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The Race for Alt Fuels

Latest CARB Rules Crank the Misery for Californians

February 7th 2012

Transportation Topics - Highways

A new set of irrelevant and unhelpful regulations is coming courtesy of the people who helped bring us MTBE.

On January 27th of this new year, California’s Air Resources Board unanimously approved a package of new emissions rules that they claim will save drivers money, create jobs, and cut smog and greenhouse gases under what is labeled “The Advanced Clean Car Program.

It seems to me however that the new rules will do almost exactly the opposite of what is intended or needed, except in the area of creating new jobs. Unfortunately the problem with these new jobs, I think, is that the majority of them will only be due to an increase of new regulators.

Allow me to explain.

We are either facing an imminent catastrophic environmental disaster, or we merely have a pollution problem. If we’re facing catastrophic disaster, why is our government fooling around with half-hearted band-aid solutions that slowly kick in over the next several decades? We’ll be dead before the problem is solved.

If we merely have a pollution problem, then it’s time to own up to it and put into place—once and for all—measures that will eliminate the pollution. On this point, let me make the following perfectly clear: Buying carbon credits and changing CAFE standards does nothing to eliminate polluting activities. It simply shifts the blame and allows exemptions; meaning that it permits on-going pollution as long as politicians and bureaucrats continue to get paid off. Read more ..

Edge of Economic Crisis

Even Bankruptcy Might not Save Detroit, the Motor-Less City

February 7th 2012

Economy - Detroit abandoned house

Even if Detroit ends up filing for bankruptcy, it may not be the solution to the city’s long-running fiscal woes, according to a new report led by a Michigan State University economist. Instead, a Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy may simply serve as a wakeup call to bring city and union leaders and other stakeholders to the table in an attempt to fix the city’s deep financial problems, said Eric Scorsone, an MSU Extension specialist and faculty member in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.

Scorsone said the city of Vallejo, Calif., emerged from an expensive, drawn-out bankruptcy only to be saddled with many of the same financial issues that led to its Chapter 9 filing. “Bankruptcy is meant to reset the financial course for municipalities, but the structural fiscal problems can remain,” said Scorsone, former senior economist at the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. “I’d be more inclined to call bankruptcy a wakeup call than a solution.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Emboldens Critics and Disappoints Supporters with Contraception Mandate on Religious Institutions

February 7th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama's headache Sebelius

President Obama’s decision to force employers, including religious institutions, to provide health insurance coverage for contraception is becoming a big problem for his reelection campaign. GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney launched a petition on February 6 against the mandate, arguing it was an attack by Obama on “religious liberty.”  Conservatives, including Catholics such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), are attacking the administration for the decision. And now, nine months before the presidential election, the backlash is growing even among Obama supporters, who say the move was politically tone-deaf.

“These kind of issues have a powerful symbolic hold on religious voters and could cost [Obama] votes in liberal working-class areas that would otherwise go toward the Democrat,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “[His] support is not deep enough that he can count on their loyalty regardless of his stand on these sorts of issues.” One former administration official went further, saying, “When you’re planning these types of decisions, you should never be surprised, and it seems like they were caught off guard a bit by the reaction of people like E.J Dionne.” In a piece over the weekend, the Washington Post columnist, a fan of Obama, wrote that the administration “utterly botched” the issue and “threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus,” giving more ammunition to those in the church who aim to derail the new healthcare law. Read more ..

After the Arab Fall

Jordan's Hashemite Dynasty Increasingly Unsettled

February 6th 2012

Jordan Topics - King Abdullah of Jordan

According to a risk analysis group based in the United Kingdom, the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan shows increasing signs of being challenged by domestic aspirants to the throne. The Middle East and North Africa Forecasting Division at Exclusive Analysis Ltd released a special report on Jordan that forecast possible coup risks and increased business and cargo disruption risks. The Jordan civil unrest risk score has increased to 3.2 on Exclusive Analysis’s Foresight Country Risk. Last year, along with other Arab governments, Jordan saw demonstrations and unrest during the so-called Arab Spring. King Abdullah was forced to make some concessions, even while it was mostly the members of his government who came in for criticism from protesters, who have been linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The special report states that, “there is a low but increasing risk in the 6-12 month outlook, that in the face of unmanageable mass civil unrest, key elements of the security forces and the Hashemite family would be driven to depose King Abdullah II, in an attempt to appease protesters, while preserving the Hashemite monarchy. In October 2011, the Retired Military Veterans' Movement, made up of East Bank tribes, criticized Prime Minister Khasawneh, appointed by King Abdullah, for not reforming electoral law and 'not confronting threats to national identity'. Videos have also surfaced during the past six months of an influential East Bank tribal leader implicitly criticizing the king as being out of touch with his country. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Racial Code Words Obscure Real Issues

February 6th 2012

Contributors / Staff - Juan Williams 02

At the Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., I asked each GOP presidential candidate some pointed questions about the racial politics that will play a big role in the presidential campaign.

Race is always a trigger in politics, but now a third of the nation are people of color—and their numbers are growing. With those minorities solidly in the Democratic camp and behind the first black president, the scene is set for a bonanza of racial politics.

The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are “entitlement society”—as used by Mitt Romney—and “poor work ethic” and “food stamp president”—as used by Newt Gingrich.

References to a lack of respect for the “Founding Fathers” and the “Constitution” also make certain ears perk up by demonizing anyone supposedly threatening core “old-fashioned American values.”

The code also extends to attacks on legal immigrants, always carefully lumped in with illegal immigrants, as people seeking “amnesty” and taking jobs from Americans. But the code sometimes breaks down.

A passionate Republican recently said to GOP candidate Rick Santorum: “I never refer to Obama as President Obama because legally he is not [president]. He constantly says that our Constitution is passé and he ignores it. … He is an avowed Muslim and my question is, why isn’t something being done to get him out of government? He has no legal right to be calling himself president.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Democrats Face Tricky Compromise with GOP over Immigration Reform

February 4th 2012

Mexican Topics - Militia man patrol

Democrats face a politically tricky choice over whether to pursue a compromise with Republicans on immigration reform that was recently floated by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The Republican presidential contenders are willing to grant illegal immigrants legal status if they came to the country at a young age and served in the military. It’s a tough election-year call for Democrats for several reasons. Immigration reform has been a winning issue for them as staunch GOP opposition has driven Hispanic voters to support Democratic candidates in recent cycles.

Hispanic voters helped Democrats win tough Senate races in Colorado and Nevada in 2010. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) bolstered his standing among Hispanic voters by claiming immigration reform as one of his highest priorities. During his State of the Union address last month, President Obama called for Congress to resurrect the DREAM Act, even though lawmakers say there is virtually no chance of it passing the GOP-controlled House. Striking a compromise would allow Republicans to earn some points with Hispanic voters and lessen pressure on Republican lawmakers to support more comprehensive immigration reform. Walking away from possible common ground, however, could leave Democrats open to criticism that they missed a chance to make incremental progress. Read more ..

Japan after the Meltdown

Fukushima and Beyond: Consequences of a Nuclear War without the War

February 3rd 2012

Japan - fukushima reactor smoke
Fukushima Disaster

The World is at a critical crossroads. The Fukushima disaster in Japan has brought to the forefront the dangers of worldwide nuclear radiation.

The crisis in Japan has been described as “a nuclear war without a war.” In the words of renowned novelist Haruki Murakami: “This time no one dropped a bomb on us … We set the stage, we committed the crime with our own hands, we are destroying our own lands, and we are destroying our own lives.”

Nuclear radiation—which threatens life on planet earth—is not front page news in comparison to the most insignificant issues of public concern, including the local crime scene or tabloid gossip reports on Hollywood celebrities. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Gingrich's Unkosher Call

February 2nd 2012

Jewish Topics - Kosher Senior Meals

Did it matter to Floridian voters that Republican candidate Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, may have cut funding for kosher meals in nursing homes?  Whether or not it mattered was less important than the importance put upon the Jewish vote by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.  Their vote seemed to be of such great significance to him, he needed to find a polarizing issue to throw at his opponent.

This begs the question, is the Jewish community so gullible that wider domestic issues and looming foreign matters are less important than whether kosher meals are funded by the public for seniors?

Putting the facts into perspective, the bulk of the Jewish seniors whom Mr. Gingrich was targeting with his robo-call this week are registered Democrats and had little say in the Republican primary.  He knew that however, as does any candidate who does the right research before allocating precious time and limited resources in a presidential race. So why do it at all? Read more ..

Edge of the Economic Crisis

The Economic Winter in Europe Grows Colder

February 1st 2012

Europe Topics - Spanish unemployed

The Eurozone is experiencing historic unemployment rates at 10.4 percent in December.  Germany was the only exception, which saw its unemployment rate reduce to 6.7 percent in January.

While the European debt crisis has lingered without resolve, unemployment has become the number one problem among those younger than 25-years-old, with 21.3 percent of those Europeans without jobs.

European leaders met once again with a new theme for their meetings that address unemployment and economic growth -- themes that have been neglected since Europe began austerity programs.

Germany has long argued that budgetary discipline will ultimately help economies grow. Record European unemployment -- 16.4 million in the European monetary zone and 23.8 million within the EU -- has weighed on domestic demand, the engine of growth on the old continent with French and German consumption falling in December, more signs pointing to a worsening economy. Read more ..

Edge of Asia

Asian Nations Increasingly Leery of Burgeoning China

January 31st 2012

China Topics - The East is Red

America's strategic interests in Asia go hand in hand with democratic values. Not by accident, all of our formal security allies in Asia -- Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand -- are democracies. And events are trending further in this direction.

Taiwan recently conducted its fifth direct presidential election since 1996, further proof of democracy's hold there. While many Americans may squirm at the "pro-China" characterization given its now two-term president, Ma Ying-jeou, the process that returned him to office is in itself a strategic advantage. Taiwan has one of the most highly polarized electorates in the world. Yet the democratic process has produced a bottom line on the most contentious issue -- Taiwan's relationship with the People's Republic of China. Read more ..

Inside Mexico

There is More to Mexico's Drought than Mother Nature

January 30th 2012

Environment Topics - mexico drought

In many cities, Mexicans are responding to the environmental and hunger crisis in Chihuahua's Sierra Tarahumara with an outpouring of material aid, donations, and declarations of solidarity. Indigenous Raramuri leaders from the drought-stricken mountains were among rural activists who staged a demonstration this week in Mexico City claiming lack of government support for alleviating the worst effects of what National Water Commission chief Jose Luis Luege called "one of the biggest drought years in the historical registers of the country." 

In response to the burgeoning rural protest movement, the Calderon administration announced a series of initiatives aimed at rehabilitating irrigation systems and tapping into more groundwater. The assistance is planned for hard-pressed rural and agricultural communities where farm land is shriveling up, where cattle are becoming fodder for vultures and where local economies are collapsing into the dusty earth. In Chihuahua, the problem is so severe that Governor Cesar Duarte urged Mexico’s federal government not to comply with water delivery requirements to the Rio Grande under a 1944 treaty with the United States. The comments were reportedly made during a conversation with Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Juan Elvira Quesada this week.  Read more ..

The Medical Edge

America's Free Market Health Care: Up Close and Personal

January 30th 2012

Health/Medicine - post operation ward

When I recently went to Alta Bates hospital for surgery, I discovered that legal procedures take precedence over medical ones.  I had to sign intimidating statements about financial counseling, indemnity, patient responsibilities, consent to treatment, use of electronic technologies, and the like. One of these documents committed me to the following: “The hospital pathologist is hereby authorized to use his/her discretion in disposing of any member, organ, or other tissue removed from my person during the procedure.” Any member? Any organ?

The next day I returned for the actual operation. While playing Frank Sinatra recordings, the surgeon went to work cutting open several layers of my abdomen in order to secure my intestines with a permanent mesh implant. Afterward I spent two hours in the recovery room. “I feel like I’ve been in a knife fight,” I told one nurse. “It’s called surgery,” she explained. Then, while still pumped up with anesthetics and medications, I was rolled out into the street. The street? Yes, some few hours after surgery they send you home.  In countries that have socialized medicine (there I said it), a van might be waiting with trained personnel to help you to your abode. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

A Return to Andalusia

January 28th 2012

Israel Topics - Praying at Western Wall

The collapse of Israeli-Palestinian agreements from the 1993 Oslo Accords until today stems from the fact that both Israeli and U.S. leaders ignore the real root of the conflict. The heart of the conflict is the denial of the existence—not the size—of any non-Muslim entity on land, that, in the eyes of Muslims, is Waqf—an inalienable religious land endowment.

On January 9, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, a close associate of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, stressed that all Israeli territory was Muslim Waqf land, had been since 637 CE, and would be forever. The mufti made his comments at a rally for Fatah, which Abbas heads, that was broadcast on the official state television station. The mufti also called for the killing of Jews to hasten the Islamic Resurrection. His sentiments have become rooted in the Palestinian consciousness, with the help of the Palestinian Authority educational system, as a poll from July 2011 shows. Read more ..

America on Edge

Don’t Write Off America in 2012

January 28th 2012

America Themes - lady liberty

One of the staples of 2011 punditry has been the “decline” of the United States. See Google’s 190,000,000 results in 0.26 seconds for “U.S. decline in power.”

China in particular, pundits say, is about to eat our economic lunch, and all that’s left for us is to figure out how to slide gracefully into irrelevance.

True, the economy isn’t great. That’s in part because the administrations failed to invest in the one area of manufacturing that can be done only by American workers who already exist—the defense industry—to replace and upgrade a decade’s worth of spent war materiel. Equally true, the administration is politically and militarily diminishing American leadership. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

The Curious Timing of Obama's Threat to Cut U.S. aid to Egypt

January 27th 2012

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood
Muslim Brotherhood members

The Obama Administration has appropriately reacted to the detention in Egypt of several American nationals by threatening to cut U.S. aid to Cairo - something it has not done till now, despite explicit Muslim Brotherhood statements about abrogating the Israeli/Egyptian peace treaty, under which Cairo has been the recipient of over $40 billion in U.S. aid over the past thirty years. 

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization established in 1928 and precursor of Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups, recently won a majority of seats in the Egyptian parliament. A top U.S. official's son who is working for a pro-democracy group in Egypt has been barred from leaving the country, along with at least five other Americans, escalating a crackdown on such groups by Egypt's military government. Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the director of the Egyptian program of the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington-based civil society organization, was turned away from leaving Egypt at Cairo airport earlier this week.  Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Who are the Bundlers Behind Political Money?

January 27th 2012

Politics - Bundles of Money

In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama proposed legislation that would have required all presidential candidates to disclose information about supporters who raised at least $50,000 for their campaigns during the two-year period prior to Election Day. That legislation was never adopted, but as a presidential candidate Obama voluntarily released certain information about his top fundraisers.

Obama has continued that practice as he revs the financial engine of his re-election campaign. Between April and the end of September, the Obama campaign released the names of 357 bundlers who had collected at least $50,000 to benefit him and the Democratic National Committee. Together, these elite moneymen (and women) raised at least $55.9 million -- or about $8 out of every $25 added to Obama's account during that time. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Gingrich Establishment Advocated Legislation that Benefited Clients Inside Washington

January 27th 2012

Politics - Newt Gingrich 4_2011

Newt Gingrich’s Washington-based advocacy on behalf of a broad array of health care interests has been far more extensive than the Republican presidential candidate has acknowledged, a review by the Center for Public Integrity has found. Since 2003, the former House speaker’s Center for Health Transformation has taken an active role in circulating policy papers, testifying at congressional hearings and using other forums to build support for dozens of pieces of legislation and federal policy initiatives that would financially benefit clients who paid as much as $200,000 a year for his services, records show. The center’s advocacy has ranged from promoting costly high- technology medicine to pressing for tax breaks benefiting purchasers of controversial high-deductible insurance plans. Gingrich severed ties with the center last year.

Gingrich’s health center markets itself as a think tank focused on health care innovation. It does not release its membership roster, but the Center for Public Integrity obtained a partial list from 2009. Among the members at that time: Microsoft, drug maker AstraZeneca, insurance giant WellPoint, management consultant firm Booz Allen Hamilton, GE Healthcare, Siemens, Allscripts, UPS, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and the BlueCross Blue Shield Association. (See the 2009 list here). Read more ..

Internet on Edge

SOPA and PIPA Spur Lobbying Spike

January 27th 2012

Congressional issues - SOPA PIPA Wiki Image

Companies that lobbied on the two bills spent at least $104.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, more than double the $49.3 million they laid out in the previous quarter, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Likewise, the number of clients represented by lobbyists who worked on the issues of intellectual property enforcement and online piracy -- the ones central to the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House (H.R.3261) and its Senate companion, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (S.968) -- increased by more than 100 percent, to 154, the Center found. The third-quarter figure was 72.

And, in remarkable harmony, the number of lobbyists hired by companies and other groups that lobbied on the bills also just more than doubled, from 462 to 956.

It's impossible to say how much of the money spent on lobbying was directly connected to SOPA and PIPA, since the reporting forms don't require that level of detail. Read more ..

Edge of Mexico

Mexico's Political Elites Offer Old Faces and Ghosts in Advance of July Elections

January 26th 2012

Mexican Topics - Mexican girls on parade

New fires are steadily igniting in different corners of the Mexican political system. As the country plunges head-long toward the July 1 elections, clashes over candidacies, bouts of negative campaigning and a new spying scandal are lighting up the political scene. A bizarre video game with a barely concealed subliminal message, “Super Ernesto,” stars National Action Party (PAN) presidential primary candidate Ernesto Cordero in a showdown that has the former economy minister vanquishing rival party presidential candidates Enrique Pena Nieto and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as well as fugitive crime boss Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman.

If current polls are accurate, Cordero will be the one who gets zapped, and as early as February 5, the day of the PAN presidential primary. Surveys show the candidate in third place behind Santiago Creel and Josefina Vazquez Mota in terms of PAN voters’ preferences. Read more ..

China on Edge

What is Hu Jintao's Problem with Peace, Love and Understanding?

January 26th 2012

China Topics - Hu Jintao floral
Chinese President Hu Jintao

In an article published in early January 2012 in the Communist Party policy magazine Qiushi (求是), Chinese President Hu Jintao cautioned against Western culture infiltrating and subverting China. In fact, the warning is one of the main points in a speech he gave last October at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 17th Party Congress. Now that it has been bill-boarded in the official Chinese press, the international media are trying to decode it. What is the actual message being sent? Is it just the same old talk of “guarding against peaceful evolution” (from one-party rule toward democracy) from the Mao era? Or is it something deeper? Below is a brief analysis.

Currently, China’s reform has reached a dead end, and the authorities are unable to offer up any halfway decent reform proposal prior to the 18th Party Congress slated to take place in October 2012. The reason for this inability is that the CPC ruling clique has completely degenerated into a self-serving special interest group. Any reform is bound to affect the interests of this elite and destabilize the one-party dictatorship—something that those in power would never allow. Below, I will look at the four plates of reform: politics, economics, society, and culture.. Read more ..

Edge on Eastern Europe

Corruption and Idiotic Legislation adds to Ukraine's Woes Near the Bottom for Economic Freedom

January 26th 2012

victor Yanukovich
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

Ukraine continues to languish in a leading global index of economic freedom, despite promises of reform from President Viktor Yanukovych. The 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, a joint project by the U.S.-based think tank the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, ranked Ukraine 163rd of 179 countries, just behind the Solomon Islands and just ahead of Uzbekistan. Ukraine ranked dead last among the 43 countries of the European region, pulling up the rear behind Belarus (153) and Russia (144).
The low rating continued a pattern of decline and stagnation for Ukraine that began about five years ago.
In 2008, Ukraine ranked 133rd, but the next year -- amid a political standoff between then-President Viktor Yushchenko and then-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko -- the rating collapsed to 152nd. Ukraine's rating continued to languish in subsequent years -- it fell to 162nd in 2010, the first year of Yanukovych's presidency, 164th in 2011, and 163rd in the latest survey. The Index's report on Ukraine cited "fragile" economic foundations as the main problem in the country. "Poor protection of property rights and widespread corruption discourage entrepreneurial activity, severely undermining prospects for long-term economic expansion," the report says. "The rule of law is weak, and the judicial system remains susceptible to substantial political interference." The poor results come despite repeated statements by the Yanukovych administration that economic reforms are a top priority. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Killing the New Oil Pipeline is the Correct Move

January 25th 2012

Energy Topics - Keystone Pipeline

The presumed premise of the new pipeline that would bring more Canadian petroleum oil into America is the following:

- The additional supply will reduce our dependence on foreign oil (oil from those countries and regimes that are or could be our enemies).

- Building the pipeline with create several thousand jobs.

- Advanced construction and maintenance techniques would mitigate the environmental problems that will occur.

On the face of it, it looks like the too often used phrase “It’s a win-win.”

Except that it’s not a “win-win” unless America and our fellow citizens derive significant, concrete benefits from allowing our national attention to be diverted away from alternative fuel and energy solutions, and from allowing “our” land to be used by the oil and gasoline companies. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

Groveling to the Muslim Brotherhood

January 25th 2012

Islamic Topics - Muslim Brotherhood

It is profoundly disconcerting to read media reports of the unseemly competition between the US and Western governments to curry favor with the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of its electoral victory in Egypt. There are chilling parallels to such behavior with the disastrous European policy of appeasing the Nazis which paved the way for World War ll.

What those attempting to embrace the Muslim Brotherhood fail to comprehend is that this organization represents one of the most fanatical and dangerous of the radical Islamist groups in the region, with a dark record of violence and terrorism imbedded in its DNA. It is rabidly anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, committed to imposing sharia law and a global Caliphate - and willing to employ any means to further its objectives. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Gingrich May be Unable to Debate his Way to the Oval Office

January 25th 2012

Politics - Barack and Newt

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has turned his skill at debating into his central argument for the GOP nomination — but it’s not clear he has an airtight case.

Over and over, he’s repeated that he alone can best President Obama in debates and win the presidency in the process. But in making the argument, he’s ignoring both history and, perhaps most importantly, a good look in the mirror.

To hear Gingrich tell it, voters are going to waltz into the voting booth on Nov. 2 and make their decision based on three things — who won the first general-election debate, who won the second, and who took the third. And Gingrich has been relentless in pitching that notion.

After a series of strong debate performances propelled him to a win in South Carolina’s primary, he told CNN that he would win Florida the same way.

“My job in Florida is to convince people that I am the one candidate who can clearly defeat Obama in a series of debates. … One of the reasons people in South Carolina voted for me was a belief that I could debate Obama head to head,” he said.

On that, Gingrich is right. In CBS exit polls of the South Carolina contest, more than 60 percent of voters said the debates had played an important role in their decision. And, in a dramatic reversal, a Rasmussen survey on Monday showed that Republicans now think Gingrich is slightly more likely to beat Obama in a general election than is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. And that could be because of Gingrich’s forensic skill. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Feisty Obama Cranks up the Volume on his Populist Rhetoric

January 25th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama working a crowd

President Obama used his election-year State of the Union address to issue a loud call for economic equality based on “responsibility from everybody,” a theme prefacing his 2012 campaign message. Cranking up the volume on the populist message that the wealthy should pay higher taxes, Obama said the goal of economic equality was a return to American values and “the defining issue of our time.”

In the address—dubbed a “Blueprint for America Built to Last”— a pugnacious Obama used the power of the bully pulpit before a sharply divided joint session of Congress to take the offensive and pledge that while he would work with lawmakers, he also intended to “fight obstruction with action.” Repeating that he would not “back down,” Obama said, “no challenge is more urgent” than to support the middle class.

“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” Obama said. “What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values but American values. We have to reclaim them.” Read more ..

Edge of Anti-Semitism

The Big Lie Returns

January 24th 2012

Jewish Topics - Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion
Spanish ed. of the ancient anti-Semitic canard - The protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion

A blurb on a book jacket would seem an unlikely vehicle for the introduction of a new and sinister tactic in the promotion of an ancient prejudice.  But in September 2011, a word of appreciation on the cover of The Wandering Who launched a fresh chapter in the modern history of anti-Semitism. And when the dust had settled—what little dust there was—on the events surrounding the blurb, it had become horrifyingly clear that the role of defining the meaning of the term anti-Semitism did not belong to the Jews. It may, in fact, belong to anti-Semites.

The flattering quotation came from John Mearsheimer, the University of Chicago professor and co-author, with Harvard’s Stephen Walt, of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Mearsheimer’s 2007 bestseller, which contends that Israel’s American supporters are powerful enough to subvert the U.S. national interest, has been controversial for its adoption of anti-Semitic tropes—tropes Mearsheimer danced around cleverly. But in endorsing The Wandering Who and its Israeli-born author, Gilad Atzmon, Mearsheimer crossed the boundary.

The man whose book Mearsheimer called “fascinating and provocative,” a work that “should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike,” is an anti-Semite, pure and simple. A saxophone player by trade, Atzmon was born and raised in Israel but subsequently moved to London. He proclaims himself either an “ex-Jew” or a “proud self-hating Jew” and was quoted approvingly by Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at the Davos conference in 2009: Denouncing Israel in vociferous terms before a horrified Shimon Peres, Erdogan quoted Atzmon as saying, “Israeli barbarity is far beyond even ordinary cruelty.”  Read more ..

Edge of Health

Death of Talented Canadian Skier Sarah Burke puts US Health care into Sharp Focus

January 24th 2012

Social Topics - skier Sarah Burke RIP
Canadian skier Sarah Burke

The  journey I embarked on when I made the decision to leave a successful career in the health insurance business was a spiritual one. I can trace the decision to a true epiphany, to the very moment I saw hundreds of people standing, soaking wet, in long, slow-moving lines, waiting to get medical care that was being provided in animal stalls at a fairground in Wise County, Virginia.

It hit me immediately that had my circumstances been a little different when I was growing up near there,  I could have been one of those people. It also hit me that the work I was doing as a spokesman for the insurance industry was making it necessary, at least in part, for those people to resort to such humiliation to get basic medical care. One of my responsibilities was to persuade Americans of the lie that most of the uninsured are that way by choice, that they have shirked their responsibility to themselves and their families. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Our so-called health care “system” had simply left them behind. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Why Jews no Longer Call Jericho Home

January 22nd 2012

Israel Topics - excavation of the Tower of Jericho
Discovered ruins of the Tower of Jericho

Nearly 3,300 years after the Israelites, led by Joshua, captured Jericho upon entering the Land of Canaan, there is virtually no evidence that Jews ever lived in the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

According to a revealing article in the Jerusalem Post, Israel essentially wrote off the flourishing West Bank oasis nearly 20 years ago when it ceded control of it to the Palestinian Authority under the Gaza-Jericho Agreement phase of the Oslo Accords.

Since then, Jericho has borne witness to various phases of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Like King David’s birthplace Bethlehem, now also under P.A. control, Jericho stands as one of several examples of important historic sites whose links with the Jewish people are in danger of fading due to a lack of Jewish presence and a strong economic incentive to emphasize Christian sites.

Sadly, the first city to be inhabited by Jews in the Promised Land is today totally devoid of Jewish residents, save for those tending to the remains of a crumbling 1,500-year-old synagogue on the edge of town. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

If Tourists Can Wear Bikinis But Local Women Must Wear Chadors Does That Prove the Muslim Brotherhood is Moderate?

January 20th 2012

Egypt - Muslim woman at beach

The answer to that headline is, “No. But seeming to answer ‘yes’ proves the West is hypocritical about supporting human rights.”

Oh, wait, what if a democratically elected government decides to enforce such a system in a law legally passed by a democratically elected government? I guess that’s just democracy in action.

The Western media is obsessed with whether the new, Islamist-dominated Egyptian government will let tourists wear bikinis. When some Islamist leader says that there will be no dress code for tourists–due to the desire to keep getting tourist dollars–journalists pronounce the Muslim Brotherhood to be pragmatic, as in this Los Angeles Times article. Read more ..

Middle East on Edge

The Arab Spring is Turning into a Fundamentalist Islamic Winter, yet the West Seems Blind to the Forecast

January 20th 2012

Islamic Topics - Behead those who say islam is violent

Nawal al-Saadawi, now 80 years old, is a unique figure in Egypt.  She is a pioneer feminist and a radical Arab nationalist. Al-Saadawi has lived in the United States but hates America and, of course, Israel. You can imagine that she also loathes the Islamists. So how does someone like al-Saadawi react to the Egyptian elections won by the Islamists?

She brands it an American conspiracy. “Democracy is not elections and America uses religion to divide Egypt,” she said in a recent television interview. You are going to be hearing–or not hearing, if you depend on the Western mass media–a lot more of this kind of thing.

How often have I heard Iranian exiles complaining that the United States deliberately didn’t help the shah in order to bring Ayatollah Khomeini to power? The Turkish opposition has been talking this way for years. In Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and probably soon in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, people will be saying: Why do we live under Islamist oppressive dictatorships? Answer: The Americans brought them to power. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Five Rules for Civilized Discourse on the Conflict in the Mideast

January 20th 2012

Israel Topics - Western/Wailing Wall

It is truly astonishing how, it often seems, Western media coverage must blame Israel for everything that “goes wrong” in the Middle East, including murderous hostility to Israel. Sentences often seem carefully formulated to push this claim and exclude any possibility of balance, much less accuracy. And no matter what the subject, it seems, this message must be snuck in. Consider these two paragraphs in a Washington Post story about the Egyptian government’s cancellation of a Jewish pilgrimage to a site in Egypt:

The government’s move underscores the changing relationship between Israel and post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt. The former president maintained relations with Israel, as laid out in the 1979 Camp David peace treaty, in part by curbing civil liberties with his expansive police force. Since his ouster last winter, anti-Israeli sentiment driven by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has risen to the surface, and Israeli-Egyptian tensions have grown. 

Relations soured further in the fall after a mid-August cross-border attack from Egypt led to the killing of at least five Egyptian border guards as Israeli troops pursued alleged militants. Many activists called for revisions of the peace treaty and protests outside the Israeli Embassy turned violent when some demonstrators stormed the building.

Let’s list the subtle points made in these few sentences:

The Carnival Disaster

Assessing the Sinking Public Relations Crisis for Carnival Cruises

January 19th 2012

Transportation Topics - Costa Concordia disaster

When disaster strikes companies are thrust into the spotlight and face both remarkable challenges and opportunities. To quickly weather the media storm and to have the best possible chance for success at mitigating long-term negative effects, they must ensure that the hours and days immediately following the crisis are spent communicating clearly, effectively and often.  Carnival Cruise Lines found out the hard way that in this 24/7 news cycle and when dealing with a crisis of this size, companies simply cannot afford to take the less is more approach.  When a cruise ship from its Costa subsidiary sunk off the coast of Italy last week, resulting in loss of life and dramatic pictures of the hulking ship turned on its side in the sea, Carnival was painfully slow and ineffective in its response.

A statement from its CEO expressing sadness at the loss of life came four days after the incident, a span of time which must have seemed like an eternity to those impacted by the disaster and their families.  The statement didn’t include an apology from the company, nor did it pledge any forthcoming actions.  Five tweets were delivered on Twitter by the CEO, who clearly has more critical things to do at this juncture than spend his time microblogging, but could have had someone from his staff help him use his account to provide ongoing updates.  A total of three press releases were posted to the company’s website between Friday 13 and Friday 19.  Information about what the company did to assist the passengers has been hard to come by, and the company’s top executive has apparently managed the crisis from afar rather than flying immediately to Italy to oversee the crisis on the ground. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Mama, They're Taking My Kodachrome Away

January 18th 2012

Corporate Logos - Kodakchrome

"When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school It's a wonder I can think at all, and though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall."

These words, iconic and now ironic, were made famous by the great duo Simon and Garfunkel at a time when the orange-boxed Kodachrome was as common as the iPod is today.  The Eastman Kodak Company, however, failed to read the writing on the wall.  The iPod, for its part, made Sony’s reigning portable music box (the “Walkman”) obsolete, but unlike Sony, which maintained its edge with other devices, Kodak failed to adapt.

The company — whose name was until only a short time ago as synonymous of the camera industry as Band Aid still is to the adhesive bandage business— was so comfortable being on top, its corporate culture could not see beyond it own greatness to plan for leaner times.   Read more ..

Islam on Edge

The Effort to Save Muslim Moderates Should Include Husain Haqqani

January 17th 2012

PakistanTopics - Husain Haqqani and General Tariq Majid
Husain Haqqani and General Tariq Majid

Husain Haqqani may soon be put on trial for his life in his native Pakistan. That country's ambassador to the United States until last November, he now faces allegations of treason in the so-called "Memogate" affair, accused of instigating an unsigned memo to the U.S. government warning of a military-coup plot against Pakistan's government — an allegation he denies. Haqqani's defense lawyer, the valiant human-rights advocate Asma Jahangir, has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court challenging due-process irregularities in a preliminary investigation against him, and, fearing assassination from vigilantes, the ambassador has sought safety in the prime minister's home, where he is a virtual prisoner.

There is every reason to believe that the real reason Haqqani is being targeted is that he is a prominent moderate Muslim, one of the few remaining in Pakistan's government. Farahnaz Ispahani, Haqqani's wife and a member of Pakistan's parliament, wrote in the Washington Post on January 10 that her husband's case is part of a pattern: "The systematic elimination or marginalization of every intellectual and leader in Pakistan who has stood up to the institutionalization of a militarized Islamist state." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

How Race Plays Out in the 2012 Campaign

January 16th 2012

Politics - MLK
Martin Luther King Jnr

It is Martin Luther King Day and a good time to look at how racial politics is being played this year when the first black president in U.S. history is seeking reelection. The big news about racial politics in 2012 is that generational politics are now a critical factor in any analysis of America’s longstanding racial divide. Young people, disproportionately minorities and immigrants, are growing in numbers. These people of color, younger than 18, are already a quarter of the population. And when you add in people under age 32, younger people make up half of the nation. They are big fans of Democrats and President Obama.

Meanwhile, those 65 and older constitute only about 15 percent of the population. But they are overwhelmingly white and much more politically active. They don’t like Obama. They are a boon to the GOP. Those white seniors don’t like being branded as racists for their dislike of the first black president, but as Time Magazine recently reported, the seniors’ disapproval of the black president is “dramatically higher” than among younger white people. A Pew poll showed voters younger than 30 favored Obama over the probable GOP nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 61 percent to 37 percent. Seniors favored Romney over Obama, 54 percent to 41 percent.

That Grand Canyon-wide gap between more racially diverse younger Americans and solidly white older Americans is also evident in every analysis of public reaction to Obama’s signature legislation—healthcare reform. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found a stunning 50 percent of seniors opposed to the plan. On the other side of the racial and political divide, there is little chance that black voters will support a 92 percent white Republican Party trying to oust the first black president. The GOP’s only hope among the ever-increasing number of young and minority voters is to win over the fastest growing racial group in the United States—Hispanics. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Libya

Libyan Islamists Gaining Strength

January 16th 2012

Libya Topics - Abdul Hakim Belhadj
Abdul Hakim Belhaj

Although Libya has rid itself of the Moammar Gadhafi regime, it faces an uncertain future endangered by radical Islamist factions, warring militia commanders, tribal rivalries, a lack of democratic traditions, and a civil society ravaged by decades of authoritarian rule. Last week, two militias clashed violently in a turf war in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

Catherine Herridge, the chief intelligence correspondent for Fox News, noted the rise of Libyan Islamists in an article earlier last week. She cited a recent report by Kronos, LLC, that assessed the prominent role in the Libyan rebellion played by Islamist militants affiliated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a revolutionary Islamist group that merged with al-Qaida in 2007. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Mitt Romney’s Dream World

January 16th 2012

Politics - Ask Mitt

Poor Mitt Romney has taken a lot of heat since he said during a discussion about health care shortly before the New Hampshire primary that, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”

Most of the criticism has been in connection with his tenure as CEO of Bain Capital, the firm that invests in ailing businesses and, while he was there, oversaw the firing of thousands of people who worked for those businesses as part of Bain’s efforts to return them to profitability.

While Romney’s opponents had a field day with that comment, what bothered me most was the former Massachusetts governor‘s naïve suggestion that anyone but him and his rich friends could actually do what he was suggesting—fire a health insurer on a whim and hire another one that might provide better service. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Big Bucks Flood 2012 Election: What the Courts Said and Why We Should Care

January 14th 2012

Supreme Court - contemplation of justice/scotus building

In 2010, the courts reversed decades of legal precedent when they said it was OK for corporations and unions to spend as much as they want to put their favorite candidates in office. Laws aimed at limiting the corrupting influence of corporate money in elections go back more than a century while restrictions on union spending go back more than 60 years.

So what happened? The short answer is, the First Amendment happened—or at least a new interpretation of it did.

In a nutshell, corporations and unions now have the same First Amendment right as people do to spend as much money as they want on advertising and other political spending to get candidates elected—as long as they aren’t in cahoots with them.

Some history

The government has been consistent, though not always effective, in attempting to insulate elections from the corrupting influence of corporations and labor unions. Congress first banned corporations from funding federal campaigns in 1907 with the Tillman Act. President Theodore Roosevelt, the great reformer of the Gilded Age, said at the time that such a prohibition would be “an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts.” Read more ..

Islam on Edge

American Laws, not Shariah Law for American Jurisdictions

January 12th 2012

Islamic Topics - Islamic Center
Tulsa OK masjid

On Monday, September 12, 2011, the 10th Circuit Court held a hearing on the constitutionality challenge to the Oklahoma state constitutional amendment, passed overwhelmingly in November of 2010, to prevent courts in Oklahoma from using international law or shariah law in their decisions.  Dubbed the "Save Our State" amendment and referred to officially as State Question 755 (SQ 755), the initiative stated:

The Courts provided for in subsection A of this section, when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the United States Code, federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, established common law, the Oklahoma statutes and rules promulgated pursuant thereto, and if necessary the law of another state of the United States provided the law of the other state does not include Sharia law, in making judicial decisions. The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.

This well-meaning amendment seemed reasonable at first glance and was hailed in conservative circles as a step in the right direction to preserve American sovereignty and prevent the incorporation of shariah law into American courts and institutions.  The bill's supporters wanted, rightly, to prevent the European mistake of allowing parallel shariah court systems, which have denied legal rights to Muslim citizens and prevented full integration into Western society.  And 70% of the Oklahoma electorate supported the bill's principles of preventing "foreign laws in general, and Islamic Sharia law in particular, from overriding state or U.S. laws."  Read more ..

Edge on Foreign Policy

Obama's Defining Down the Enemy is a Strategy worth Examining Closely

January 11th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama in Thought

In December, Vice President Joe Biden offered the latest - and arguably the clearest - evidence of Team Obama's strategy for victory in what was once euphemistically known as the "War on Terror":  Define down the enemy.  In an interview with former State Department official Leslie Gelb published in Newsweek, Biden declared: "The Taliban per se is not our enemy. That's critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests."

In other words, the Obama administration appears to have embraced the Taliban line that it will stop killing and maiming our people as soon as there are no more of them in Afghanistan.  As one of its operatives told reporters for The Daily Beast:  "We are not a worldwide movement. Our focus is totally on Afghan territory. Ninety-nine percent of Taliban couldn't even find the U.S. on a map." There is a question that must be answered before we go any farther in the direction Obama-Biden and Company clearly have in mind - namely, negotiating what amounts to the surrender of Afghanistan to so-called "moderate" members of the Taliban:  The issue is not whether the Taliban is a worldwide movement, but is it part of one?  Read more ..

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