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The Battle for Syria

The Obama Administration's Right Course of Action in Syria: To Do Nothing?

February 20th 2012

Syrian Protesters
Syrian Protesters

There is a strong case that can be made for doing nothing about the Syrian civil war, but a stronger case can be made for doing something relatively low-cost and ineffective, indeed, precisely what the Syrian opposition is requesting. A major military intervention would be dangerous and costly. It would also go beyond the level of available resources. A U.S. effort at regime change would be less than ideal, especially since the Turkish regime wants an Islamist government in Damascus that would most likely prove to be worse than what exists now. The fewer the steps taken by the Obama Administration to intervene, the more likely a better outcome will transpire.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration doesn’t seem able to tell the difference between moderates and anti-American Islamists in Syria. Read more ..

Honduras on Edge

Catastrophic Fire in Honduras is Symptomatic of Larger Issues

February 17th 2012

Honduras fire victims family

When a horrific fire broke out in a Honduran prison on the night of February 14, the 350-plus inmates trapped in the blaze received what was tantamount to their de facto death sentences, well beyond what their original sentences might have been. While the blaze in this particular case seemed to be caused by a mattress purposely lit on fire, it was a catastrophe long in the waiting, and could have been just as well witnessed in scores of prisons throughout Honduras, or in the rest of Central America.

The facility that went up in flames was located in the town of Comayagua, just north of the capital city of Tegucigalpa. According to numerous eye witnesses, the gruesome scene was pierced by screams from dozens of inmates who were trapped behind bars while security guards desperately fumbled in search of the keys. According to local firefighters, about a hundred prisoners burned to death or suffocated in their cells. Read more ..

Islamists on Edge

Islamist Lobbies’ Washington War on Arab and Muslim Liberals

February 16th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama perplexed

The most dramatic oppression of the region’s civil societies and the Arab Spring is not by means of weapons, or in the Middle East. It is not led by Gaddafi, Mubarak, Bin Ali, Saleh, or Assad. It is led by the powerful Islamist lobbies in Washington DC. People may find my words curious if not provocative. But my arguments are sharp and well understood by many Arab and middle eastern liberals and freedom fighters. Indeed, we in the region, who are struggling for real democracy, not for the one time election type of democracy have been asking ourselves since January 2011 as the winds of Arab spring started blowing, why isn’t the West in general and the United States Administration in particular clearly and forcefully supporting our civil societies and particularly the secular democrats of the region? Why were the bureaucracies in Washington and in Brussels partnering with Islamists in the region and not with their natural allies the democracy promoting political forces?

Months into the Arab Spring, we realized that the Western powers, and the Obama Administration have put their support behind the new authoritarians, those who are claiming they will be brought to power via the votes of the people. Well, it is not quite so. Read more ..

Economic Jihad

Israel-Haters Misinformed and Misinforming the Public

February 15th 2012

Jewish Topics - Magen David Swastika

Next week, Israel-haters will once again launch the misinformed and misinforming movement known as “Israel Apartheid Week” (IAW) in universities and communities across the world. The good news is that while IAW claims to be growing, its execution on North American campuses is limited to a handful, and even in these places, the organizers do not reach very many undecided students.

However, another student-led movement about Israel will include participants on 75 campuses across North America, and is poised to impact a far larger and more diverse audience. That movement is “Israel Peace Week,” (IPW) a student-conceived grassroots educational campaign now in its third year. Originally created as a preemptive response to IAW, IPW has developed into a proactive and engaging campaign that is effective regardless of whether there is anti-Israel activity on a specific campus.

IPW revolves around a simple, yet often understated message: Israel wants peace and has demonstrated its willingness to make painful sacrifices for peace. The campaign also outlines options for peace, existential threats to the Jewish state, and the values and accomplishments of a thriving Israeli democracy in an otherwise despotic region. IPW organizers employ methods such as interactive displays in the center of campus, cultivating relationships with non-Jewish groups on campus, writing in the campus newspaper, and innovative social media campaigns in order to educate as many of their peers as possible. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Inside Romney’s Spin Room

February 15th 2012

Politics - mitt romney
Mitt Romney

“So now we have a problem, Governor,” said Gov. Romney’s mythical Spinmeister.

“What problem? We just won the Florida primary and the Nevada caucuses, and we destroyed Gingrich with tens of millions of dollars of ads attacking his character — so what’s the problem?” the governor might have responded.

“Are you forgetting about Tuesday night? Santorum walloped you bad in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. There goes your momentum.”

“Don’t worry about Santorum — we’ll destroy him with personal attack ads the way we destroyed Gingrich. Of course, I know nothing about that if my — I mean the — super-PAC is doing them.” Read more ..

Broken Banking

BB&T On-Line Site Treats Its Customers Like Children

February 15th 2012

Corporate Logos - BBandT Logo

BB&T bank is among the nation's best regional banks. Certainly, it is among the fastest growing through a series of timely acquisitions in various states. Hundreds of cozy branches staffed by friendly officials now dot the commercial districts of North Carolina, Florida, and Maryland.

Unfortunately, in the opinion of some of its customers, the bank has taken a giant step backward with its new online security questions. It seems the bank has revised its security questions to emphasize childhood and child memories that may not apply to many grown up adults.

For example, "What was your favorite place to visit as a child. What was your dream job as a child? Who was your favorite childhood friend? What is the name of your favorite mentor or teacher? What was your childhood phone number? If you could be a character out of any novel, who would you be? What is your dream car? Where were you New Year's 2000? If you won a million dollars, what is the most extravagant purchase you would make?"

The winner may be "What is the name of your most memorable stuffed animal?" Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

From a Referendum to a Choice

February 15th 2012

Politics - Mitt Romney expansive
Mitt Romney

The natural state of an election involving an incumbent, particularly a presidential election, is to be a referendum on that incumbent. While the economy is improving, we can stipulate that President Obama will do less well if voters simply cast an up-or-down vote on the last four years. Thus, the central strategic imperative facing the president’s campaign is to transform the race from a referendum into a choice between the president and his Republican opponent, or even into a referendum on that opponent. It’s much easier said than done, though there are precedents. It’s what we helped do in reelection battles for Govs. Jennifer Granholm (D-Mich.) and Pat Quinn (D-Ill.), as well as for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Of course, others accomplished the same feat. Nixon succeeded with George McGovern (though he needn’t have), as did President Clinton with Bob Dole. Read more ..

Media on Edge

CNN Shows its Hand, Fires Most of its Jewish Journalists in Jerusalem Bureau

February 14th 2012

Media - CNN No Israel

CNN has reportedly fired most of the Jews in its Jerusalem bureau, cutting half the bureau but leaving Arab workers and reviving charges of CNN's pro-Arab slant.

CNN denies the charges, claiming a budgetary downsizing, but two producers in the CNN Jerusalem office confirmed that four of the eight-person bureau, all Jews, were told they were being fired, leaving only one Jewish producer.

We strongly reject any suggestion that the reorganization in the Jerusalem bureau is in any way based on the small number of contract employees concerned being Israeli, particularly given CNN's long history of working with locals in the region, declared a CNN spokesman, cited by Media-bistro.

Media Bistro, Dreuz.info, and several Israeli media sources confirmed that CNN had fired Jewish workers with between ten and 25 years of experience. But several of the sources suggested that CNN's was not so much anti-Jewish as pro-Arab. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Internet Protests Could Be Equalizer

February 12th 2012

Computer Topics - Russian computer user

The political realities of Capitol Hill have recently gotten tossed head-over-heels. And a successful model for the future use of Internet-based “People Power” in Congress has emerged.

The story begins with the average American feeling pretty disconnected from his or her government. Everyone knows that armies of well-paid lobbyists influence legislation to benefit wealthy clients. That is business as usual on the Hill. The average member of Congress must raise more than $5,000 per week to get reelected. Most of that money comes from PAC fundraisers and Beltway insiders—not from their constituents.

The result is that people feel they just don’t have a voice in their government unless they are wealthy and politically well-connected. A poll from last fall found that just 15 percent of Americans trust Washington to do what is right most of the time—a record low in the history of polling. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Arab Nations Recall Ambassadors from Syria as the West Weighs Options

February 11th 2012

Syrian Issues - anti-assad-demonstration

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states this week recalled their envoys from Syria and expelled Syria's envoys from their countries over "the increase in killing and violence in Syria, which has not spared children, old people or women with heinous acts that at best can be described as mass slaughter." The GCC statement came one day after the U.S. announced the closure of its embassy in Damascus. Britain, France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands have also brought their envoys home.

The removal of diplomats from Damascus comes on the heels of Russia and China again vetoing a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, even though that resolution was watered-down during a week of negotiations prior to the vote. The veto leaves the U.S., Europe, and Arab League at an impasse with few remaining options. The U.S. and Europe have already imposed economic sanctions, but observers say President Bashar al-Assad is still convinced his regime can survive. Read more ..

Religion on Edge

When the Greater Good isn’t Good Enough

February 10th 2012

Jewish Topics - Abuse in Jewish Communities

When we hear comments such as, “Mussolini made the trains run on time,” or “Madoff was a prominent philanthropist,” does anyone today take those as actual excuses for bad behavior? As a world, should we slap them on the wrist and say the greater good was served, making the evils inconsequential?

In this day and age it is hard to imagine anyone real throwing these two a lifeline. So why in some circles, and often Orthodox Jewish ones, do we allow “He may be guilty at times of what I would consider ‘tough love’ … perhaps going overboard and embarrassing people, but … he cares deeply about the students and wants to keep them on the straight path,” to be an excuse when it comes to our children and Torah education?

When I was a child in yeshiva on the Lower East Side, we had rabbis who hit us. Second grade was known for the yardstick knuckle smack down, and parents never complained when their kids came home with bruises on their hands. For me, it wasn’t until fifth grade when our rebbe, known for smacking his students, whacked me so hard that someone in my family took notice.

South of the Border

Mexico's Economy and Polity is Crushing Working People

February 10th 2012

Mexican Topics - mexican children working

A new study reconfirms what many people know from first-hand experience: Mexican workers' purchasing power has plummeted since the turn of the century. In a just-released report, the economics department of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) documented the number of hours the lowest-paid workers need to labor in order purchase a basic basket of goods made up of rice, cooking oil, beans, milk, sugar, coffee, and other routinely consumed products. According to the analysis, Mexican workers earning the daily minimum wage had to toil 11.38 hours in December 2011 to buy a basic basket of commodities, compared with the 9.55 hours of work necessary to buy the same group of products in December 2001.

The UNAM study also compared Mexican workers' purchasing power with their counterparts in five other Latin American nations. While Costa Rican and Peruvian workers also witnessed a drop in their purchasing power between 2001 and 2011, low-income workers in Guatemala, Uruguay and Brazil actually experienced significant jumps in the buying value of their wages during the same decade. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

ACLU Questions Obama Administration's Contradictory Practices

February 7th 2012

Military - Navy Seal Team 6
Navy SEAL Team 6

Having to choose between the Obama Administration and the ACLU is not an easy choice to make. However, in the case involving the ACLU and their request for information from the CIA about the deaths of Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son, and Samir Khan in CIA/JSOC drone strikes in Pakistan, taking sides is not entirely difficult to do. The ACLU sued the CIA, in an attempt to force the government to present its legal justification for targeting and killing American citizens and to establish oversight into the process, including what may have been a secret process to strip the three of their US citizenship.

The Obama administration claimed that what it did was legal and argued for secrecy based on national security. The ACLU lost two related federal court cases against the CIA.One in which al-Awlaki's father was deemed not to have standing to sue, and one in which the court said administration comments on the drone program were not specific enough to constitute "public disclosure" of the existence of the programs. Read more ..

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 ..

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