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India's Darkest Edge

Sexual Violence in India

January 3rd 2013

India Gang Rape Protest Placard

Shocked by a brutal rape case that has gripped the country, India is going through some soul-searching about its shameful mistreatment of women. Riot police lined the streets of Delhi the past few days to calm protesters who gathered in outrage as the body of the 23 year-old rape victim returned from Singapore where she had been transferred for emergency treatment. She suffered severe internal injuries after being gang-raped, beaten, and thrown naked from the bus she and her boyfriend tragically got on after seeing a movie on December 16. She died on Saturday and protesters have demanded the death penalty for the rapists.

Rape happens everywhere, but India is a particularly tough place to be female. Over 40 percent of the child marriages in the world take place in India. Sex selective abortions occur there at staggering rates. In 2011, the gender ratio was at its most imbalanced since India’s 1947 independence: among children six years old or under, there were only 914 girls per every 1,000 boys. Increases in wealth and literacy have only exacerbated the problem of female feticide. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

2012 and the Shame of American Policy in Syria

January 2nd 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

As 2012 ended, the news from Syria became worse and worse.

The Washington Post reported that 400 people were killed in one single day on Saturday, December 29, and “About half of them were civilians slain in an alleged mass killing carried out by government troops at a petrochemical university in central Syria, opposition groups reported.” Reports are that chemical weapons are being used by Assad’s army–breaking the taboo and the red line set by President Obama and just about every other government on earth.

Over the past few months the rebels have been reporting of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. Initially the West doubted the credibility of these reports, assuming the rebels were trying to drag the West into a military operation by spreading false information. However, a few weeks ago Western intelligence sources learned that they have been wrong and that the rebels’ reports were accurate. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Prescription for Trouble

January 2nd 2013

Abuse of prescription narcotics remains one of America’s fastest growing drug problems. But rates of illicit use of some prescription opioids like OxyContin — drugs that have been subject to the most rampant abuse — are finally starting to decline.

Stepped-up enforcement against illegal diversion is one reason. More significant are changes in the medicines themselves. New technologies make the drugs less prone to manipulation and therefore much less likely to be used illegally in the first place.

Some of the most widely abused drugs, including OxyContin, have been re-engineered in tamper-resistant formulations and introduced in place of their original versions. Rates of abuse have fallen sharply as a consequence.

But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may let the older, riskier versions back onto the market in the form of cheap generic drugs — reigniting the original problems. Ample evidence shows that criminal use will simply shift to the generic drugs, since these older pills are easier to abuse. It will undermine efforts undertaken by industry and policymakers to design the new tamper-resistant drugs as a way to combat the problem. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Kill the Oil Monopoly

January 2nd 2013

Oil Barrels 400px

Until the early 19th century, salt was among the world's most valuable commodities due to its monopoly over food preservation. It was Napoleon who diminished salt's strategic status by declaring a cash prize that triggered the invention of canning. Refrigeration soon followed, and within a decade salt lost its status forever. With a simple bill requiring no subsidies, costly tax breaks, or Solyndra-style government giveaways, President Obama can deliver the same fate to oil, allowing Americans for the first time in a century to choose what to put in their tanks.

Most cars sold in the United States -- roughly 14 million annually -- are allowed under their warranties to run on nothing but oil: gasoline and, in some cases, diesel. Due to this virtual monopoly, oil has taken on inordinate strategic importance, and oil prices have a significant economic impact. Oil-price spikes have the power to reduce consumer confidence, trigger recessions, and inflate the country's trade deficit. Were drivers able to respond to high oil prices by switching from gasoline to less costly fuels, oil's importance would be greatly diminished. But they can't. Read more ..


Lebanon on Edge

Lebanese Military Summoned After Israeli Peppers Discovered at Supermarket--Threat Neutralized!

January 2nd 2013

Green Bell Peppers

The Lebanese military intelligence and police force were summoned today after a man, who wished to remain anonymous, discovered packets of peppers that were made in Israel at a Spinneys supermarket located in the southern town of Sidon, according to the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper.

The packets contained three kinds of peppers, and prompted the man who discovered them to immediately contact the “local authorities who in turn contacted the Lebanese Army.”

Members of military intelligence and police arrived to Spinneys to discover 13 similar bags that have the word “Israel” printed on the sale tag.

Police also noticed that the international bar code for the items was scratched with a blue pen and a new code was handwritten on the bag. 

The case was then referred to the military judiciary for investigation into how the products made it through the customs department at the port or the airport.

“Spinneys had a similar incident almost ten years ago when shoppers discovered mugs made in Israel being sold at the retailer,” wrote the Daily Star. Spinneys is a high end supermarket chain in the Middle East whose majority shareholder is Dubai based private equity firm Abraaj Capital. Read more ..


Islam's War Against Christianity

“Plotting To Celebrate Christmas”

January 1st 2013

Saudi princes

Saudi religious police stormed a house in the Saudi Arabian province of al-Jouf, detaining more than 41 guests for “plotting to celebrate Christmas,” a statement from the police branch released Wednesday night said.

The raid is the latest in a string of religious crackdowns against residents perceived to threaten the country’s strict religious code.

Only in Saudi Arabia could the phrase “plotting to celebrate Christmas” appear in official statement. Religious freedom does not exist in the kingdom. There are literally millions of Christians living there, and according to the government they are permitted to practice their religion in private– though not one single church is permitted. But as this news story shows, in fact the religious police do not permit such dangerous practices as a Christmas party. So the foreigners living there who are Christians will continue to be without churches, priests and ministers, sacraments– or Christmas parties. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

I Resign--Here's Why

December 31st 2012

RFE

Ladies and Gentlemen of the BBG Board of Governors:

The first rule of journalism is never bury the lead. So here it is: I hereby resign as President and Chief Executive Officer of RFE/RL, Inc., effective as of the close of business on January 25, 2013. I submit this resignation with a heavy heart and solely for personal reasons.

Several of you know that my family was unable to move to Prague for a variety of reasons.  Christmas 2011 was the only time my three children were able to visit Prague.  At that time, slightly more than a year ago, I made a promise to my son that I would be home permanently in time for his 16th birthday in February, 2013. I have never wavered in this commitment. My closest associates at RFE/RL have known of my intention since early last summer when I began the first draft of this letter. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

NSA Reported Spent $91 Million On Secret Tests Probing Domestic Computer Systems

December 31st 2012

Network Control

he National Security Agency is conducting secret tests on the computer systems of U.S. private sector entities, including public utilities, a CNET report revealed this week. The secret program, dubbed Perfect Citizen, is part of an effort by the government to improve security systems in the private sector and test offensive operations against enemies’ computer systems. Targets reportedly include power grids and gas pipelines. The NSA’s operation reportedly probes their computer systems for vulnerabilities as part of a larger cybersecurity and cyberwarfare initiative.

Details about the program were revealed through documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a Washington, D.C.-based research nonprofit. Of the 190 pages obtained by EPIC about the program, 98 were heavily redacted for a number of reasons, including portions labeled “classified top secret.” The program’s existence was first revealed in a 2010 Wall Street Journal report. Read more ..


Broken Housing

The FHA: A Home Wrecker

December 30th 2012

Foreclosure

Imagine that a federal agency wanted to hurt America's working-class families on purpose. How would it inflict maximum damage?

It might start by aggressively marketing homeownership to marginal borrowers. It would tell them that bad credit scores aren't a problem. It would push them into homes they can't afford, saddle them with loans that barely build equity and provide no incentives for fiscal discipline. And when many of these homes go underwater and into foreclosure, it would leave families in financial ruin. In short, such an agency would follow the Federal Housing Administration playbook.

That's a shame, because Republicans and Democrats alike rightly applaud the FHA's mission to provide responsible mortgage credit to low- and moderate-income Americans and first-time home buyers. But all too often, the FHA turns the American dream into a nightmare, setting up failure for the very families and neighborhoods its mission is to help. Read more ..

India on Edge

New Dehli Gang Rape Nightmare is Far Worse than Rape

December 30th 2012

India Rape Protest Dec 2012

For the first time since the Mumbai terror attacks, I am terribly scared again. The gang rape of the hapless 23-year-old physiotherapist has left me shaken. This is not to say that other tragedies have left me untouched. It’s just that what scares me more than anything else is the inhuman face of terror, of brutality, of cold-blooded cruelty that lies beneath the everyday mask that humans wear. A school bus driver, a vegetable vendor and a gym instructor — these are people we come across every day. But did you imagine that if you scratch the surface, beneath lies a man capable of the kind of cruelty perpetrated on this victim?

This is not rape we are talking about here; it is much, much more. It is a violation of humanity, of womanhood, of life, and of God Himself! It is a violation of one’s very existence on earth. In a way, I would say, with this cruelty — and the Connecticut school massacre — the world and all humanity did actually come to an end in December 2012 as per the Mayan calendar.

Read more ..

Broken Farming

Harvest Deficit Reductions From The Farm Bill

December 29th 2012

wheat fields

Finding common ground in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations will be hard for Republicans and Democrats. But there's one place they should be able to agree: farm subsidies.

Today's farm subsidies mainly make the rich richer and protect them from the economic risks that average Americans face every day. Over 80 percent of farm-targeted subsidy dollars are paid to the small number of large farms whose owners have, on average, more than $1 million in net worth and earn more than $120,000 a year. And the majority of that money goes to the very largest farms, whose families are many more times wealthier still. Why raise revenue from the wealthiest Americans through higher taxes, only to give the money right back through farm subsidies they don't really need? Read more ..

Benghazigate

Beyond Benghazi: Questions will Persist for Clinton

December 29th 2012

Hillary Clinton

The State Department’s Accountability Review Board last week issued a devastating report on the events leading up to the Sept. 11 assassination of four Americans at our Benghazi consulate. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has still not faced questioning by Congress or the media more than three months after the tragedy. A series of excuses has conveniently allowed her to escape cross examination until after the ARB report was released. Clinton sails right along, now preparing the first steps for what is widely expected to be her 2016 presidential campaign.

Last week, however, Sen. Bob Corker asserted that no new secretary of state be confirmed until Clinton testifies. Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee starting in January, was joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham. Their idea provides a strong incentive to committee Chairman John Kerry, now tapped as Clinton’s successor, to schedule her testimony.

The starting point for questioning Clinton is realizing that the Benghazi debacle embodies both policy and management failures. The administration’s utterly wrong-headed view of the Middle East created an atmosphere that fostered tragically erroneous management decisions. Clinton’s blithe disregard of the actual political reality in Libya and four years of not attending to seemingly mundane management issues represented a palpable failure of leadership directly contributing to the Benghazi tragedy. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Al-Assad Duped Us Into Sectarian War

December 29th 2012

Alawites

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, an opposition Alawite religious cleric who recently fled to the Turkish town of Antakya revealed that “the Alawite community is living in a state of great fear, after we have become aware that the collapse of the al-Assad regime is imminent, which will place us at the mercy of fierce reprisals from the Sunni majority.”

He added “many Alawite families have already fled their homes in Damascus and returned to their villages in the Lattakia countryside.”

The cleric also revealed that he, along with a number of other Alawite activists, have worked hard to convince many Alawite youth not to join Syria’s military reserves or heed military summons, calling on the Alawite community “not be become embroiled in killing their Syrian brothers.”

He added “the regime has embroiled us in a sectarian war against the Sunnis, and if the Alawites had participated in the revolution since the beginning the regime would have been toppled, whilst the Alawite community would have no reason to fear. However after all this bloodshed, it is very difficult.” Read more ..


Germany on Edge

The Islamization of Germany in 2012

December 28th 2012

Germany's Muslims

Opinion polls consistently show that growing numbers of ordinary German citizens are worried about the consequences of decades of multicultural policies, as well the emergence of a parallel legal system based on Islamic Sharia law. Post-Christian Europe became noticeably more Islamized during 2012. As the rapidly growing Muslim population makes its presence felt in towns and cities across the continent, Islam is transforming the European way of life in ways unimaginable only a few years ago.

Some of the more notable Islam-related controversies during 2012 occurred in Germany, where the Muslim population has jumped from around 50,000 in the early 1980s to more than 4.5 million today. What follows is a brief chronological review of some of the main stories involving the rise of Islam in Germany during 2012. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

The Useful Myth that Obama Now Likes Israel

December 27th 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

Reality, especially in 2012, is very hard to face. So many hopes dashed; so many bad things happening. So people can be forgiven for taking refuge in wishful thinking. Sometimes, not telling the truth has its value in public affairs, especially when you are looking at a president with four more years in office and no elections ahead of him.

Such is the story now gaining currency in some quarters that President Barack Obama has changed his view of Israel, now wants to get along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two are closely cooperating. If you want to believe that idea it probably does no harm and makes you feel better. Maintaining this fiction may also encourage Obama supporters to think more kindly of Israel.

There is another factor here that should be mentioned. Many people overstated Obama’s active antagonism toward Israel as if he wanted to wipe it out or hurt it in any way possible. Obama dislikes Israel, disregards its strategic interests, and despises Netanyahu. That doesn’t mean, however, that he’s motivated to do much about it.

Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

What Egyptians Prefer Not to Know

December 27th 2012

2012 Egyptian Elections

The problem with Egypt and many other Islamic nations is that they are ignorant of what they are demanding, and are left ignorant by their own media and educational system. By now it seems apparent that Egyptians do not even want to learn the truth about Sharia, in case they might reject it -- an act that would turn them into apostates, eligible for death.

The chaos in Egypt today is an indication of an old culture that has lost its way and its connection to a great civilization over 3000 years old. Pure Islamists who hate their ancient history and are threatening to blow up the pyramids and sphinx as idols of the pharaohs are now back in full swing to stop any further weakening of Islam by a secular government. But is it the Islamists' fault or the fault of the Egyptian public who continually vote in favor of Sharia [Islamic law - "The Path"]? Read more ..


The Afghanistan War

Abandoning Afghanistan

December 26th 2012

US 10 MT departing

 When Senator Barack Obama was running for president back in 2008, he accused the Bush administration, his opponent Senator John McCain, and their supporters of taking their eyes off the ball by fighting a war in Iraq and ignoring the “necessary war”—the war in Afghanistan. Well, four short years later, by Obama’s lights, Afghanistan is no longer the necessary war but a war to be ignored, a war to be “ended” regardless of the strategic consequences of doing so precipitously.

It’s now clear that Barack Obama’s only abiding interest in Afghanistan was rhetorical, allowing him political space to pull American troops out of Iraq as soon as possible and, once done, to begin the same process in Afghanistan. Even the surge of 30,000 more American troops that began in 2010 was, in hindsight, intended to be less a strategic game-changer (as the earlier surge in Iraq had been) than a stopgap measure to stabilize a deteriorating situation. Smaller than what had been requested by the generals on the ground and put fully in place for only one fighting season, the surge allowed the president to appear serious while, in fact, providing him cover for pulling the plug on the war effort altogether.
Read more ..

The Media on Edge

White House Petition to Deport Piers Morgan Easily Soars Past Threshold

December 25th 2012

Piers-Morgan-on-the-Newtown-CT-school-shooting

A White House petition calling for the deportation of CNN personality Piers Morgan, a U.K. citizen, over his recent comments criticizing U.S. gun laws rocketed past the 25,000 signatures it needed for an official response Monday. As of this writing, nearly 40,000 people had signed a petition demanding “Mr. Morgan be deported immediately for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights and for exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens.”

A petition on the White House's “We the People” website needs 25,000 signatures in the first month of being posted to earn an official administration response. “I don't care about petition to deport me,” Morgan tweeted Monday. “I do care about poor NY firefighters murdered/injured with an assault weapon today. #GunControlNow.” Morgan was referring to yet another high-profile shooting that took place Monday. In western New York, four firefighters were shot, two of them fatally, while responding to a fire near Rochester. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria: What the US Response Portends

December 24th 2012

Corpses in Homs

The timing of the Syrian Revolution could not have been better for Bashar al-Assad. During the Bush administration, he softened his approach with the United States for fear of facing the same fate as Saddam Hussein. Times have changed. Although Assad may lose sleep over the opposition groups that continue to wrest large chunks of Syria from his control, he can rest easy knowing that the US is distracted. In the past, he would have worried about the US taking decisive action. Now, however, he can use the time given him by US failure to engage in the crisis to establish a firm grasp of the Syrian coast or to ensure that his loyalists are well-placed throughout the country. The US is now working with its NATO allies to position Patriot missiles along the Syrian border. But this will merely prevent the conflict from spreading to Turkey, and will do little to affect change within Syria’s borders.  In a different era, Assad might have been gone by now. But now, he has time and room to maneuver. For the United States, it is a case of less money, more problems. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

How to Save Radio Liberty

December 23rd 2012

RFE

For over half a century, Radio Liberty (RL) has been a central part of the U.S. government’s efforts to support human rights and free expression in Russia and, before it, the Soviet Union. Today, tragically, Radio Liberty—or Radio Svoboda, as the Russians know it—is in turmoil, its Moscow-based staff decimated by deep cuts, and its future uncertain. And RL’s listeners are outraged. The damage done to a long-standing U.S. policy is profound.

Much repair work needs to be done, which should include finding ways to bring RL back on the air, restoring its venerable brand, and reversing the appalling treatment of its personnel.

(Lack of) Human Rights in Russia

Along with its sister broadcaster Radio Free Europe (RFE), RL is funded by the U.S. government and has a proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 of $92.5 million. It is, however, run as an independent broadcaster out of a main office in Prague. Its mandate, known as “surrogate broadcasting,” is to focus on local and domestic news coverage. RL gave voice to three generations of outstanding Soviet dissidents and built a leading brand in Russian and Eurasian broadcasting. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Video Seeks to Show Apartheid Policies Applied by Arab States against Palestinians

December 23rd 2012

Palestine Topics - Mar elias refugee camp Lebanon
Alley way in Mar Elias refugee camp, Lebanon

StandWithUs, which is a nonprofit advocacy group with a significant web presence, has released a video offering several interviews with Palestinians denouncing the refusal of the governments of Egypt, Lebanon, and other Arab Muslim-majority countries to provide healthcare and other development aid. The video seeks to demonstrate that governments of states surrounding Palestinian refugee camps effectively ostracize and discriminate against these fellow Arabs – both Christian and Muslim – in a form similar to the Apartheid system once practiced in South Africa.

In September 2011, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took the stage at the United Nations General Assembly after submitted an official request to General-Secretary Ban Ki-Moon for full membership for "Palestine" to the body of the United Nations.  Abbas described the Palestinians as "Defenseless people only with their dreams, courage and hope.. against bullets, bombs and bulldozers." Read more ..


The UN on Edge

UN Closes Out 2012 with Nine Resolutions Against Israel, Silence About Syrian Attacks on Palestinians

December 22nd 2012

UN HQ NYC

The UN General Assembly is closing out 2012 in a blaze of glory. The UNGA adopted nine resolutions against Israel in one day, December 18. They are usefully summarized by Tom Gross in his web site, and I copy his list of them at the bottom of this blog  post. More information about this important UN work for world peace can be found at the UN’s own web site.

Perhaps the most striking event in the Middle East this past week was the attack on a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon did mention this in his own statement on December 16:  ”Today’s reports of aerial bombing amid intense violence resulting in many casualties among the Palestinian refugee population in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus are a matter of grave concern.” Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

What We Should Tell the Gun Lobby AND Producers and Editors

December 22nd 2012

Piers-Morgan-on-the-Newtown-CT-school-shooting

When a credibly hot-under-the-collar Piers Morgan told Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, on his CNN show, "You're an unbelievably stupid man, aren't you?", my first impulse was to gloat that, at last, the gun-lobby had gotten the big smack-down that it and its millions of credulous adherents deserve. Pratt had been skirting around the fact that countries that restrict gun ownership more tightly than we do are dramatically freer of gun violence.But Morgan's rebuke to him brought a sinuous comeback: "It seems to me you are morally obtuse," Pratt replied. "You seem to prefer being a victim to being able to prevail over the criminal element. I don't know why you want to be the criminal's friend."
Read more ..

The Way We Are

Blessings for the Holiday 2012

December 21st 2012

Armstrong_Williams

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Tomorrow begins another day. Why am I allowed two? “The shortest way to happiness that I know is gratitude, counting your blessings.

​This country now sits around the table for Christmas, which is as good a time as any to recall our blessings. Even in this dark winter, even in bad economic times, there is so much to be grateful for that we cannot even count it.

​I know a lot of parents will be hugging their children a little tighter after the Newtown shooting. But really this appreciation should not be limited to our children, but to all people. All are irreplaceable; all are contingent, and passing away.

​If you want to be miserable, think of yourself as entitled to what you have. Then you will hate and blame anyone and anything that takes anything away. Inevitably, someone or something will take everything away, and you will have nothing but bitterness and resentment to show for it.

But if you want to be happy, think of everything as an unearned gift—grace—because, most importantly, that’s what it is. Did those children die in Sandy Hook because they were worse than the rest of us? Of course not. Do we have good things here in America while children starve in the Sudan because God loves us more than He loves them? Of course not. You do not have the blessings you have, which are more than you can count, because you deserve them: you don’t. And the sooner you admit that, the sooner you can really enjoy them. ​The Newtown shooting was terrible, despicable, and evil. But good can come out of tragedy if we take the right lessons from it. If it gives us perspective, then that is a good; it doesn’t make up for the loss, but it is a good nonetheless. If we take the wrong lesson from it, then that is yet another evil. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

How the World Enabled 25 Years of Palestinian Decline

December 21st 2012

UNRWA Protest

One of the saddest comments I’ve ever heard was Gaza resident Ziad Ashour’s statement to the New York Times last week. Ever since the first intifada erupted in 1987, the 43-year-old butcher said, “things have steadily declined in Gaza.”

Think about that for a moment: After 25 years of fighting Israel in every possible way-“popular resistance,” suicide bombings, rockets, diplomatic warfare, boycott/divestment/sanctions efforts-all the Palestinians have to show for it is 25 years of steady decline. Indeed, the facts bear out Ashour’s assessment: Despite massive international aid, Gaza’s per capita GDP has remained virtually flat, totaling $817 in 1987 and $876 in 2010. Unemployment, which was generally under 5 percent in the 1980s, had soared to 45 percent by the end of 2010. And to add insult to injury, neither the terror nor the diplomatic warfare succeeded in preventing Israel from flourishing over those 25 years. Read more ..


The Congo on Edge

Washington Must Rethink its Approach to the Democratic Republic of the Congo

December 19th 2012

Soldiers

The recent occupation and subsequent retreat by the rebel group M23 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) city of Goma is the latest episode of the country's instability. Though M23 is just the newest rebel group among many, it is emblematic of the failure by the Congolese government and the international community to address the development and governance issues that undermine peace prospects.

The crisis occurred despite a United Nations peacekeeping mission for over a decade, billions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance, and ongoing diplomatic efforts. The United States should reassess its support for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, increase accountability for the inept government in Kinshasa, seek to secure Rwandan and Ugandan support, and emphasize the need for an African-led strategy. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Chuck Hagel's Jewish Problem

December 18th 2012

Chuck Hagel

Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal believes the appointment of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary would represent an ominous turn for Israel and send a worrying signal about President Obama's intentions in his second term. Numbers of news outlets have now documented Hagel's critical attitude toward the Jewish state, starting with his warnings about the "Jewish lobby" and including his refusal to call Hezbollah a terrorist organization. In 2006, Hagel described Israel's war against Hezbollah as: "the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon." He later refused to sign a letter calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In 2007, he voted against designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, and also urged President Bush to open "direct, unconditional" talks with Iran to create "a historic new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations." In 2009, Mr. Hagel urged the Obama administration to open direct talks with Hamas. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

After Sandy Hook, NRA Still Formidable

December 18th 2012

Beretta 90TWO

The National Rifle Association is keeping silent in response to calls for gun control measures in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Yet the massive trail of political money spent by the group shows the potent force any proposals for new restrictions will likely face when the anger and dismay over Sandy Hook recedes.

Since President Barack Obama took office, the NRA has spent millions to lobby Congress on gun legislation and bankroll the campaigns of supportive candidates. From 2009 through the first three quarters of 2012, the NRA spent more than $8.5 million to lobby on gun bills, according to mandated federal lobby disclosure records, most often to block proposed limits on weapons and ammunition access or support efforts to expand the right to carry concealed weapons in public. Direct federal lobbying accounts for only a small portion of the association’s total spending to influence state and federal gun policy; according the NRA’s 2010 tax return, it spent more than $20 million on “legislation action” that year. Much of the recent legislation on concealed weapons, in particular, has been at the state level.

Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Net Energy Self-Sufficiency: Does it Mean Anything?

December 17th 2012

Oil Barrels

A new term has been getting a lot of play in recent weeks. The International Energy Agency (IEA) kicked things off when it projected that the United States will be “almost self-sufficient in energy, in net terms” by 2035. The idea of “net energy self sufficiency” has shown up everywhere from The Economist to Scientific American. Even a State department blog has trumpeted projected developments using similar words.

All of this is enough to make one wonder what net energy self sufficiency means. These reports and analyses all define it the same way: the energy content of whatever energy the United States imports will be less than (or equal to) the energy content of whatever energy the United States exports. “Net imports” will thus be zero or lower.

This sounds lovely but doesn’t actually mean much. I’ve written more than once in this space and elsewhere that oil independence (or oil self-sufficiency) is often overrated. But at least there’s a coherent theory of why the idea might make sense. In an extreme case, if cut off from imports, the United States would still be able to run its economy. Short of that, some will argue, if the United States produces the oil it consumes, its economy will be less vulnerable to price shocks. Whether one agrees or disagrees, there’s a real story to tell. Read more ..


Jewry on Edge

Alas Denmark

December 16th 2012

Buildings in Denmark

Denmark has long been regarded as one of the world's most attractive nations, for citizens and tourists alike. My own visits there, years ago as a student, were delightful. And the Danes have a wonderful history of civic virtue, not least during the Holocaust. As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum notes in a web site dedicated to "The Rescue of the Jews of Denmark."

The Danish resistance movement, assisted by many ordinary citizens, coordinated the flight of some 7,200 Jews to safety in nearby neutral Sweden. Thanks to this remarkable mass rescue effort, at war's end, Denmark had one of the highest Jewish survival rates for any European country.

Times change. The latest news out of Denmark bore this headline: "Jews Warned Not to Wear Kipot, Stars of David in Copenhagen." Here is an excerpt: Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Three Takeaways From Thee Recent OPEC Meeting

December 16th 2012

Arab Oil Derick

OPEC ministers met in Vienna on Wednesday to discuss the current oil market outlook and make a decision about future production levels, as well as to select a new secretary general. After deliberating, the group opted not to alter the current production ceiling of 30 million barrels per day (though they are currently pumping more than that). Nor could they agree on a replacement for the current secretary general, Abdalla Salem el-Badr, a Libyan national, choosing instead to extend his tenure an additional year starting next month.

As with any OPEC meeting, what was not decided—and at times not even mentioned, at least publicly—can be as revealing as what was. So what did this week’s events tell us? Here are three quick takeaways.

1. The question of how to accommodate soaring output from Iraq is becoming more and more pressing for the rest of OPEC. Currently outside the collective output target, Iraq’s 3+ million barrels per day of crude production is becoming an increasingly significant force in the global market. Iraqi production is widely expected to increase by several thousand barrels a day next year. Its ascent may force its OPEC peers to give way—but that won’t happen without a fight. Some member countries, including Saudi Arabia, think it’s time to give the country a firm target; others, notably Iran and Venezuela, disagree. Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

The Folly of State Tax Incentives for Jobs Creation

December 16th 2012

Cliff Face West Wales

A new study released this week by the Pew Center for the States is further proof of the folly of state tax incentives as a way to attract job-creating business – though in its usual even-handed fashion Pew is careful not to say as much. The report shows that surprisingly few states make serious estimates of the potential cost of tax incentives they offer companies, and very few cap the total benefits, leaving the government exposed to large losses.

The results can be shocking. According to Pew, Louisiana’s tax break for horizontal oil and gas drilling, which cost just $285,000 in 2007 before the technology was fully developed, cost the state $239 million in 2010. Hawaii’s tax credits for renewable energy leapt from $34 million in 2010 to an estimated $260 million next year. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

The Coming Civil War Over Guns and TV Mayhem

December 16th 2012

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When Lyndon Johnson, standing before a joint session of Congress and a national television audience to propose the Voting Rights Act, said, "We shall overcome," he risked his party's political future to defy long-entrenched interests and arrangements. Progress would require more than laws and federal marshals and troops. It would depend on nothing less than a long, wrenching reconfiguration of many Americans' national myths and viscera.

Now President Obama should urge a joint session of Congress and a national audience to overcome the delusion that arming ourselves as we do has made the United States a safer or freer country in which to raise children with hope.

We're far less safe -- or free -- than other western countries that prohibit or restrict guns. We're certainly no safer or freer than the regime of racial segregation that Johnson ended. And yesterday Newtown, CT, like a growing list of other communities, felt like Iraq or Afghanistan after our heavily armed invasions of them. We have forgotten where power really comes from and how it really flows or is drained. Since the middle of the last century, vast empires and national-security regimes, armed to the teeth, have been brought down by unarmed peoples in British India, apartheid South Africa, the Soviet-ruled nations of Eastern Europe. Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

Tea Partiers Must Hang Tough.

December 15th 2012

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Now, suddenly, the Tea Party is everybody's whipping boy.Liberals, in the wake of the election, gloat about what they see as liberalism's return to the mainstream and good riddance to the end of the Republican "extremists." And, despite the spin, which never stops in Washington, it is not accidental that four prominent Tea Party congressmen have been purged from key committee posts by House Speaker John Boehner.

So as the Washington "establishment" cozies up to the mindset that America will go on no matter what and that a bloated, debt-ridden America can go on just fine as long as there is political compromise in Washington, here are a few things to think about.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company of The Economist magazine, publishes each year a "quality of life" index. It ranks 50 countries around the world according to which has the best prospects for the highest quality of life in the upcoming year. It looks at 11 factors, including economic (GDP per capita, GDP growth, inflation) and socio-political (life expectancy, literacy, human rights) considerations. When the Index was first published in 1988, the United States was No. 1 in the world. This year, the United States has dropped to number 16. Read more ..


Islam's War on Christianity

The Unheralded Murder of Birgitta Almby

December 14th 2012

Birgitta Almby

Who, you ask? Were it not for the valiant agency Morning Star News, which specializes in documenting the persecution of Christians around the world, even fewer news consumers would know the name of this angelic-looking, 71-year-old Swedish lady who was gunned down in the Pakistani city of Lahore:

Shot by two armed men outside her house in Lahore’s upscale Model Town as she returned from her Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA) office in the Kot Lakhpat area, Almby died at about 10 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time at Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, FGA Bible School Principal Liaqat Qaiser told Morning Star News. Almby, director at the FGA Technical Training Institute and also a teacher at the FGA Bible School, was shot in the chest, and the bullet damaged her left lung. Initially she was taken to Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where doctors removed the bullet and said her condition was critical because of excessive bleeding.

She had served the Pakistani Christian community for 38 years. “Almby will be missed dearly,” Qaiser said. “She spent a long time serving the poor and downtrodden Christians in Pakistan, and every Christian is very sad at her demise. But she is in a much better place now.” Who would commit such a monstrous act? According to the local police superintendent, Ijaz Shafi Dogar, the lack of witnesses means that it’s hard to figure out the motive behind Almby’s murder.

But Qaiser, Almeby’s colleague, is in no doubt that the responsibility lies with Islamist terrorists. “Who else would want to murder someone as apolitical and harmless as Almby, who had dedicated her life to serving humanity?” he asked. Superintendent Dogar, meanwhile, is making every effort to dampen speculation over the Punjabi Taliban’s involvement in the murder, on the grounds that “there was no word from them regarding the attack on the Swede.” Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

European Union Policy of Hypocrisy

December 14th 2012

Turkish Flags

The leniency with which the European Union (EU) judges Palestinians’ reforms compared to the strictness of EU demands for reform by the Turks reveal Europeans’ duplicity and lack of integrity, and should disqualify the European Union from playing any significant role in the Middle East peace process, under the guise of being an honest broker.

EU hypocrisy is undoubtedly noticed when one examines and compares the own benchmarks of the EU as applied to a country-candidate [for example Turkey] waiting to join the European Union on the one-hand, and the benchmarks the EU is applying toward the Palestinians who seek to have a state, on the other hand.

European yardsticks for Palestinians, a hostile society, joining the Family of Nations amounts to praise for fabricated non-existent reforms and calls to drop the required incremental progress from the Roadmap. An end to violence and democratic reform that Palestinians have not even begun is tolerable. All of this in order to forge the way for immediate establishment of a Palestinian state, one which will endanger the very survival of a free and democratic Israel. Read more ..


Broken Elections

What Do Elected Officials Owe Voters?

December 13th 2012

What do elected officials owe voters? The debate over the theory of representation is an old and distinguished one, asking whether elected representatives should vote as they believe their constituents would wish or vote as they think best.

But this assumes that the elected parliamentarians stick around long enough to vote at all. In recent weeks we’ve seen examples of a newer phenomenon: the person who is elected and then walks away.

The worst example is that of Jo Ann Emerson, re-elected just five weeks ago in Missouri. Within days of that victory she quit, announcing that she will resign from Congress to head up the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Her resignation statement  says “I am going to miss the constituents I work with every day, the thousands of small business owners, compassionate families, community leaders, students and servicemembers who define the character of Southern Missouri….I am not leaving Congress because I have lost my heart for service — to the contrary — I see a new way to serve.” This is pretty much nonsense, as the Washington Post pointed out in a sharp editorial that noted how much more money she will be earning in her “new way to serve.” Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israel Has No Other Alternative—But the One It Has is Good

December 12th 2012

soldiers pray at wailing wall

The Palestinian leadership, abetted by many Western governments, has now torn up every agreement it made with Israel. Once the efforts of two decades of negotiations—including irrevocable Israeli compromises in giving the Palestinian Authority control over territory, its own armed forces, dismantling settlements, and permitting billions of dollars of foreign aid to the Palestinians—were destroyed, the world has decided to focus the blame on Israel approving the construction of 3,000 apartments.

In 1993, Israel signed an agreement with the PLO to make peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The accord, known as the Oslo agreement, included the following passage in Article 31: “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” By essentially unilaterally declaring the existence of an Arab Palestine, the world has abrogated that agreement. Read more ..


Gaza on Edge

When Is an Open-Air Prison a Terrorist Camp?

December 12th 2012

Gaza mall

It is a term we hear a lot in the twenty-first century anti-Israel propaganda storm, flung wildly against the truth – that Gaza is an “open-air” prison. We hear it not only from Arab and Muslim anti-Semites and the committed anti-Israel ideologues, but from well meaning people on the left who speak out of compassion. They know of a densely populated land area with significant poverty, an area the borders of which are controlled by third parties – Israel and Egypt, though most of these people purposely or ignorantly neglect to remember Egypt – and they are moved by what seem to be longstanding and intractably oppressive living conditions. It is simply inconceivable to them that these conditions – the density, the poverty, the external controls – are conditions that the people who live in them, in fact, choose for themselves rather than opt to alleviate . Who would act so against reason and manifest self-interest? An alternative historical narrative is thus required to render such hateful self-destructiveness more comprehensibly as pitiable oppression. Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Obama's Fiscal Cliff Stubbornness Dangerous for Military

December 11th 2012

U.S. Naval Carrier

For nearly a year and a half, sequestration has been the law of the land. But few treated it that way, including the White House. The Obama administration was supposedly so confident sequestration would never happen that the Department of Labor encouraged defense manufacturers to ignore another law leading up to the election … and sequestration with the WARN Act. This basically mandates 60 days' notice in advance of predictable mass layoffs for certain larger companies.

Then the Pentagon went so far as to offer and foot the bill for contractors if they followed the government's advice and subsequently were sued by their laid-off employees. While Pentagon leaders never had the authority to bind the hands of a future Congress's spending, leadership of these major companies took Obama's Cabinet at its word. Finally, President Obama dismissed the prospect of sequestration during the final presidential debate, saying flat-out, "It will not happen." Read more ..



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