differences over policy with the group. She attacked him in an Israeli newspaper in her official capacity, a position which dictates that she fights anti-Semitism, not breed it by openly picking a fight with Israel's Ambassador to the United States, thereby aiding and abetting anti-Semites around the world. Read more ..

Sports on the Edge

The Absurdity of Athlete Worship

December 28th 2009

Sports Topics - Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

For me, it started with Muhammad Ali. I can perfectly recall sitting in the living room with my father, watching as Ali danced around the ring. He moved with a rare mix of fluidity and power, dispatching one rough, plodding opponent after another. He seemed the perfect embodiment of masculine striving. But the best part was after the match had ended. That's when Ali would unleash one of his verbal rants. Full of braggadocio, Ali would proclaim to the world, "I am the greatest." And I believed him.

But why? Why was I so willing to listen to Ali? Why do we take any guidance from athletes? In the midst of Tiger Woods's Thanksgiving day car wreck and his apparent infidelity with multiple women, I can't help but wonder why we bother to make heroes of our sportsmen.

After all, everything about the lives of our celebrity athletes encompasses abnormality. From a young age, they are conditioned to believe that they are superior in a Darwinian sense. The moment these physical outliers are spotted on playgrounds, they are courted by "street agents" who fill their heads with dreams of dollars, endorsement deals, celebrity and all those other things that fulfill their adolescent desires to be "feared and worshiped." These promising youths (the fittest, the strongest) are promptly shipped off to shoe-sponsored sports camps where their talents are honed under the adoring gaze of coaches. Money, gifts, promises and special favors from unscrupulous agents, shoe executives and recruiters inevitably follow. And if they hit the big time, their images are beamed across the world with a dreamlike quality based on the persona of the hero. Read more ..

The American Way

Should American Heritage be Preserved?

December 21st 2009

Architecture - Ruins of Windsor Mississippi
Ruins of Windsor Plantation, Mississippi

Today we are bombarded with allusions to the “culture war,” the conflict over the basic values that govern public life in the West. The war is grounded in a clash between the traditional West with its roots in the Christian heritage and a growing disillusionment with truth and meaning itself arising from a materialistic and secularistic world view.

The full dimensions of the conflict are seldom recognized primarily because of the superficial understanding of the intellectual heritage of the West, a superficiality spelled out by E.D. Hirsch in his Cultural Literacy (1987). Furthermore, Stephen Prothero has maintained in his book Religious Literacy (2007) that even among Americans--who overwhelming purport to believe in God--there is a “lack [of] the most basic understanding of their own religious tradition.”

Paradoxically, despite our cultural illiteracy, we are absorbed in preserving, promoting, and disseminating what is touted as heritage. Under the banner of “historic preservation,” government agencies, private organizations, and specialists constantly urge us to preserve heritage in the form of vast quantities of buildings and artifacts. The rationalization is that these things will help us understand “who we are, where we came from, and what is the legacy that shapes. . . us,” as Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation once noted. Read more ..

Education on the Edge

The Dropout Crisis

December 14th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

In his second inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt lamented: “I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished.” From that lament the New Deal took root.

More than a pinching of the bare necessities, the nation President Barack Obama sees is plagued by ill-education featuring high school dropout rates routinely soaring past 50 percent in major urban areas where the underprivileged predominate. The ailment threatens the nation’s democracy, economy, and social fabric. It is aggravating racial or ethnic divisions. It confirms the insight of H.G. Wells that “human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan deserve some praise for embryonic federal steps to address the dropout problem by encouraging charter schools and offering hundreds of millions of dollars in economic stimulus funds to innovative non-profit educational programs with promising or proven track records. But the national effort is vastly incommensurate with the magnitude of the high school dropout danger. President Obama needs to provoke a national conversation and high voltage concern over the disaster that is already upon us Read more ..

Academic Freedom

Darwish Engagement Cancelled at Princeton--It's All Academic

December 7th 2009

Arab Topics - Nonie Darwish
Nonie Darwish

For more than a generation, people who follow the Arab-Israeli War wonder if articulate Arab spokespeople will emerge to express genuine recognition of Israel, with a clear and unambiguous desire for peace.

Seven years ago, when Israel marked the 25th anniversary of the 1977 visit by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Israel — which led to the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab State — a young Egyptian native, now an American citizen, Nonie Darwish, whose late father fought against Israel, made a presentation for a large mixed audience of Arabs and Jews at the same place President Sadat had landed — at Jerusalem’s posh King David Hotel.

At the same hotel where Sadat first proclaimed his desire for peace with Israel, Nonie Darwish, announced that she had formed a new organization, calling it Arabs For Israel. Ms. Darwish described her passion and pride for Arab nationalism and the need for every Arab nationalist to embrace the state and people of Israel as a neighbor in the Middle East.

Skeptical reporters who felt that Nonie Darwish was, perhaps, too good to be true began to bombard her with questions after her erudite presentation. After all, one reporter said, this has been a “cold peace” and very few Egyptians have come to visit Israel with any such proclamation. Read more ..

Edge of Economic Recovery

Black Friday Spells a Bleak Future

November 30th 2009

Economy - Black Friday

Black Friday represents just about everything that is wrong with our country and our culture. It is a disgusting example of our debt-based materialistic society. People getting killed in human stampedes to grab one of the 50 HDTVs on sale in a Wal-Mart are revolting. The mainstream media whips the boorish masses into a materialistic frenzy. The day brings out the worst in Americans.

The financial pundits refer to us as “consumers.” What a repulsive term to apply to human beings. Indeed, retailers see Americans as nothing more than animals that consume their products. Advertisers manipulate the young and uneducated through misleading advertising and false promises. Virtually the entire population has bought into this consumer idea. Read more ..

Mideast Peace

Syria is Still Not Ready for Peace Talks

November 23rd 2009

Lebanon Topics - Basher Assad
Syrian President Basher Assad

In November 2009, after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that he would meet Syrian President Basher Assad for direct negotiations, anywhere, anytime, without preconditions to discuss a permanent peace treaty between Israel and Syria. Assad, after meeting with Sarkozy two days later, flatly rejected Netanyahu's offer and half-heartedly countered with the possibility of restarting indirect negotiations through Turkey.

This was vintage Assad. Typically, he meets with world leaders who praise him for privately expressing an interest in peace before he publicly declares he has no intention of negotiating with Israel. This pattern actually began with Assad's father as early as the mid-1970s, when President Carter met with Hafez Assad and extolled his virtues only to recall later in his memoirs that Assad subsequently did everything he could to sabotage his peace efforts. In those years, Israel was reluctant to offer any concessions on the Golan Heights, but starting with Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s, successive Israeli prime ministers have offered to withdraw from the area in exchange for peace. Read more ..

Heatlh Care Reform

Legislative Malpractice

November 16th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot

It has famously been said that America is a nation of laws not people. Not the case when it comes to applying the laws of this country to its elected leaders. Amazingly, Congress is not covered by many of the statutes that they apply to the rest of the country.   Exhibit A: Health care reform. On a recent Saturday night the House voted to enact President Obama’s health care proposal. The administration hailed the passage as the first step toward ensuring that the public receive the same health care benefits provided to members of Congress. This means that the public would enjoy a wide selection of consumer driven options and lower fee-for-service plans. 

Notably, Mr. Obama explicitly campaigned on the idea of providing the American public with the same health care options available to members of Congress. “You’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves,” promised Mr. Obama during his election campaign. With the House vote, it is worth noting that the administration’s government-run health care experiment will NOT actually provide the public with the same health care benefits provided to members of Congress. The administration’s current health care proposal specifically exempts members of Congress from participation. Despite the rousing rhetoric to the contrary, congressional health plans, with their wide choice of provider options, will not be available to the general public.

If the bill passes in the Senate, the public would receive a watered down version of the benefits available to members of Congress — and at a cost that would dramatically increase the deficit, and ultimately lead to a tax hike on the middle class.

Congress needs to man-up and provide the public with the same health care benefits that they receive. If Congress thinks that having limited choices for health care providers is tolerable, then its members should accept those same limited options for themselves. Instead, they offer rousing rhetoric about giving the American populace the same health care options that are available to Congress, then, in almost the same breath, they turn around and exempt themselves from the plan.

Obama Edge

Outrage and Double Standards: The Lockerbie and Cubana Airline Bombings

November 9th 2009

Cuba Topics - Cubans Protest Cubana Airlines Hijacker
Cubans Protesing Hijackers

The recent release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basete al-Megrahi produced immediate outrage from the White House in reaction to later scenes of jubilation marking his arrival in Libya.

Al-Megrahi had been freed on humanitarian grounds by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. The former intelligence agent for the Libya government has advanced prostate cancer and is not expected to live more than a few months. He was the only person actually convicted in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York, which killed all 259 on board the aircraft as well as 11 residents of the village of Lockerbie. A majority of the passengers were U.S. citizens.

Prior to his release, warnings were given by President Obama and members of Congress to Libya authorities not to celebrate the terrorist’s return. When the images were shown of al-Megrahi waving to a cheering crowd at the Tripoli airport, the rebuke was instantaneous. President Obama said the sight was “highly objectionable.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the media coverage of the scene, “tremendously offensive to the survivors that, as I said, lost a loved one in 1988. I think the images we saw in Libya were outrageous and disgusting.” Read more ..

Sports on the Edge

Who is to Blame for Andre Agassi's Relationship with Dope?

November 2nd 2009

Entertainment - Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi is back in the headlines again, after confessing in his soon-to-be-released life story that he snorted the illegal stimulant crystal meth. And revelled in it: A tidal wave of euphoria that sweeps away every negative thought... I never felt so alive, so hopeful -- and I've never felt such energy," he writes.

I'm not surprised. Agassi cultivated the brash, super-brat image and drugs goes with the territory. But not necessarily lying. In his book Open, which has been serialised in several newspapers, he writes about what he did after he was caught by tennis authorities:

"My name, my career, everything is now on the line. Whatever I've achieved, whatever I've worked for, might soon mean nothing. Days later I sit in a hard-backed chair, a legal pad in my lap, and write a letter to the ATP [Association of Tennis Professionals]. It's filled with lies interwoven with bits of truth.

"I say Slim, whom I've since fired, is a known drug user, and that he often spikes his sodas with meth -- which is true. Then I come to the central lie of the letter. I say that recently I drank accidentally from one of Slim's spiked sodas, unwittingly ingesting his drugs. I ask for understanding and leniency and hastily sign it: Sincerely. I feel ashamed, of course. I promise myself that this lie is the end of it." 

Subsequently the ATP drugs tribunal decided not to impose a penalty -- and not to inform the public of the positive result.

The latest revelation to be drip-fed to the public is that his father may have given him caffeine pills and even the illegal amphetamine speed to increase his concentration before a match.

Why has Agassi confessed now, when he is trying to be a role model to help young kids, medically and socially? Read more ..

Obama Edge

Darfur the Latest Example of Obama's Willingness to Clean Slates

October 26th 2009

Africa Topics - Darfur victim

The July 2008 indictment of Sudan's Omar Bashir by the International Criminal Court includes three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. He is accused of running the campaign in Darfur that killed (using the lowest estimate the Court deemed reliable) 35,000 people directly and 100,000 more by related causes, and turned more than 2.5 million people into refugees. He is supposed to be arrested upon arrival in signatory countries-although his trips to the Arab world and Iran had the air of victory laps. But President Obama's envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force General Scott Gration, declared the genocide over. In June he said, "What we see is the remnant of genocide... the consequences of genocide... the results of genocide." Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Talks with Iran Can Buy Time for Iran's Nuclear Program

October 19th 2009

Iran - Ahmadinejad Nuke

So long as Iran continues to race ahead with its nuclear program, negotiations with the West risk being overtaken by events: the window for talks depends on Iran's inability to manufacture a nuclear weapon. For this reason, the focus has been on convincing Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment so that it cannot produce enough low-enriched uranium (LEU) to use as feedstock for the highly enriched uranium necessary for a nuclear bomb. The October 1 Geneva agreement between Iran and the P5+1, however, resulted in a different means of reducing the risk of an Iranian "breakout."

Rather than reducing the amount of LEU Iran produces, the new approach focuses on reducing the amount of LEU Iran has on its soil. Iran agreed to ship 80 percent of its current LEU stock -- 1,200 kilograms -- to Russia, which would leave Tehran with too little LEU from its declared facilities to make a bomb. If the deal goes ahead, various government estimates suggest that Iran will need eighteen months to produce enough LEU to return to its current level of 1,200 kilograms. For this reason, the P5+1 told Iran -- in no uncertain terms -- that prompt shipment of the full 1,200 kilograms to Russia is essential. Read more ..

Brazil on the Edge

Brazil's Tilt towards Chavez and Iran

October 12th 2009

Politics - Lula Chavez
Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva and Hugo Chavez

For those concerned with hemispheric security, the big question has always been how do we contain Chavez‘s expansionist ambitions. Under the Bush Administration, the answer, in the words of a Republican Senator was, “containment of Hugo Chavez should be undertaken by Latin American countries.” This conception was consistent with the idea of a non-interventionist policy in Latin America.

Indeed, even under the hawkish Bush Administration the policy was one of good neighborhood plus trying to develop trade relations. In terms of Hugo Chavez, the policy was basically to ignore his hostile anti-Americanism and even his interventions in neighboring countries. The hope was that Latin Americans would eventually realize that Chavez was the bad guy and thus try to isolate him. This never happened. Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Countdown to Armageddon

October 5th 2009

Israeli Military - Israeli Jets Parked

The countdown to a war between Israel and Iran has begun.

Days ago, Tehran announced that it test fired long-range missiles capable of striking Israel, Egypt, Europe and American bases in the Persian Gulf. "Iran has successfully test-fired medium-range Shahab missiles with multiple warheads," the country's state-run media reported, adding that the launch was designed to "boost the armed forces' deterrent capabilities."

The test fire came on the eve of Yom Kippur and just two days after the White House disclosed that Iran had developed a new uranium enrichment facility —the first step to developing an atomic bomb. Read more ..

Confronting the Transfer Agreement

The Zionist - Nazi Transfer Agreement Saved Lives in a Desperate Moment

September 28th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Abraham Foxman Color cropped

This article arises from continuing coverage of the implications of the award-winning bestseller The Transfer Agreement, The Dramatic Story of the Secret Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine --25 Anniversary Edition (Dialog Press). Buy it here.

For years, students of the Holocaust have struggled over whether the Zionists did right or wrong in negotiating the Transfer Agreement with the Hitler regime. This arrangement transferred some 60,000 Jews and $100 million—almost $1.4 billion in 2001 dollars—from Germany to Palestine during the pre-War years. To do so necessitated protracted commercial dealings with the Nazis, and flew in the face of the global Jewish-led anti-Nazi boycott striving to topple the Hitler regime in its first years. The debate back in the thirties briefly tore the Jewish world apart before being relegated to the realm of a hushed necessity.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the whole subject of the Haavara, or Transfer, was reduced to an obscure footnote. Despite the enormity of its economic and human importance to the Jews of Europe and the development of Palestine, the entire subject is conspicuously absent from almost all standard histories of the period.

But the debate was rekindled in 1984 when Edwin Black’s book, The Transfer Agreement, appeared and told the full story for the first time. It vividly describes in tense style the minute-to-minute negotiations as Zionists rushed to save who and what could be saved in the face of a darkening future.

People are still debating the Transfer Agreement, often just as acrimoniously as its proponents and opponents did in 1933. But what the men and women of those terrible years slowly grew to understand and painfully accept has eluded the comfortable among us. Why? Because those who look back were not there, and did not live through the terrifying hours of the twelve-year Reich.

I was born in Poland. I was hidden in Vilna by my Polish Catholic nursemaid who baptized me, and I was reunited with my parents only after the War. That is why I am alive today. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Beslan: Jihad against Children Must Trigger Global Response

September 21st 2009

Terrorism - Beslan Carnage

Wars have always had inhuman results, no matter what is the scale. Since the early 20th century, terrorism has perpetrated mass killing of innocents, condemned by all moral values. Salafi jihadism in particular has produced extreme scales of bloodshed against civilians, comparing with the monstrosity of totalitarian regimes under Hitler or Pol Pot, among others.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and throughout the 1990s, Salafi terror groups operating from the Philippines to Algeria have butchered families, students, journalists, elderly, and the weakest elements of civil society.

Children, too, have been murdered during these ghazwas (jihadi raids). In the post 9/11 era, al-Qaida, the Taliban, Indonesia' Jemaa, the Janjaweed in Darfur, and the Shabab of Somalia, among others, have bombed and slaughtered kids. The al-Muhayya bombing in Saudi Arabia, the Amman bloody wedding, and the Baghdad's surreal infanticides are only examples as to how Salafi jihadists and Khomeinist operatives have gone in their devastation of children's lives. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Obama Must Decry African Genocide

September 14th 2009

Africa Topics - Africa Genocide

If we accept the principle that a half truth is not the truth, we then need to consider that the Africa policy of the U.S. Administration is dramatically incomplete in its essence.

This is the first lesson we would draw from President Barack Obama's speech delivered in front of the Ghana Parliament on July 11th. Hence it is necessary to dissect its policy components and make the needed distinctions between abstract principles, applicable anywhere on the planet, and a host of dramatic African realities, so far ignored by Washington's "New Direction."

There is no doubt that American ideals continue to inspire people around the world and in Africa in particular. Simply because these values, as Obama has reconfirmed after Presidents Clinton and Bush had before him, are part of the international body of democratic ideals. There are no reasons to be shy about principles declared by an American revolution that has inspired sister uprisings in Europe and around the world, centuries before the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written.

Hence, when American presidents visit Africa, they should be comfortable in calling for more freedoms and liberties. Obama's additional contribution to symbolism towards Africa is his natural ancestral link to the continent. Even though he doesn't descend directly from African-Americans who actually were enslaved, and that he is only part African and half European, the story of his father, a goat herder turned student who sought education in America, is very compelling. Along with his beautiful first family he can surely personalize the story of an American’s support for the liberation of Africa.

That is, if the president exposes all real menaces confronting the continent and shatters the taboos. Read more ..

The Bad Arolsen Conflict

Holocaust Museum Snubs Survivors on Bad Arolsen Files But Luxembourg Gets the Data

September 7th 2009

Jewish Topics - BA Camp Documentation

According to a recent press-release by the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, the ITS has transferred copies of data from its archives to the ‘Documentation and Research Center on the Resistance’ in Luxembourg. Around 80 million images and roughly six terabytes of data have been handed over, including documents on concentration camps, ghettos and prisons (ca. 18 million images), the ITS central name index (ca. 42 million images) registration cards of displaced persons (ca. 7 million images, and documents concerning forced labor (ca, 13 million images).

Apparently, the small country of Luxembourg has a greater right and a more pressing need for a complete set of Holocaust related archival files than the families of Holocaust Survivors in New York, Miami, Chicago, Boston and other major cities in the U.S.A.

Unless Holocaust Survivors, Second and Third Generation individuals wake up and start applying pressure and mass protests on the United States Holocaust Museum Memorial in Washington, D.C. to release its sets of Holocaust files and records to major Jewish museums and libraries all over America, the USHMM will continue to monopolize the data for its own purposes. In the process, the Museum will ignore the fact that – absent prompt and widespread distribution of the data – many survivors will pass from this earth without finding out the fate of their martyred relatives; information that very likely could be found in these archives. Read more ..

Inside America

Liberal Intolerance Chills Health Care Discourse

August 31st 2009

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

Free speech is such a fundamental principal in the United States that it was codified by the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution.

The First Amendment protects all speech, especially political speech which criticizes the government or proposes unpopular or obnoxious ideas. The founding fathers recognized that unfettered political discourse is the sine qua non of a successful democracy. It is necessary to publicly discuss all sides of issues that may result in laws that affect all Americans.

While the First Amendment protects speech, it does not protect the speaker from the consequences of his speech. Thus, the proponent of unpopular ideas sometimes subjects himself to economic and social sanctions from political opponents who choose not to engage him in challenging responsive discourse. When this happens, it tends to chill discussion and inhibit new ideas.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, found this out the hard way. Mr. Mackey wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal in mid August suggesting a number of health care reforms that do not entail a single payer public option.

He opened the article with a provocative quote from Margaret Thatcher that was bound to offend the far left: "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money."


The Obama Edge

Obama Should Encourage Democracy in Africa to Counter the Wahabis

August 24th 2009

Obama Admin Topics - Obama in Ghana

Many are still talking about the issues raised by President Barack Obama during his July 11 speech at Accra in Ghana. In particular, not a few critics are struck by his “relative” notion of democracy. In contrast with the previous administration’s call for a U.S.-backing for the “spread of democracy,” Obama underlined that “America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation. The essential truth of democracy is that each nation determines its own destiny.”

In fact, the difference between the previous and the current U.S. approach is not about the “role,” as no one in Washington’s government has had any project to “impose” democracy, or specific institutions. The George W. Bush approach tried to say that all nations yearn for democracy and freedom with the same intensity, if given the opportunity. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Kenyans Struggle to Find the Reforms Hillary Clinton Called For

August 17th 2009

Africa Topics - Kenya Poverty

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's whirlwind safari of sub-Saharan Africa, to deliver messages from President Barack Obama, has fallen on deaf ears.

The population here is helpless to improve its condition in the face of widespread corruption and elitism. Water rationing in is the norm. Water sources have been drying up, and huge forested areas given out for settlement, for political reasons. Ten million people are at risk of starvation, one third of the population.

As all know, Obama traces his roots to this nation, but he deliberately by-passed it on his lightning trip to the continent, choosing Ghana instead.

So he sent his Secretary of State to give the Kenyan authorities a piece of his mind. Namely that in the wake of the post-election violence last year, reforms are dragging on too long, and the culture of corruption and impunity is not being tackled with anywhere near enough determination.

In more developed democracies like the United States it is unthinkable that anyone should consider himself above the law; in democracies that are still finding their way around, such as those of most of sub-Saharan Africa, it is almost taken for granted that the kind of justice you receive is in proportion to your wealth and power. For example, a couple of days before Mrs. Clinton arrived two youths were sentenced to death in the coastal town of Malindi for stealing forty shillings (half a dollar) from a fisherman. The magistrate issuing the sentence said she was convinced that the robbery had been carried out by violent means. Robbery with violence is a capital offence in Kenya. Read more ..

Obama Edge

A Reversal of Fortune: Mary Robinson, Anti-Semitism, and Israel Policy

August 10th 2009

UN Topics - Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson

President Obama’s recent suggestion that America’s closeness with Israel for the past eight years produced very little and that his policies would produce more credibility with the Arab world, is either shocking naiveté or purposeful diversion. Add to this, his misguided honor of the Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, the person who sat at Durban ignoring the anti-Semitism around her and later castigated Israel at every turn at the UN, and we are brought full circle to a perilous policy towards our only democratic ally in the Middle East, Jews in general and the United States itself.  

At the infamous Durban Conference in 2001, Israel was isolated and called a racist state. Israel was treated as the worst kind of pariah. From there on, it only got worse. Synagogues were burned, Jews were beaten and even murdered and Jews around the world were threatened. It was from this point in history that we can arguably trace the reemergence of virulent anti-Semitism at the start of the 21st century. Durban is where it began. In September 2001 when Durban became too much for the United States, President George W. Bush withdrew our delegation from this mockery of a conference. That withdrawal occurred on September 9, 2001. We all know what happened two days later. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

In Search of a Tattoo Archive for Holocaust Documentation

August 3rd 2009

Jewish Topics - Concentration Camp Survivor

My father, George Howard was a member of “The Greatest Generation.” On May 2nd, 1945 as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, he took part in the liberation of a small, but infamous concentration camp in northern Germany. The camp was Wobbelin, which on the outskirts of the town of Ludwigslust.

Before he died in 1968 he told my brother and I of the horrors of the Holocaust. His division ordered the townspeople of the town, at gun point, to bury the dead. I have seen the photographs. That scene was immortalized in the HBO movie “Band of Brothers”. The town has built a beautiful memorial to his division. The people of the town know the truth because they see it every day.

He told us that the Jewish prisoners' dead bodies were assembled like cordwood “five by five by five.” Dozens of these nightmarish piles were stacked throughout the entire assembly area of the camp. He vowed to never let us forget what he saw because; it was the truth.

As the years become decades memories fade and people die. We are one generation from losing the precious resource of the human reminders of the darkest period in human history. Read more ..

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