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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:
Read more ..


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 ..


The 2012 Vote

Three Republican Parties

January 7th 2012

Politics - R Candidates 2012

The results from Iowa show one thing very clearly: There are now three distinct Republican parties.

The mainstream GOP captured about a quarter of the vote in the caucus polls. The social conservatives got about half. The libertarians got about a fifth.

Iowa is a bit skewed toward social conservatives. New Hampshire will show that the mainstream Republicans make up about a third of the party, and the social conservatives about a third, while libertarians make up the remaining third.

Mainstream Republicans are business-minded. They are the establishment folks. They are both small-business owners and corporate employees. They are the Chamber of Commerce Republicans. They want the government to help business. Some mainstream Republicans are neo-conservative and care about defense issues, but mostly they view the world through the prism of business. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Sneaky Phone Marketers Outfox 'Caller ID'

January 6th 2012

Technology - Phone

One telephone feature that seemed revolutionary when it was introduced in the 1970s - but now is quite standard - is “Caller ID.” It’s a message that appears on your phone as it’s ringing, showing you the telephone number of the person or organization calling. Some systems display the names of callers, as well as the number.

When the phone rings and Caller ID flashes an unfamiliar number, you can decide to ignore it, assuming it’s a sales pitch you really don’t want to hear.  Or one of those annoying robotic messages.  If the call turns out to be from someone you might very well have wanted to talk to, but you don’t recognize the number, you hope the person will leave a message so you can call back. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Guidance for President Obama in Resetting the US-Russia Relationship

January 6th 2012

Russian Topics - putin

President Barack Obama’s Russia “reset” policy has encouraged European Union politicians who have long advocated a “softly, softly” approach toward Russia to push for a “fast-forward” in Brussels’ relationship with Moscow. Clearly alluding to President Obama’s Russia-policy pronouncement at the EU–Russia summit in June 2010, President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy stated: “With Russia we do not need a ‘reset.’ We want a ‘fast forward.’”

If the EU follows the U.S.’s “reset” example, it will find itself undercutting several of its members’ foreign policies, and will invariably trade away some of their interests. Further, the EU will have to neglect the democratic aspirations of many former Soviet Republics in Europe’s eastern neighborhood and quell even further its criticism of Russia’s appalling human rights record, issues that the Kremlin considers to be red lines.

Such developments are not in Europe’s or in America’s interest. Just as America’s reset has shaped European thinking on relations with Moscow, an overly cozy EU–Russian relationship will affect U.S. interests, including promotion of economic freedom, support of democracy, prevention of redrawing borders by force, creation of free energy markets around the world, and preservation of long-standing alliances. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Splitsville—Online

January 5th 2012

Social Topics - gavel and rings

Matchmaking and marriage services on the Internet have brought millions of Americans together. But the Net has also become a helpful tool when people want marriages to end.

Splitting from a spouse is rarely easy emotionally, but in many divorces, the Internet has made the process quicker, more efficient, and cheaper.

Lindsey Short, Jr., a past president of the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is a partner in the largest family-law firm in Houston, Texas. He says that thanks to the Internet, the firm, which handles many high-profile divorce cases, has all but done away with its library of law books. And you’ve seen enough photos or courtroom dramas showing law libraries to know how many expensive, leather-bound volumes that must have entailed.

Simply put, Short says, “We do our research online. We hire experts through Internet resources—investigation analysts. We use the Internet dramatically, daily.” Read more ..


Election 2012

Romney Only Manages to Squeak By Challenger Santorum in Historic Iowa Primary

January 4th 2012

Politics - mitt romney
former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney edged out former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum by an eight-vote margin in the closest primary election in modern history. The primary battle on January 3 was the closest in Republican history since a 1936 South Dakota primary, which was won by 257 votes,

Romney received 30,015 votes to Santorum's 30,007 votes, according to the Iowa GOP. Romney matched his percentage from 2008, when he came in second with 25 percent of the vote. But Romney was actually down by six votes compared to last cycle. The near tie between the moderate Romney and the conservative Santorum may redound to the benefit of the Pennsylvanian, making him now a serious contender in the hustings. Any triumphalism on the part of Romney and his campaign was effectively muted by the narrow margin. Indeed, Romney was magnanimous towards both Santorum and challenger Ron Paul – the libertarian Republican from Texas – in his late night victory speech which fell short of declaring victory.

Romney and Santorum had been head-to-head as of the release of poll results on January 3, as first place went back and forth between the rivals. In the pre-dawn hours on January 4, Romney led Santorum by just one vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting. The last tallies of ballots were not released until about 2:30 am local time on January 4. Read more ..


Palestine and Israel

A Stateless Palestinian People is a Falsehood

January 3rd 2012

Palestine Topics - PLO Flags

Historically, before the Arabs fabricated the Palestinian people as an exclusively Arab phenomenon, no such group existed. Countless official British Mandate-vintage documents speak of 'the Jews' and 'the Arabs' of Palestine - not 'Jews and Palestinians.'

Ironically, before local Jews began calling themselves Israelis in 1948 (the name 'Israel' was chosen for the newly-established Jewish state), the term 'Palestine' applied almost exclusively to Jews and the institutions founded by new Jewish immigrants in the first half of the 20th century, before Israel's independence. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iran Moves on Iraq as the World Focuses on Tepid Arab Spring

January 2nd 2012

Iran - Ahmadinejad triumphant
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

In July, 2011, as the world focused on the bright hopes raised by the Arab Spring, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps launched a large-scale assault across the Iran-Iraq border. Their intention was to wipe out an armed challenge to the Islamist regime in Teheran. The target was PJAK (Party for a Free Life In Kurdistan), an Iranian Kurdish organization engaged in both political and military struggle against the regime. PJAK, closely aligned with the PKK, maintains bases in the southern Qandil mountain area, from where its fighters launched raids across the border into Iran. The intention of the Revolutionary Guards forces was to destroy this infrastructure. The operation would continue, an Iranian official told state television, ‘until all PJAK members were killed.’

The subsequent fighting was fierce, with heavy losses on both sides. For two months, the IRGC shelled the Qandil area. Hundreds of families were forced to leave their homes in the Choman and Qalat Diza districts, close to the border. This conflict was almost entirely ignored by the international media, which was chasing the phantom of democracy across the Arab Middle East at the time. The battle ended inconclusively. A ceasefire was restored on September 12th. Iranian official propaganda claimed to have captured three PJAK camps and to have destroyed PJAK’s military capability. The organization dismissed this, asserting that its fighters had defeated an Iranian attempt to seize the Qandil area. Read more ..


The Race for CNG

The ABCs of CNG: Converters vs Bureaucrats

December 28th 2011

Energy / Environment - CNG fueled vehicle

During the summer of 2008, it seemed to me that the simplicity of the solution seemed like something anyone could understand. As the price of gasoline climbed towards $4.00 and the pain at the pump increased, the solution of a low cost fuel seemed to be more and more desirable. The first time I saw a CNG pump and CNG vehicle was about 6 years ago, at a gas station/mini mart in Orem, Utah. This particular station is now out of business due to highway reconstruction but I remember sitting there fascinated as I watched a Questar Gas truck filling up using a high pressure hose which looked like something out of a science fiction movie. I went over and looked at the pump. It seemed like a rocket refueling station. I noticed the price of $0.64 and thought, “Those lucky Questar guys.” Why was it they got cheap fuel and I didn’t?

Before then, I hadn’t even considered a CNG vehicle; the price of gasoline was still under $2.00 and information about CNG conversions was non-existent. It wasn’t until June of 2008 when regular peaked at $4.12 that people started to look for another alternative. George Bush was still president and the economy seemed to be chugging along, but the high gasoline prices seemed like a hot poker up the tailpipe of anyone driving a gasoline vehicle. There seemed to be very few alternatives. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

The Mideast Consequences of Getting Back to Defense Secretary Panetta's 'Damn Table'

December 26th 2011

Politics - Leon Panetta

Criticism of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's demand that Israel "return to the damn table," and Tom Friedman's lament that Prime Minister Netanyahu's ovation before Congress "was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby" has been broad and deep. Writers from right to center (forget the left, who applauded both) denounced them, parsed them and tried to put them "in context." It is the context that is worrisome rather than their less-than-lovely language. The context is that if Israel and the Palestinians would both negotiate seriously, they would get to the "Two State Solution" beloved of the US and the Quartet.

Grant Panetta and Friedman the "damn table" and see what happens:

IF Israel sat at the table; IF Netanyahu agreed to a permanent settlement freeze; IF the Palestinians returned to the table; IF the Palestinians came under the "moderate" mandate of Fatah rather than "extremist" mandate of Hamas; IF they started with the 1949 Armistice Lines (the so-called 67 borders); IF they talked themselves blue in the face, they STILL would not get where Panetta, Friedman, et. al. want them to go.

Israelis and Palestinians have incompatible bottom lines that cannot be satisfied with a split and hostile rump State of Palestine (and a split, rump state would be hostile) wedged between the Mediterranean Sea, a nervous Israel and a more-nervous Jordan.

No "peace process" can negotiate away the actual interests of the parties. Read more ..


Latin America on Edge

Implications of the Latin American Caribbean Summit

December 25th 2011

Venezuela Topics - Caracas at night
Caracas, Venezuela

In early December, the Latin American and Caribbean Community of States (CELAC) held its first summit in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela.

CELAC, created in 2010, excluded both the United States and Canada. It was created with the purpose of deepening regional integration within the Americas in order to form a regional bloc. However, with the rise of the left in Latin America, extreme and moderate, there is an additional element in the creation of CELAC: the reduction of U.S influence in the region as well as providing an alternative to the power of the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS has largely been seen as an American-dominated entity that was created as a result of the cold war.

Some observers and analysts have dismissed the summit as empty rhetoric and the organization as being weak and basically unable to compete with the OAS. Others have stated that the conference was a major victory for Hugo Chavez and a major defeat for the United States. This perception is mainly due to the fact that the conference was not only attended by members of the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) but by the overwhelming majority of Latin American and Caribbean heads of state. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

A Visit with a Fundamentalist Member of Egypt's New Parliament

December 25th 2011

Egypt - Voting Woman

In Giza's lower-income neighborhood of Talbiya, situated just across the Nile from Cairo, women carry piles of pita on their heads through narrow, dirt-paved roads, squeezing past donkey-pulled carts. Amid the fuel fumes, and fly-swarmed food stands, there's also a health clinic. It's run by Hesham Abouel Nasr, a henna-bearded television preacher who also happens to be the local secretary-general for the Salafist - that is to say, Islamic fundamentalist -- Nour Party. As one of his female patients passes by, she lets me know why she has made him her doctor: "He doesn't take money from us."

It's a telling statement. While Islamists are winning elections all over Egypt, Talbiya is the kind of neighborhood where they are especially popular. But it's not just because the residents here are religious. It's also because they're in need of the social services that the Islamist groups here have long provided. Read more ..


North Korea after Kim Jong-Il

Kim Jong-Un to Share Power

December 24th 2011

Korea Topics - Kim Jong-Un

In the aftermath of the death of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il, there was deep concern that the dictator’s chosen successor, his third son Kim Jong-un, would have a rocky time trying to consolidate his position. Now it appears that his path to power has been smoothed by an apparent agreement with the military to share the responsibility of governing the state until the younger Kim can consolidate his position with the military and the party.

Reuters is reporting that there will be “collective rule” in North Korea with Kim Jong-un at the head of a “ruling coterie” that will include the military with the younger Kim’s uncle and Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, acting as regent.

North Korean news reports indicate that the military has pledged allegiance to young Kim, which will strengthen his hand as he deals with other factions also interested in ruling the Stalinist state. Those factions include two brothers passed over for leadership, the powerful sister of Kim Jong-il and wife of Jang, Kim Kyong-hui, and an up-and-coming general, chief of the joint chiefs of staff Ri Yong-ho. Read more ..


Economic Jihad

U of Penn Rejects Boycott of Israel, Distances School From Upcoming Boycott Conference

December 24th 2011

Jewish Topics - Anti-Israel Protest at UC Irvine

Last week, the University of Pennsylvania officially announced that the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) national conference, scheduled to be held on their campus in February, 2012, does not have the university’s imprimatur. Penn also stated unequivocally that it “does not support boycotts or sanctions against Israel.” (See the university’s official statement below.)

Student leaders at Penn are resolutely standing up against BDS on their campus. StandWithUs, a principal opponent of the BDS, has partnered with Hillel, Scholars for Peace in the Mideast, CAMERA and other groups to support the pro-Israel community at Penn. Penn’s action makes it one of the few universities to take a firm stand against what are increasingly being called bigoted events on campus. The university's position upholds the right to free speech while also making it clear that the university disapproves of the content of the speech.

“The Penn administration took the opportunity to lead by example," said Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, "just as Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger did when he wrote an open letter in 2007, excoriating calls for an academic boycott of Israel. Over 300 university presidents signed the letter. We urge other schools to follow Penn’s example when they face similar predicaments about how to uphold free speech while condemning hate speech."

The line-up of scheduled speakers at the forthcoming conference indicated that the BDS event would be filled with age-old bigotry and prejudice to incite hatred against Israel and foment bitter divisions on campus. Research by StandWithUs and other concerned organizations revealed that most of the scheduled speakers are extreme in their views in terms of opposing the existence of the Jewish state. Some are even more extreme and could be considered bigoted. Read more ..


The Arab Fall

Prepare for a Darker Middle East--a Paradise for Muslim Men, Hell for Women and Jews

December 23rd 2011

Islamic Topics - Islamic Extremism
Islamic Men rallying for Shariah Law

Prepare for darker Mideast

In Tunisia, the country that had the highest percentage of mini-skirts in the Arab world, Islamism got 40 percent of the vote. In Morocco, which was once considered a pillar of Arab secularism, the Islamists won 30 percent. Meanwhile, some 70 percent of Egypt’s new Parliament is in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, who praised Osama bin Laden last April.

In Libya, Islamic law supporters and former al-Qaeda bosses took power after Gaddafi’s fall. The Syrian National Council, the opposition group to Assad’s rule, has 19 members: 15 Islamists, 2 Christians and 2 Druze.

It’s possible that in the coming years the Arab masses will revolt against their new Islamic rulers. Today it’s the turn of Sayid Qutb’s children. The Islamic revolutionaries are offering to the Middle Eastern people a proud and totalitarian way of life. They are much stronger than their secularist fellows. Read more ..


Bolivia on Edge

The TIPNIS Affair: Indigenous Conflicts and the Limits on “Pink Tide” States Under Capitalist Realities

December 21st 2011

Bolivia - Bolivia Tipnis

On December 4, 2011, the Bolivian government signed an agreement with indigenous leaders that clarified an October 24 law banning the construction of a hotly debated highway that would have run through the heart of Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (Parque Nacional y Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Secure, TIPNIS), an isolated area where traditional Amazonian native groups can be found. Earlier this year, Amazonian indigenous activists had staged a 65-day march of over 300 miles to protest the proposed highway. As the protesters arrived in La Paz, and after his public opinion ratings had fallen from 44 to 37 percent within the first month of the march, Morales announced the signing of the October 24 “untouchability” law, which was hailed as a victory for the Amazonians. Far from ending the controversy, the law had called into question whether the land and natural resources remain “untouchable” for both the Andean indigenous peoples who migrate there to farm and for the Amazonians native to the preserved natural expanse. In the December 4 meeting, the parties agreed that the portion of the law making the national park “untouchable” (intangible) would only apply to commercial enterprises, and not to those small-scale economic activities that support the traditional subsistence lifestyles that the indigenous groups living in the park depend on for their survival. Read more ..


North Korea after Kim Jong-Il

Vicious Kim Regime Lives

December 20th 2011

Korea Topics - Kim Jong-Un

There are three things to keep in mind about Kim Jong Il’s death.

First, he was a vicious and cruel man. He enriched himself and his cronies as the North Korean people suffered through famine, forced labor, and other cruelties. Kim ran a mafia-state that profited off of a variety of criminal enterprises. He took advantage of his democratic adversaries’ unwillingness to take him on, and made money by selling illegal narcotics, weapons, and counterfeit goods and dollars on the international black market. He made the world a more dangerous place through his ruthless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic weapons. He killed South Koreans in cold blood and kidnapped Japanese citizens. Meanwhile, we and our friends bailed him out time and again. Every time the regime was on the brink of collapse, we offered Kim new packages of money and aid, with which he lined his pockets and paid for his nuclear ambitions. The worst offender in this regard was China, but for more than 17 years we played our part in enabling his continued rule. Read more ..


Two Giants Passing

Václav Havel vs Kim Jong-Il

December 20th 2011

Europe Topics - Europe and Korean Peninsula
Europe contrasted with the Korean Peninsula, inset (credit: NASA)

In an odd cosmic juxtaposition, Václav Havel and Kim Jong Il died at nearly the same time. They bounded the opposite ends of 20th-century moral and political thought: a soaring belief in the power of morality and intellect on one end vs. the degradation of the human spirit that comes with the degradation of economic and social norms on the other. The possibility of social, economic and political progress for all people vs. the reality of the slow, grinding poverty and starvation of one's own people accompanied by the threat of nuclear annihilation for others. An international conscience and an international pariah.

The life of one reproached the life of the other.

On his first day in office, Havel called communism “a monstrous, ramshackle, stinking machine” whose worst legacy was a “spoiled moral environment.” He said, “We have become morally ill because we are used to saying one thing and thinking another. … We have learned not to believe in anything, not to care about each other … Love, friendship, mercy, humility, or forgiveness have lost their depths and dimension … They represent some sort of psychological curiosity, or they appear as long-lost wanderers from faraway times.” Read more ..


Inside Washington

Journalism 101: How to Confirm a Story

December 19th 2011

Politics - Lanny Davis
Lanny Davis

What happens when you are wrongly accused in a posting on the Internet and you call to correct the false or misleading assertion?

This happened to me on December 8 – not the first time – on a post on a website associated with the liberal Democratic organization, the Center for American Progress (CAP) – an organization I strongly support and whose leader, John Podesta, is a close friend of mine for over 40 years.

The CAP-affiliated website, “Think Progress,” and the author of the piece, Eli Clifton, wrongly accused me of supporting the “coup” in Honduras in 2008 and of defending the military strongman, Laurent Gbagbo, who had been defeated in an election in the Ivory Coast. He did so in the context of criticizing my business partner, Josh Block, for accusing CAP-bloggers of using language that was “borderline anti-Semitic.” And Clifton never called me first to check his facts before attacking me.

I talked to Clifton and sent him documentation – my congressional testimony before a congressional committee criticizing the illegal forced ouster of the Honduran president; and the public statement by the State Department official spokesman, P.J. Crowley, that I had been helpful working with State to try to facilitate a call between President Obama and Gbagbo to persuade him to leave Ivory Coast peacefully and avoid bloodshed. But instead of publishing a correction and an apology, as I asked, Clifton only quoted me in defense of myself in the next day’s post. Read more ..


Broken Government

Feds Who Commit Fraud on the Job Should at Least be Fired

December 19th 2011

Economy - ss card and cash

“Public service is a public trust.”

This, according to Standards of Ethical Conduct for Federal Employees, is the basic obligation of public service. According to these standards, “Each employee has a responsibility to ethical principles … above private gain.”

If this is truly the basic obligation of public service then it begs the question: What should happen to federal employees who violate that public trust when they engage in deception or fraudulent practices in order to receive government benefits to which they are not entitled?

The Social Security Administration is one agency we put under the microscope regarding this basic obligation. In response to our FOIA request, we received documents that show that between 2006 and 2010 25 SSA employees were believed to have received federal benefits—including Social Security benefits—to which they were not entitled. In one case, an employee received nearly $65,000. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Obama Tells Reform Jews He Is the Greatest Thing Ever to Happen to Israel Ever in the History of Ever

December 18th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama AIPAC 2008
President Obama at a 2008 AIPAC convention

In a speech Friday night interrupted by applause 62 times -- a speech, according to press reports, that felt like a campaign rally -- the U.S. president told particpants at the Union for Reform Judaism's biennial conference that his administration had done more to contribute to Israel's security than any other in history.

Specifically, Obama said his administration had spent more on keeping Israel safe than any other, including help with building Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.

So America’s commitment -- America’s commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is unshakeable. It is unshakeable. (Applause.)

... it is hard to remember a time when the United States has given stronger support to Israel on its security. In fact, I am proud to say that no U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel’s security than ours. None. Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise. It is a fact. (Applause.)

I’m proud that even in these difficult times we’ve fought for and secured the most funding for Israel in history. I’m proud that we helped Israel develop a missile defense system that’s already protecting civilians from rocket attacks. (Applause.) 

Read more ..

Turkey and America

A Perverse Process

December 18th 2011

Politics - Hillary

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday ended the "Istanbul Process," a three-day, closed-door international conference hosted by the State Department on measures to combat religious "intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization."

The conference was intended to "implement" last March's UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, on the same subject. Notwithstanding Clinton's final speech defending freedoms of religion and speech, the gathering was folly.  Resolution 16/18 was adopted in the place of one that endorsed the dangerous idea that "defamation of religion" should be punished criminally worldwide.

That call for a universal blasphemy law had been pushed relentlessly for 12 years by the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an essentially religious body chartered to "combat defamation of Islam." It issues fatwas and other directives to punish public expression of apostasy from Islam and "Islamophobia." Leading OIC states behind this campaign - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Pakistan - imprison and/or sentence to death "blasphemers."

Resolution 16/18 deplores religious intolerance but doesn't limit speech - the result of a deft State Department maneuver. The administration should have let matters rest there. Instead, while co-chairing an OIC "High Level Meeting" addressing Islamophobia last July in Istanbul, Clinton invited the OIC to Washington to discuss how to "implement" resolution 16/18. Read more ..


The War in Afghanistan

Shifting Gears with Pakistan on Afghanistan

December 17th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistan anti us protest

The Obama Administration has been banking on Pakistani cooperation with its strategy to start a political reconciliation process inside Afghanistan as it withdraws U.S troops from the battlefield and shifts responsibility for security operations to the Afghan forces. Pakistani leaders have demonstrated little interest in assisting the U.S. with such efforts, however, and it is time for U.S. policymakers to consider alternative policy options.

U.S. Strategy Thus Far

The U.S. has focused most of its diplomatic efforts with Pakistan in recent years on trying to find common ground on Afghanistan and encouraging better ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan on one hand and India and Pakistan on the other. Read more ..


Broken Government

An 11th-Hour Spending Deal That Comes Up Short

December 17th 2011

Money - $1B US Currency

With Christmas just a week away and the new year nearly upon us, Congress came within a whisper of yet another potential government shutdown and once again demonstrated its inability to make substantive spending cuts and deliver the American people the reforms necessary to secure America’s fiscal future. Rather than produce a timely budget by way of standard operating procedure, congressional leaders again butted up against the deadline and reached a deal on a trillion-dollar “mega-omnibus” nine-bill appropriations package that sadly is yet another disappointing failure to rein in government spending. Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Simon Wiesenthal Center Weighs in on Anti-Semitic Blogger Controversy

December 15th 2011

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

The Simon Wiesethal Center  responded to attacks made upon it by liberal bloggers, referring to these as "dangerous political libels" that resemble "historic and toxic anti-Jewish prejudices." The blog entries were noted in a report published last week by Politico that highlighted how Center for American Progress and Media Matters seem to increasingly distance themselves from the traditionally centrist views of the Democratic Party as to Israel.

An article in Politico piece made mention of controversial statements made on Twitter and elsewhere by bloggers at CAP and  Media Matters. Bloggers called supporters of Israel "Israel Firsters," among other epithets. while also accusing them of "dual loyalty." Here below is the Wiesenthal Center response in its entirety:

The Middle East is a dangerous place — and not merely for people who live there. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult in this country to take a position sympathetic to the Jewish state and in favor of the continuation of America’s historic strong alliance with Israel without being called “an Israel Firster” and charged with “dual loyalties.” Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Administration Excoriates Israel ... Again

December 12th 2011

Presidential - Obama Campaign 2012

Enduring spiteful swipes against America’s most loyal ally in the Middle East. “Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent,” says the deceived Claudio in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. However cynical it sounds, there are times when a maxim like this one rightly guides the affairs of diplomacy, just as it does the affairs of the heart. And if it encapsulates Israel’s current attitude to the prospect of peace negotiations, what fair-minded person—after two decades of frustrated exchanges, spurned offers and frequent, blood-curdling denunciations of Zionism across the Arab and Muslim worlds—could find this unreasonable?

The Obama Administration, apparently, does. Within the last fortnight, two top-level officials and one ambassador have, on three separate occasions, taken Israel to task for an extraordinary range of alleged misdeeds, including its hardline intransigence, its poor record on civil rights, and the way its policies have enabled the spread of anti-Semitism among Europe’s Muslim populations. Read more ..


Edge on Economic Crisis

Wall Street may soon Take a Page from the Occupiers' Playbook

December 12th 2011

Politics - Guy Fawkes

The Occupy Wall Street crowd could see the tables turned soon. Not only are law enforcement officers folding up their tents in parks and plazas around the world, but Wall Street could start an occupation of its own.

In September, a prominent business journalist asked me whether it was politically feasible for Congress to take a big step toward the resolution of our federal fiscal imbalance, given the looming 2012 election. I said that, sooner or later, the market would force politicians to take action. It hasn’t happened in the U.S. — yet. But we can foresee our future in Europe, where financial markets have already forced rapid change through Europe’s reluctant and tangled political apparatus, most dramatically pushing Prime Ministers Silvio Berlusconi and George Papandreou out of office. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Al-Assad in Complete Denial

December 11th 2011

Syrian Issues - Basher Assad

President Bashar al-Assad's interview with ABC's Barbara Walters portrays a Syrian leader in complete denial of the situation in his country. For months, the Assad regime has argued that it was the only thing that stood between Syria, the region and chaos.
But with the gap between the regime's perception of reality and that of the Syrian people and opposition (backed up by literally thousands of online videos and journalist reports), Assad's negotiated exit seems unlikely. The longer Assad holds on, the bloodier and more sectarian the conflict will become. The question for policymakers in Washington, Brussels, Ankara and the Arab World is how to develop a concerted plan to oust Assad in the fastest way possible.

In many ways, Assad's portrayal of the conflict is nothing new. For months, the Assad regime has used a "basis of reality" argument that worked, at least at first, in most Western capitals and beyond. When Walters challenged Assad on the video clips, Assad quickly questioned if she had "verified" their content. Confirming information, like the use of shelling or cannon fire, is hard in Syria for journalists and embassies alike. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

The Return of Germanophobia?

December 10th 2011

Europe Topics - Merkel and Sarkozy

With Germany firmly at the helm of the Eurozone, the depths of its European neighbours mistrust are being revealed. Over half a century has passed since the horrors of the Second World War, not long enough, it would seem, to repair Germany’s tarnished reputation.

The Franco-German fiscal agreement, headed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, aims to enforce more stringent supervision of EU nations’ budgets, imposing sanctions upon those who fail to adhere to the collective plan. The move was opposed by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and whilst members of the Conservative Party revelled in the possibility of a return to “Splendid isolation,” a reference to 19th Century foreign policy, Britain’s influence in Europe will no doubt be diminished by its decision to stand alone during this current financial crisis. Speaking after all-night crisis talks, David Cameron told reporters “We wish them well. My judgment was that what was on offer just wasn’t good enough for Britain. It’s better to allow those countries to do their own thing on their own.” Read more ..



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