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The Battle for the Ukraine

Russia: The Geopolitics of Natural Gas

April 24th 2014

Gas pipe line

Russia's economic weakness lies in its dependency on natural gas, which represents nearly 60 percent of its exports. This dependency, which led Senator John McCain to describe Russia as "a gas station masquerading as a country," should make economic sanctions an effective way for the West to stall or reverse Russian aggression in Crimea/Ukraine.  But since Russia presently commands some 38.7 percent of Europe's natural gas market, no one expects the Europeans to enforce biting sanctions. 

Russia's aggression in Ukraine seems to have waked up the Europeans to search for energy supplies that eventually will end that dependency. "Eventually" is the key word.  It will be a while before fracking develops and alternative sources will replace Russian gas. Meanwhile, Putin is ahead of the West in bolstering both current and potential markets for his natural gas and oil. The new venues will allow Russia to ignore Western sanctions and continue the absorption of neighboring territory. Read more ..


The Way We Are

A Key to College Success: Involved Dads

April 23rd 2014

Graduates

Proud parents try to snap photos of their kids at Harvard Business School's graduation ceremony. Gives new meaning to the term paparazzi.

This month, millions of high school seniors across America are making important decisions about which college they will attend for the next four years of their life. Based on my professional experience talking to high school students considering attending the University of Virginia, where I teach sociology, many of these seniors seem unaware of how much their chances of collegiate success depend not on their hard work or capabilities, but on whether their parents made certain sacrifices to support them over the years.

This brief essay focuses on one particular dimension of these parental investments: paternal involvement during adolescence. I find that young adults who as teens had involved fathers are significantly more likely to graduate from college, and that young adults from more privileged backgrounds are especially likely to have had an involved father in their lives as teens. Read more ..


Jewry on Edge

Harvard Students Make Time for Arafat, But Not to Honor Terror Victims

April 22nd 2014

Mahmoud Abbas and Yassir Arafat

The controversy over the Harvard University students who recently posed, smiling, at Yasser Arafat’s grave sent a shot of pain through every one of us who has lost a loved one in the terrorist attacks that Arafat and his allies have waged over the years.

But it must have been particularly awful for Dr. Alan Bauer, a Harvard-educated scientist, to see students from his own school smiling and enjoying their visit to the tombstone of the man responsible for the vicious attack that left Bauer and his 7-year-old son permanently maimed.

Bauer and his son Jonathan were walking on King George Street in downtown Jerusalem on March 21, 2002, when a terrorist from Arafat’s Fatah movement blew himself up. His explosive device was packed with metal spikes and nails, in order to inflict the maximum amount of pain and destruction and the defenseless Israeli civilians walking by. Three passersby were killed, 87 were wounded. Dr. Bauer and Jonathan were hit by multiple metal projectiles. Two of the metal spikes penetrated little Jonathan’s brain.

Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

The Real Red Line in Ukraine

April 21st 2014

Click to select Image

Recorded history is generally a straight-line narrative, often written with prejudice, and as the cliché has it, by the victors.

Only those involved in writing it, or more importantly, living through it, know the many cross-currents that, because they do not present a clear picture of events, defy immediate balanced analysis. These truths apply to any moment in history but particularly to those when violent events or revolutionary technology changes the pattern of life for everyone. We are obviously in one of those periods on several scores by any calculation. Read more ..


The Edge of Crime

Kansas Hate Crime Didn’t Emerge From a Vacuum

April 21st 2014

AntiSemitism Protest

When you look at the image of Frazier Glenn Cross, AKA Glenn Miller, the shooter who cold-bloodedly murdered three Christians in a bloody eve-of-Passover spree at two Jewish community buildings in Overland Park, Kan., what do you see?

I’ll tell you what I see. The dead-eyed stare, the pasty, blotched skin and lousy teeth, the unkempt facial hair—this is exactly the kind of face we associate with anti-Semitic and racist thuggery. In the 20th century, Cross could have been a concentration camp guard, wearing his ignorant, vulgar sneer as he shoved his Jewish victims into a gas chamber, screaming barely literate, anti-Semitic epithets along the way. Read more ..


Broken Government

We Don't Need Another "Bridge to Nowhere"

April 20th 2014

Traffic Jam

This view may be surprising given the usual rhetoric that infrastructure spending is a good thing because roads, bridges, airports, and the like significantly contribute to America’s prosperity by facilitating our access to the workplace, shopping, and leisure activities, as well as giving employers easy access to labor, capital, and potential consumers. But in practice, transportation policy is so inefficient that infrastructure spending fails to generate the large promised benefits.

Suppose the government wants to spend a large sum of money to increase employment and spur economic growth — a “stimulus.” The guiding principle for that use of taxpayer dollars should be to maximize the benefits to society per job created. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case if government seeks to create jobs by increasing spending on transportation infrastructure.

There are clear ways to know what new infrastructure is actually needed. Every time Americans use a road, airport, or even cross a bridge, we don’t actually pay for the congestion we cause. That gives policy makers the misleading impression that it is necessary to build new roads, airports, urban transit — and even a high-speed rail system! — to reduce delays. Read more ..


NATO on Edge

NATO is Irreplaceable, But Must Quickly Shore Up Its Military Might

April 18th 2014

NATO meeting

It wasn't that many weeks ago in both Europe and in the United States that meetings were being held to discuss what the agenda might be for the coming NATO summit in early September in Wales.

Indeed, the conversation about what was next for the alliance following the end of the allied combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 had the subtext of "we're not sure." NATO once again looked like an alliance in search of a mission to justify its continued existence. However, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and Putin's continuing belligerent and revanchist rhetoric, NATO's security guarantees to Eastern and Central European allies are no longer just pledges on a paper.

NATO's relevance to American and Western security is not a new question. At the end of the Cold War, there were numerous voices here and on the continent doubting NATO's continued importance. With no overriding Soviet threat to hold capitals together, how, it was asked, would NATO ever be able to act in concert? Read more ..


America on Edge

Bill Maher, Comedian or Bigot?

April 17th 2014

Armstrong_Williams

Comedy has many approaches and subjects:  leaders, governments, things we don't understand.  In the vein of the latter, I suppose it is understandable to pick on religions.  In any event, freedom of speech allows it. What is generally not condoned, however, is continuous and repeated sweeping insults to those with a differing point of view. The worst forms of prejudice and racism are bred out of this type of one-sided banter. Blacks in this country were never given the chance to defend themselves against claims of being less intelligent than whites during the time of slavery. Jews and non-Aryans were never given a chance to defend their humanity during the Holocaust, Muslims were never given a chance to defend themselves during the Crusades and on and on.
 
Whenever a group of people is slanderously described repeatedly with no consideration of a contrary view intolerance flourishes, and the seedbed of human rights violations is laid.  We should be more careful.  Our country still feels the effects of slavery, the Holocaust is an unmentionable tragedy, and even the most fervent Christian regrets the Crusades.  How is it then, that in this country we still hear this sort of rhetoric from seemingly intelligent men?  Why is it that yet another group is being subjected to one-sided slander?  Is it because comedians and some members of the more serious media are only willing to pick on people who generally don’t defend themselves?
 
This time the group is Christians, and one of the more recent incidents of this malevolent behavior came from Bill Maher.  He’s been known to go on rants, but he made another one recently.  I’m certainly not advocating that Mr. Maher be stripped of his first amendment rights, but I'd prefer he show some humanity and attack the belief system rather than the adherents.  I can appreciate an equal opportunity comedian, but when the focus is monomaniacally focused, it breeds the sort of prejudice that divides people and sanctions prejudice.  I hope these are not things that Bill Maher desires and that he simply didn’t realize the historical similarities, but that is the danger. Read more ..

China Rising

Asia in New Turmoil

April 16th 2014

New hires to Chinese military

Rather suddenly there is a welter of developments turning Asia's dozen-odd countries into a cat's cradle of conflicting interests-some new-that could lead to war.

Central, of course, is a "rising" China. The Chinese, themselves, have given up the phrase "a peaceful rising". That was a promise that the new boy on the block would not repeat of a united Germany's late arrival as a strong player in Europe, setting off two world wars. Now almost daily aggressive rhetoric in official Chinese media is matched by extravagant territorial claims against its neighbors in northeast and southeast Asia coupled with a rapid naval buildup. Infringement of the cease-fire lines in the Himalayas accompanies temporary military thrusts against Indian forces.

China's only ally in the region, North Korea-dependent on Beijing aid for its very existence-has turned even more enigmatic. A highly publicized-unusual in such frequent eruptions-purging of its No. 2 leader is inexplicable even to the experts. Its tightly controlled media showed Jang Song Thaek being yanked off to prison. Then the uncle by marriage to the 31-year-old Kim Jong-Un, third member of the Kim dynasty, was summarily executed. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

The Cool War

April 15th 2014

Russian privates on parade

There is presently about as much confusion as when the U.S. entered The Cold War against the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. But there are fundamental defining differences to what is likely to be an equally long and complex new struggle between the U.S., its allies and Moscow.

The two engagements do share one commonality: American leadership now as then has been slow to face up to the task before it. It’s far too easy now to forget just how many times Josef Stalin signaled his forthcoming unrelenting war on The West before democratic statesmen understood what they faced and mobilized to meet it. [And here,
mea culpa. I admit shamefacedly as a young, idealistic, naïve student I wrote a U of Mo Jay School classroom harangue [alas! printed in the Columbia Missourian] denouncing Winston Churchill’s March 1946 “Sinews of Peace” speech, at nearby Westminster College. Back from our victorious however bloody war in Europe and Asia, I was sure like most that a new era of relations among nations had begun, that the old balance of power collisions were now a thing of the past. It was then, of course, the British statesmen who whatever his numerous strategic mistakes this time with great clarity defined the issues and coined the term “iron curtain”.] Read more ..


Broken Government

How the U.S. Government Funds Conversion to Islam with Taxpayer Money

April 14th 2014

The Czech government has approved a new project aimed at promoting Islam in public elementary and secondary schools across the country.

The project—Muslims in the Eyes of Czech Schoolchildren—is being spearheaded by a Muslim advocacy group and is being financed by American taxpayers through a grant from the US Embassy in Prague. (The US State Department is also promoting Islam in other European countries.)

The group says the Czech Ministry of Education has authorized it to organize lectures and seminars aimed at "teaching Czech schoolchildren about Islamic beliefs and practices" and at "fighting stereotypes and prejudices about Muslims."

But critics—there are many—say the project's underlying objective is to convert non-Muslim children to Islam by bringing proselytizing messages into public schools under the guise of promoting multiculturalism and fighting "Islamophobia." Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Feinstein vs the CIA

April 13th 2014

Dianne Feinstein (sen,ca,d)

There’s open warfare going on in Washington these days between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

On one side, the Senate Intelligence Committee, under Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is accusing the CIA of lying to Congress and the American people about the torture program it conducted under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and of hacking into allegedly secure computers used by Senate staff in their investigation of the CIA. For its part, the CIA, under Director John Brennan, is accusing committee staff of stealing sensitive documents and exaggerating the frequency and level of violence associated with its use of torture. Each side has petitioned the attorney general to investigate possible illegal activity by the other.

Things got personal this weekend when former CIA Director Michael Hayden, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” accused Feinstein of being too “emotional” to conduct an objective investigation of the CIA. It was an insensitive comment, and demonstrates not only how sexist the agency is, but how quickly it’s turned on a senator who has long been its staunchest defender.

The war escalated further Thursday when the Senate Intelligence Committee, by a lopsided bipartisan vote of 11-3, voted to make public almost 500 pages of its report, which exposes torture methods employed by the CIA between 2001 and 2006 at secret prisons overseas as both excessively cruel and failing to produce any valuable intelligence. Score one for Feinstein. Read more ..


The Edge of Sport

The Exploitation of College Athletes

April 10th 2014

Armstrong_Williams

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided to let college football players at Northwestern University unionize. Usually I am not in favor of unions, but clearly something must be done to change the way college athletes get compensated for their services. Today, thousands of college athletes throughout the country are exploited by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and College Universities. Despite bringing in millions of dollars for their school and the NCAA, college athletes receive almost nothing in return.
 
Sure, some college athletes get scholarships, but the ones that do don’t even receive enough compensation to cover the cost of attending school. Some of the college athletes we are talking about here can’t even afford to buy their own jerseys. They walk around campus in sweatpants and flip-flops and eat ramen noodle soap for dinner because they can’t afford anything better.

If you are one of the talented athletes who do receive a full ride scholarship, you only receive three meals a day in the cafeteria. As a hard-working athlete, three meals a day in the cafeteria is not enough food, but anything outside of the cafeteria must be purchased out of pocket.

Many of these college athletes are African American and come from poverty-stricken communities. Last year, the National College Players Association released a report called “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sports.” Their report concluded that 86% of college athletes live below the poverty line. Read more ..


Broken Elections

North Carolina Report Proves the Dead Come to Life for Election Day

April 9th 2014

Click to select Image

Kim Strach, Elections Director to the North Carolina Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, presented a report recently that reflected 81 voters have had voter history later than their date of death.

The audit report also identified 13,416 deceased voters still on state rolls in October, 2013. And the report also showed 155,692 registered North Carolina voters whose first and last names, dates of birth and last four digits of their Social Security numbers match those of voters registered in other states, but who most recently registered and voted in another state.

All total, 35,750 voters with matching first and last names and dates of birth were registered in North Carolina and another state, and voted in both states in the 2012 general election. Another 765 voters with an exact match of first and last name, date of birth and last four Social Security digits were registered and voted in the 2012 general election. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Discussion of Natural Gas Fracking Fails to Consider Toxic Effect to Air Quality

April 8th 2014

People in natural gas drilling areas who complain about nauseating odors, nosebleeds and other symptoms they fear could be caused by shale development usually get the same response from state regulators: monitoring data show the air quality is fine.

A new study helps explain this discrepancy. The most commonly used air monitoring techniques often underestimate public health threats because they don’t catch toxic emissions that spike at various points during gas production, researchers reported Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health. The study was conducted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit based near Pittsburgh. Read more ..


Broken Government

Lobbyist Bundlers, Not Rich Donors, Soil Political Money

April 7th 2014

sheldon adelson

Rich people can now donate more money to politicians, thanks to the First Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court. The court’s ruling in McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission won’t change politics much. But it ought to spur Congress to clean up our cluttered and counterproductive campaign finance restrictions.

The court, in McCutcheon, struck down federal limits on how much a donor can give, in aggregate, to party committees and candidates for federal office. So if some misguided millionaire wants to give a few thousand to candidates in all 34 Senate races and all 435 House races, now he can. This is a minor victory for the First Amendment, striking down a useless and piddling burden on political speech. The court, however, didn’t touch the most counterproductive campaign finance law: the $5,200-per-election-cycle maximum to any one candidate. Read more ..


Broken Government

A Budget for Working America

April 6th 2014

Workers Memorial Day protest

To hear corporate America tell it, our economic recovery is going great. The top 1 percent of earners saw their incomes grow by 31.4 percent from 2009-2012. Oil companies are seeing record profits.

Unfortunately, that’s not the recovery — or the economy — working people are seeing.

The “bottom” 99 percent — that is, the vast majority of working people in this country — saw their incomes grow by only 0.4 percent in that same time span. Poverty and income inequality remain at record highs. We’re not taking care of working America.

That’s why we need a federal budget that reflects real public needs. The Congressional Progressive Caucus just introduced its Better Off Budget proposal to provide the working people of America the voice they need in Washington. We hope they take a careful look.

The budget takes a lot of common-sense steps. It makes sure America’s infrastructure, which hasn’t been repaired in decades and requires $3.6 trillion to simply bring up to standard, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, is fixed and modernized. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Baseball and the GOP

April 5th 2014

Detroit voters

“When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big-league ball players and the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time.” — Gen. George S. Patton

It is American as apple pie — sports is part of our cultural makeup. And in politics, just as in baseball, playing the full season could lead to playoff wins in 2014. Played well, this could give the GOP a better chance of winning the World Series of politics: the presidency in 2016.

The preseason was the period between the 2012 elections and now. The season began March 4 in Texas with its primary and runs all the way through August, followed by the playoffs in one crucial day, Nov. 4. The GOP must play the full political season. Read more ..


Broken Economy

The Long-Lasting Damage of a National Wage

April 4th 2014

Minimum wage protest

Progressives are practically united in supporting an increase in the national minimum wage. The only disagreement is by how much: President Obama proposes raising the national minimum wage by almost 40 percent over the next few years to $10.10 per hour and indexing it to inflation thereafter. Other progressives favor a higher $15 "living wage." Conservatives and most economists oppose raising the minimum wage because it will price low-skilled workers out of the job market, cutting the bottom rung on the ladder of economic opportunity. But there is one important issue that both groups may have overlooked - and that's the "one-size-fits-all" nature of the minimum wage.

Note that we call it the national minimum wage. It's a federally-mandated minimum wage that applies universally across the country; in cities, suburbs and rural communities; in places where the cost of living is high, such as Washington and New York, and in the countless small towns where the cost of living is far lower. And it's partly this uniform, "one-size-fits-all" feature of a national minimum wage that guarantees that it won't work well at all in thousands of America's low-cost communities Read more ..


America on Edge

It’s Time For The Poor To Pull Their Own Weight

April 4th 2014

Armstrong Williams Headshot

All too often, rich individuals in this country are demonized for simply being rich. If some sort of financial catastrophe happens, such as the latest recession in 2009, the rich are to blame. If the government is running large deficits, the rich are not paying their “fair share”. If an individual is poor and cannot find employment, it is because the rich hoard all their profits and don’t share with anyone else. It’s time to set the record straight by looking at the facts. The top 1% of all individual income earners in this country pay nearly37% of all federal income taxes. The top 50% of individuals pay98% of all federal income taxes.

The so called “greedy corporations” and big businesses get it even worse. The current corporate tax rate on big business in the United States is the highest in the industrial world, set at 39.1%. Despite providing work for over 45% of American citizens and contributing to 65% of new jobs created in America, big businesses get punished with the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. They certainly pay their “fair share” and then some.
The poor on the other hand, defined as the bottom 50% of income earners, pay essentially no federal income taxes. Many of these poorer Americans enroll in Medicare and receive free healthcare. If they don’t qualify for Medicare they can now, thanks to Obamacare, receive taxpayer funded federal subsidies to pay their own healthcare expenses. But this is not all government does; it also provides funding for poorer American’s food. Today, one out of every six Americans receives food stamps. Recently renamed SNAP or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal government now spends almost $80 billion helping feed the poor. Read more ..


The New York Edge

It Was Never a Great 'Recession' in New York

April 3rd 2014

New York skyline dusk

Sometimes success creates a problem. That's what happened in New York City with housing and homelessness.

New York's housing market is very strong. The median price for a new condo in Manhattan rose to $1.73 million during the first quarter of 2014, up more than 30.6 percent from the first quarter of 2013, according to a market report from the real estate firm Douglas Elliman. Across the East River, the median price for a Brooklyn home reached $570,110, up 11 percent from a year earlier. The average monthly rent in Bushwick, a central Brooklyn neighborhood, which as recently as the 1970s was a filled with vacant buildings, jumped 8.2 percent to $2,005. "Bedford Stuyvesant is unbelievably hot," one broker told the Daily News, referring to a part of Brooklyn that once was called a slum.

And the people keep coming. For the third consecutive year, New York City's population gained more than it lost through migration. For the year ending July 1, 2013, the combination of more move-ins with fewer move-outs led to the city gaining more than 60,000 residents. At 8.4 million people the city is now at its all-time high. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Google Juggles Public Image and Security Snooping

April 2nd 2014

google logo

Google is working hard to repair the damage to their public image, wisely doing so by criticizing various defense organizations. Over the last few months the American intelligence organizations got their fair share of bad publicity: The U.S. Senate, Congress and even the White House gave them the cold shoulder, and their status in the eyes of the U.S. and global public is at an all time low. Google came to the conclusion that the enemy of the public's enemy is the public's friend, right? Or at least that's how it looks.

Last Thursday Google stated on its official blog that since transparency is such an important issue for the company, it's also important for them to inform the public about the way intelligence and law enforcement agencies significantly increased the amount of requests for private information. Google, they claim, provided only partial data, in addition to making it very difficult for the agencies (who, by the way, approached them with court orders) to get the information. The blog writer, apparently very concerned, added that countries even began to use their legal authority to demand access to information (what? Google isn't above the law!). This deliberate attempt at disinformation is simply amazing. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

One Man's J'Accuse to the State Department

March 31st 2014

Suicide Bombing--Sbarro

The son-in-law of Osama bin Laden has been found guilty of conspiracy to kill American citizens.

Suleiman Abu Ghaith was arrested in Jordan last year, sent to the US and tried in New York. While the US introduced one witness who admitted that he did not know if the accused was aware of planned “shoe bombing” airplane attacks, the majority of US evidence was based on videos of Abu Ghaith exhorting Muslims to attack America and that “the storm of planes” would not stop.

The issue of Abu Ghaith’s arrest, prosecution, and conviction based primarily on video evidence is extremely important. As I wrote previously, the woman who thought up, planned, organized, and executed (even walking with the bomber and his guitar case bomb to the restaurant) the attack at the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem in August, 2001 seems to be the mirror image of Abu Ghaith, with one significant caveat. Abu Ghaith was found guilty of conspiracy to kill Americans. Ahlam Tamimi, on the other hand, actually did kill American citizens—two of them, with three more badly wounded. Yet Abu Ghaith is in jail and Tamimi has a talk-show in Amman. The question is why? Read more ..


The 2016 Election

Adelson All In for 2016

March 30th 2014

sheldon adelson

It’s great news for Jeb Bush, the entire Republican Party and even embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but it stinks for Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and Hillary Clinton as well. Casino mogul and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, a decisive factor in the last Republican presidential primary, has given up on “crazy.” After backing former Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 2012 nominating battle, Adelson is going mainstream, and plans to back a pragmatic, less ideological candidate with broad appeal who can win a general election.

Prospects seeking the support of Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who are currently hosting 2016 presidential hopefuls at the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition at the Venetian in Las Vegas, must be conservative and strong on Israel, but purists need not apply. Attendees at this week’s event include Christie and Bush, the former Florida governor, along with Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio — just a few of the players campaigning in what is now known as the “Sheldon primary.” Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

Leland Yee, the Kochs, and the Press

March 29th 2014

Guns for sale

Leland Yee, a Democratic state senator and candidate for secretary of state in California, has been a longtime champion of gun control. This week he was arrested on numerous charges, including conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and conspiracy to illegally transport firearms. Yee, a prominent foe of assault weapons, allegedly took bribes to set up a meeting between an undercover agent and an international arms dealer to broker the sale of automatic weapons and shoulder-fired missiles. A lengthy FBI affidavit also describes Yee’s ties to a Chinese triad and his desire to help out Islamist militants. In short, the story makes for what journalists call “good copy.”

And yet, so far no reporter has raised the possibility that Yee supported tighter restrictions on guns in order to keep gun prices high and his own services in demand. Economist Bruce Yandle popularized the idea of the “Bootleggers and Baptists” coalition. The apocryphal Baptists want to ban alcohol. Bootleggers don’t make much money when liquor can be bought legally at a grocery store or bar. So the bootleggers bankroll the Baptists’ effort to ban booze. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Putin is Hoisted by His Own Petard in Crimea Crisis

March 28th 2014

Ukraine protest

Western leaders increased pressure on Russia on March 24, suspending the country's membership at the G8 in response to Moscow's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats also canceled an upcoming June summit in Sochi, relocating the G7 meeting to Brussels. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the diplomatic restriction was not a big deal and another senior Kremlin advisor voiced similarly dismissive views over newly enacted economic sanctions.

Despite the tone from Russian officials, anecdotal evidence indicates the restrictions are impacting the behavior of Russian elites. Oil tycoon, Gennady Timchenko, had to sell his 43% ownership in Gunvor Group, a Geneva energy trading firm, hours after Washington decided to blacklist him from engaging in dollar transactions. Additionally, the German defense firm Rheinmetall, has suspended a $140 million dollar contract to build a training camp for Russian military forces. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Political Purposes of Speaker Boehner's Salty Language

March 28th 2014

Click to select Image

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) can be a salty guy.

The barkeeper’s son has a fondness for profanity, whether he’s on the House floor or a stone’s throw from the Oval Office, snapping at colleagues in private or voicing outrage on television.

The Speaker has dropped the F-bomb on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), called multiple Republicans “assholes” and raised “hell” about countless Obama administration proposals and decisions. In public, Boehner’s obscenities tend to be in the PG-13 vein, rather than rated R. Read more ..


Islam in America

NYC Schools Consider Student Halal Meals with no Kosher Equivalent

March 27th 2014

Click to select Image

Proposed legislation was introduced into New York City Council to require that the city’s public schools provide Islamic-compliant food – halal – as an option in the cafeterias. The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) joined forces with council member Rafael L. Espinal, Jr. (Brooklyn) to support Resolution 54 at a press conference on the steps of New York City Hall on Wednesday, March 26.

Fourteen other city councilmembers co-sponsored Espinal’s Resolution.

The Resolution goes into explicit detail about what Islamic-observant students are permitted to eat and what they must avoid eating, as well as stating who made those determinations. To wit: Read more ..


Africa on Edge

End Wildlife Poaching -- and its Financial Benefit to Terrorists

March 27th 2014

African savanna and elephants

Transnational criminal syndicates, terrorist organizations and Islamic extremists are increasingly turning to wildlife trafficking to bankroll their operations. Specifically, elephant and rhinoceros ivory accounts for an increasing share of the budget of Somali militant groups and al-Qaeda affiliates. So far, the White House and international agencies have failed to effectively address this emerging threat.

The United Nations has categorized trafficking in wildlife products as a "serious crime" in order to protect the animals that produce ivory. Nevertheless, their tusks are in demand throughout Africa, Asia and the West.

Wildlife poaching is lucrative, yielding an estimated $19 billion annually. The only other illicit industries that generate more money are drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking. A kilogram of elephant ivory commands about $2,000, and the same amount of rhino horn fetches $65,000. The enormous sums of money involved, coupled with trans-African corruption, extreme poverty, poor law enforcement capabilities and weak judicial enforcement, have led to a thriving illicit market. Read more ..


Confronting J Street

J Street Said to be Pro-Israel Actually Supports Israel Adversaries

March 26th 2014

Israel Airport

J Street describes itself as Zionist, pro-Israel, pro-peace and supporting the “peace camp” in Israel. Yet J Street has consistently taken positions to the left of the Israeli Labor Party.

In a Washington Post op-ed in May 2008, entitled, ’5 Myths About Being Pro-Israel,’ Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s Executive Director, asserted that “forging a healthy friendship with Israel requires bursting some myths about what it means to be pro-Israel.” Despite the fact that successive Israeli governments have offered major concessions but have all refused to go as far is J Street in seeking to appease its Arab enemies, J Street simply insists on having Israel pressured to conform to its vision. Ben-Ami rhetorically claims that true friendship demands this (“Would a true friend not only let you drive home drunk but offer you their Porsche and a shot of tequila for the road?”). The not-so-subtle implication is that Israel is not a sovereign power responding to the will of its electorate, but rather a reckless teenager who needs to be brought to heel by a stern guardian.

Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

A Cowardly Congress

March 25th 2014

Congress-senate

If you needed proof that Congress is more politicized than ever before, here it is: the Senate’s failure to confirm Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s nominee for surgeon general. I’ve talked with many lawmakers and lobbyists. Looking back, nobody can remember such organized opposition to any prospective surgeon general — a post which, after all, has no power.

Nor has there ever been, perhaps, a more qualified candidate. Murthy is a practicing physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. A national leader in HIV prevention and education, he also founded Doctors for America, bringing 16,000 doctors and medical students together in support of the Affordable Care Act. He has the support of more than 50 healthcare organizations, including the American Public Health Association. He’d be the first Indian-American to serve as surgeon general. Read more ..


Islam in America

New York City Schools Advance toward Islamic Diet while Kosher Alternatives Languish

March 23rd 2014

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Proposed legislation was introduced into New York City Council to require that the city’s public schools provide Islamic-compliant food – halal – as an option in the cafeterias. The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) joined forces with council member Rafael L. Espinal, Jr. (D-Brooklyn) to support Resolution 54 at a press conference on the steps of New York City Hall on Wednesday, March 26.

Fourteen other city councilmembers co-sponsored Espinal’s Resolution.

The Resolution goes into explicit detail about what Islamic-observant students are permitted to eat and what they must avoid eating, as well as stating who made those determinations. To wit:

Whereas, The practice of Islam is determined by the Islamic teachings as guided by the holy book Quran and the Hadith, and sayings of the Prophet Mohammad, which includes observing dietary laws; and Whereas, Islamic dietary laws delineate foods that are halal, meaning lawful or permitted, and those that are haram, meaning not permitted; and Whereas, Haram foods include pork and its by-products, meat and poultry not slaughtered according to the Islamic dietary law, alcohol and foods prepared with and containing alcohol, foods containing blood and blood by-products, and foods containing whey prepared with non-microbial enzyme, rennet, animal shortening, monoglycerides and diglycerides from an animal source, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and L-cysteine. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Dems Can Win Obama

March 20th 2014

Obamacare

On March 31 the enrollment period for ObamaCare will end, hopefully with nearly 6 million customers signed up. On April 1 President Obama should announce the enrollment period will be extended for three months and begin the largest marketing campaign in the history of healthcare with a mobilization of the stars of sports, song and cinema. If this happens, enrollments will soar past the 7 million mark and dramatically increase the ratio of younger and healthier customers enrolled.

Memo to Democrats: Right now we are barely fighting — and are largely losing — the political war being waged against ObamaCare. The outcome of the midterm elections is far from clear, with GOP incumbents as unpopular as Democratic incumbents, but there is grave danger of electoral catastrophe facing Democrats in November. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Rabbi Escapes Conflictive Crimea with Wife and Torah Scroll

March 19th 2014

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Crimea’s Chabad Rabbi Yitzchak Meyer Lipszyc escaped Crimea with his wife – and a Torah scroll – on the last train that left the area before the Russian sealed it off.

“The main action in Crimea was taking place right across the street from our synagogue,” said Rabbi Lipszyc, who has been a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, for more than two decades. “There were demonstrations with over 30,000 people. The protestors were pro-Ukrainian. But eventually the ones who took over were in the unidentified uniforms—they were obviously Russian military. There was Cossacks there too; for Jews that was a bit scary because of their history in the pogroms.” Read more ..


The Way We Are

'Special Consideration' for Teacher Applicants of 'Non-Christian Faith' in Michigan

March 19th 2014

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The teachers union contract in Ferndale Public Schools in Oakland County, Michigan, gives "special consideration" to applicants that are of "the non-Christian faith."

Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment and public services on the basis of religion. The state constitution says it, "shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." And the Federal Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on religion.

The contract ran from 2011 to 2012 but was extended to 2017. The teachers belong to the Ferndale Education Association, a division of the Michigan Education Association.

Regarding promotion to a vacant position, it states on page 22: Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

'Prankster' Obama's Pretend Sanctions for Russia

March 18th 2014

Barack Obama announced that 7 Russian and 4 Ukrainian citizens will be sanctioned by the United States as retaliation for Russia's expected unlawful takeover of the Crimea. This comes after Crimea's 95-percent-plus decision by referendum to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, and before Russia's recognized Crimea's independence tonight.

Obama sees the Crimea referendum and Russia's recognition of the results as violations of international law. Thus he based the sanctions on the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), and the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.). Read more ..


China on Edge

China's Economic Bubble Showing It Could Burst

March 17th 2014

Bank of China

The shudder that relatively minor bad news from China sent through world markets last week was a warning that the halcyon days of Beijing's economy are over. Indeed, reluctantly because of self-interest and wishful thinking, a universal consensus finally is emerging that the Chinese economy is in deep trouble, a crisis that could perhaps overturn the regime itself.

The cardinal indicator is that the Chinese economy is slowing down. How much, how fast, which sectors, is all open to speculation given the notorious unreliability of Beijing statistics. But certainly we long ago dipped below that 8% minimal annual gross national product growth rate which once was accepted inside and outside the Middle Kingdom as the requirement for political stability. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Eight Crucial Questions for Obama and Abbas about Israel

March 16th 2014

Question #1: Does Israel have a right to exist?

There seems to be a double-standard when it comes to how Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian Authority's erstwhile President, Mahmoud Abbas -- now in the tenth year of his four-year term -- are treated by the Obama White House, as well as by many journalists.

While Netanyahu is humiliated, insulted, threatened, and told that he must make "painful concessions" for peace, such as releasing more than 100 terrorists merely to get the Palestinians to come to a negotiating table, Abbas – a facilitator and supporter of these terrorists – is treated with kid gloves, and with Obama virtually begging him to visit. Read more ..


Saudi Arabia on Edge

The Saudi Pivot to Asia

March 15th 2014

Saudi Oil

Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud’s visit this week to China — his second major state trip this year to Asia — underscores the kingdom’s pivot to the east. Long before the American pivot, Saudi Arabia has reoriented its economic and political priorities to South and East Asia.

Salman arrived in Beijing on March 13 for his first visit to China. Last month, the crown prince visited Pakistan, Japan, India and the Maldives. The two state visits symbolize the kingdom’s growing role in the economies of all five states. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, now sells more than two-thirds of it oil to markets in south and east Asia. Saudi trade and investment are increasingly directed toward Asian markets rather than Europe or America.

Saudi Arabia’s turn to the east began almost a decade ago. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s first foreign trip after becoming king was to India and China in January 2006. It was also the first ever visit by a Saudi monarch to China. At the time, Saudi officials cited the trip at a symbol of the kingdom’s growing interest in Asia’s two largest emerging economies. Saudi Arabia is today China’s largest trading partner in the Middle East. Read more ..


Significant Lives

A Man on a Mission

March 14th 2014

putin

Vladimir Putin is a man who sees his mission as the Russian state’s recovery of political, economic, social, cultural and geostrategic assets that were lost in the Soviet collapse—this mission I’ve dubbed the “Putin doctrine.” Domestically, it means re-establishing the state’s control over (and maybe even ownership of) politics, Russia’s legal system, the economy’s “commanding heights” (first and foremost, oil and gas) and the national cultural narrative.

In foreign policy, the Putin doctrine means more muscular, more assertive, at times even aggressive, policies with respect to the geostrategic triad essential to Russia’s national identity: nuclear superpowership, defined by Putin as incompatible with strategic missile defense anywhere near Russian borders; Russia as a great power, which he interprets largely in opposition to the West and, especially, the United States; and dominance, even hegemony, in the post-Soviet space (minus the Baltics), specifically a veto over former satellites’ foreign and defense policies and alliances. Read more ..



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