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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.) 


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 ..

Nicaragua on Edge

Fraud and Irregularities in the Nicaraguan November 6th Elections

December 9th 2011

Nicaragua - Nicaragua elections 2011
Protestors against alleged fraud in Nicaragua's 2011 election

A little more than two weeks ago, elections took place in Nicaragua in which the Sandinista Front for National Liberation won an unprecedented 62.46 percent of the national vote. Throughout the past year, Cid-Gallup, the Gallup institutional affiliate in Central America, and M&R Consultants, an independent private polling firm, had repeatedly predicted a decisive win for Daniel Ortega. As the year progressed, the poll margin lead held by Ortega became wider and reached 53 percent (with the closest opposition candidate holding 19 percent of the vote) of the vote two weeks prior to the elections, according to Cid-Gallup.

In an interview on channel 12 in Nicaragua, Vania Soza, project director for Cid-Gallup polling, affirmed that Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Obama is a Tone-Deaf Friend of Israel

December 9th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama AIPAC

It is ironic that whereas President Obama portrays himself as a friend of Israel whilst soliciting funds from Jewish donors, two senior members of his team were providing chilling insights to what Israel may expect should the current administration be returned to office.

After reaffirming that the US retains "an unshakable commitment to Israel's security,” Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, crudely told a Brookings Institution forum, that it was high time for Israel to "get to the damn negotiating table." He ignored the fact that even after a 10 month settlement freeze, the Palestinians had refused to engage in direct negotiations with Israelis. He went on to repeat the mindless mantra that Israel is "partly" responsible for its diplomatic isolation. He demanded that Israel take further bold action to overcome the conflict with the Palestinians by making additional unilateral concessions which the Arabs would no doubt take on board in the context of their long-term strategy to dismantle the Jewish State in stages. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Who Killed The Next One Hundred People Like Rafiq Tagi? You Did

December 9th 2011

Azerbaijan - Azerbaijan Mosque Baku

“The stars are dead. The animals will not look.
We are left alone with our day, and the time is short, and
History to the defeated
may say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.”
W.H. Auden, “Spain, 1937”

You’ve almost certainly never heard of Rafiq Tagi but the drip-drip drumbeat that has so long made much of the Middle East into a living Hell is like the drops of his blood. Tagi was an Azerbaijaini writer of courage. He was stabbed by two men in Baku on the night of November 19. Five days later he died in a hospital bed, sixty-one years old.

Here is his funeral. It is a Muslim funeral. Not many mourners. Certainly not enough. Read more ..

China and Taiwan

China Rankles US Over Minor Taiwan Arms

December 8th 2011

China Topics - Taiwan Protest
Anti-Taiwan Rally

China has repeatedly and belligerently advertised their “concern” about every plan the US has made to supply Taiwan with defensive weapons.  To imagine Taiwan as the aggressor, as a risk to mainland China, is pure sophistry.  The reverse however is everywhere evident.  Yet General Liang of the People’s Liberation Army has often in the past emphatically denounced U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as seriously damaging China’s core interests.

Clearly China feels it’s their absolute right to liberate Taiwan from its successfully functioning democracy of 14 years (it originally obtained effective independence in 1945); and to do so by force.  Otherwise why focus like a laser on primarily weapons deals? Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

Burgeoning ICBM North Korean Threat to the United States

December 8th 2011

Nuclear War - Taepodong N Korea missile
North Korean Taepo Dong missile and launcher

North Korea is developing a road-mobile ICBM, expanding the future threat to the United States beyond the Taepo Dong 2 long-range missile that would be launched from fixed sites. U.S. intelligence information disclosed to Congress last month reportedly identified recent North Korean progress on the mobile missile system, though no details of the missile or the recent developments were revealed.

Then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned in January 2011 that North Korean long-range missiles were becoming a “direct threat” to the United States. He estimated that Pyongyang could strike the U.S. with a nuclear warhead-tipped missile by 2015. Gates first revealed the existence of the North Korean road-mobile ICBM program in June 2011.

The failure of international diplomacy and U.N. sanctions to halt North Korea’s ongoing pursuit of missile-deliverable nuclear weapons shows the need for a viable missile defense system for the U.S. and its allies. Yet, despite the increasing North Korean missile threat, the Obama Administration has reduced funding for several missile defense programs. Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Agenda 21 Should Not Divert Attention from Homegrown Anti-Growth Policies

December 8th 2011

Energy / Environment - Kingston Plant Spill

Radical environmentalists, local business groups, and the ever-present Not in My Backyard crowd have been trying for decades to reshape American communities to conform to their preferred “smart growth” policies. These advocates work to impose land use regulations that would force Americans into denser living arrangements, curtail freedom of choice in housing, discriminate against lower-income Americans, and compel people to pay more for their houses and give up their cars in favor of subways, trolleys, buses, and bicycles.

These efforts—often described as “New Urbanism,” “sustainable development,” or “open land preservation”—have long been resisted by some members of the community due to their negative impact on economic growth, competitiveness, and the nation’s standard of living. As Heritage has documented, communities implementing smart-growth policies have significantly higher home prices, which precludes moderate-income households from homeownership. In turn, these high home prices have forced buyers to take on excessive levels of mortgage debt, which has contributed to the default and foreclosure problems that have led to the current recession. Indeed, the foreclosure problem is at its worst in states with the strictest land use constraints: Florida, California, Arizona, and Nevada. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Panetta Blames the Victim, but Obama Should Back Away from That Stance

December 6th 2011

Jewish Organizations - Abraham Foxman
Abraham H. Foxman

The notion that Israel is primarily responsible for deteriorating relations with Turkey, Egypt, and the Palestinians, as claimed by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in his speech to the 2011 Saban Forum, is more than simply inaccurate. It is disturbing and potentially dangerous.

While bad at any time, his finding fault with Israel at a time of great instability and uncertainty in the region is particularly distressing. More than ever, Israel stands out as an island of stability and friendship with the United States.

The defense secretary's comments need a clear repudiation from the White House. Letting the secretary's views stand as is could serve to bolster those in the region who seek to return to days when Israel truly was isolated. Rather than scoring points for this administration in the Muslim world, it will reinforce their perception of American weakness for not sticking with a friend and will embolden enemies of Israel to increase their hostility toward the Jewish state.

Mr. Panetta's analysis of developments in the region is quite strange. That Israel is facing difficulties with Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinians is, of course, a fact. Why that is so bears no resemblance to what the defense secretary said.

In the case of the Palestinians, it is Israel that has called for negotiations time and again, only to be rejected by the Palestinians. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama’s Hillary Card

December 5th 2011

Politics - Hillary

President Obama has the extraordinary option of rekindling the historic spirit of his presidency and riding the sweeping tides of history for the advancement of women by naming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as his vice presidential running mate in 2012.

Most likely, the final results of the 2012 election will be a close outcome for the presidency, control of the House and Senate and a Supreme Court that will almost certainly experience an earthshaking and generational swing decided by vacancies filled by the president elected in 2012.

This is not a moment for the president to balance niceties and nuances. It is a moment for the president to play to win. The best way to win is to run with the most popular political leader on the American stage, Secretary Clinton.
Shakespeare wrote that there is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. There is a sweeping tide of history which is the yearning for equality and the spirit of achievement by women in America and throughout the world. I have previously written that we have begun the Female Century. Read more ..

Ecuador on Edge

Ecuador's Media Caught in the Crossfire between a Popular President and Defenders of Free Speech

December 4th 2011

Ecuador Topics - el-universo-protesta

Throughout its history, free speech in Ecuador has been under constant threat by the government. After the country’s democratic life resumed in 1979, León Febres Cordero soon became one of the presidents who most abused his power to intimidate the media. Since then, there has not been a lack of heads of state who have done the same - among them Sixto Durán Ballén, Gustavo Noboa, Abdalá Bucaram, and Lucio Gutiérrez. Such leaders had been intent on closing down radio and television networks, while accusing the journalists of corruption, or encouraging the public to burn copies of newspapers. An example of the press war between the presidential palace and the media dates back to November 2003 when then President Lucio Gutiérrez accused El Comercio of being “satirical." Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Blaming the Victim: U.S. Envoy to Belgium Tells European Jews Muslim Antisemitism Is Israel's Fault

December 4th 2011

Jewish Topics - HOWARD-GUTMAN
Amb. Howard Gutman

Yet another chapter in the long and disgraceful history of blaming the Jews for antisemitism was written on Friday by the U.S. envoy to Belgium, a major fundraiser for President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Howard Gutman, who is himself Jewish, reportedly told a conference called by the European Jewish Union that a distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Gutman said. He also argued that an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty will significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism.

Mr. Gutman did not specify precisely what differentiates Muslim antisemitism, which employs such themes as Jewish world domination, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, calls for the genocide of the Jewish people, and the blood libel, all of which are part and parcel of "traditional antisemitism," from any other form of Jew-hatred. Certainly, the participants of the forum, though they applauded Gutman's brief appearance, made their feelings clear after the event. The conference was attended by Jewish lawyers from across Europe. The legal experts at the event were visibly stunned by Gutman’s words, and the next speaker offered a scathing rebuttal to the envoy’s remarks. The modern Anti-Semite formally condemns Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and expresses upmost sympathy with the Jewish people. He simply has created a new species, the “Anti-Zionist” or – even more sophisticated – the so-called ‘Israel critic,’” Germany attorney Nathan Gelbart said. Read more ..

Edge on Academia

Knowing Arabic is not the Same as Knowing the Arabs

December 3rd 2011

Contributors / Staff - Daniel Pipes bw

Is knowledge of Arabic necessary to write about Arabs or make policy toward them? Yes, sniff some of those who have learned the language, known as Arabists.

Antony T. Sullivan, for example, pulls rank in the journal Historically Speaking. Critiquing an article, "The Military Roots of Islam," by two non-Arabists, George Nafziger and Mark Walton, he writes: "As one who believes that foreign language competence and accurate rendition of foreign words and concepts into English are important,"—note Sullivan's puffed-up sense of self—"I must confess to considerable disappointment in the article." And what devastating mistake did those authors make to undermine their thesis? Did they misunderstand jihad (Islamic holy war)? No, something much worse:

Most egregiously, the authors refer more than once to the Muslim direction of prayer as the qilbah. This is incorrect: Nafziger and Walton have reversed the second and third consonants of the Arabic word (root: qaaf-baa-laam). The correct word is qibla (accent on the first syllable), and in English that word is most commonly written with the spelling indicated. The system of transliteration recommended by the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the leading American scholarly journal in the field, holds that there is no reason to add an 'h' to the final letter (taa marbuuta) of such words as qibla.

Sullivan concludes on an even more pompous note: "It is unfortunate that those who do not have a firm command of Arabic opt to write on topics that demand linguistic competence. But this is unfortunately all too common in the times in which we live. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

The Egyptian Election Outcome is That Bad

December 2nd 2011

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

Since last February, I have predicted that the Muslim Brotherhood would win elections in Egypt. People have thought me very pessimistic. Now the results are coming in and … it’s much worse than I thought. But my prediction that the Brotherhood and the other Islamists would gain a slight majority seems to have been fulfilled and then some. According to most reports the Brotherhood is scoring at just below 40 percent all by itself.

Why worse? For two reasons:

First, the votes we now have come from the most urban areas of the country. If there are Facebook sophisticates they’re going to be in Cairo and Alexandria. If the moderates do that badly in the big cities, what’s going to happen in the villages up the Nile? When the Fascist party comes in first in a Social Democratic district, you know you are in trouble. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

It’s the Ideology, Stupid

November 30th 2011

Terrorism - WTC on Fire (credit: Macten)

Today, it would be fair to say that U.S. counterterrorism efforts are tactically strong. We are well-positioned to tap the right phones, carry out surveillance of the right targets, and as a result we have a truly remarkable track record of preventing attacks (though some, like the shoe bomber, underwear bomber, and Times Square bomber, simply failed without being foiled). Where we remain inexcusably weak, however, is in the realm of strategic counterterrorism, or counter-radicalization. Today’s threat has metamorphosed from the al-Qaeda core to franchises like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), jihadi groups trying to earn their stripes (like those in Egypt’s Sinai Desert), and—most disturbingly—homegrown violent extremists who are radicalized online or in person in places like Minnesota and Northern Virginia.

Since 9/11, U.S. efforts to counter radical Islamism at home and abroad have focused on expanding global engagement and strategic communication abroad, as well as community engagement and town hall meetings with immigrant communities at home. Beyond engagement, counterterrorism officials have concentrated not only on preventing plots from being hatched but on developing fissures among al-Qaeda, affiliated terror groups, and their supporters. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

A Changing Enemy, and Battles Still to Be Fought

November 29th 2011

Terrorism - Osama bin-Laden preaching

When it comes to the War on Terror, America’s progress, while tangible, has been far from clear-cut.

It is abundantly clear that there will be no surrender onboard a U.S. Navy ship like we saw after World War II. Islamist jihadists are not rational actors; they are fanatics. As President George W. Bush said after 9/11, this would be a long war. Nevertheless, we have made major progress, highlighted by the fact we have not seen 9/11-type attacks on the homeland in the last decade, and we have weakened al-Qaeda’s appeal to the masses (what many refer to as “the narrative”). That can be chalked up to two events: the killing of Bin Laden, and al-Qaeda’s targeting of innocent Muslims around the world.

However, more work remains to be done. Partly as a result of our success—particularly the drone program—the threat to the U.S. homeland is now more diffuse and harder to detect. We also face the issue of homegrown radicalization, which our system inherently is not well-equipped to disrupt. We saw evidence of this in Times Square and at Fort Hood. Read more ..

Congress on Edge

How Goldman Sachs and Congress may be bound too tightly together

November 27th 2011

Money - $1B US Currency
All about the Benjamins

Goldman Sachs, the most notorious investment bank on Wall Street, has two things in common with the legislators with significant investments in the company: wealth and power.

According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, 19 current members of Congress reported holdings in Goldman Sachs during 2010. Whether by coincidence or not, most of these 19 Goldman Sachs investors in Congress are more powerful or more wealthy than their peers, or both. 

Nine of them sit on either the most powerful committee in their chamber or committees charged with regulating the Wall Street giant. Moreover, seven of them are among the 25 wealthiest members of their respective chambers, according to the Center's research. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Catholic Bishop Calls for Eternal Vigilance to Avoid Genocide

November 27th 2011

History-Genocide - Holocaust survivors

The murder of six million European Jews in the Holocaust must serve as a warning to the people of today to remain vigilant against contemporary threats to human life and against any ideology that undermines the Judaeo-Christian values upon which western civilisation is built, said the Catholic bishop of Shrewsbury, UK.

In a Holocaust Memorial Day address given on November 24 to an audience in gathered in Menorah Synagogue in Sharston, Manchester, Bishop Mark Davies said that the Nazis had deliberately marked out for “systematic and total destruction” the very people who were first chosen by God to receive his Word. He said that “contemporary historians point to the logical intention of the National Socialist State rooted in this idolatry of man, of race, of the state to destroy not only the Jewish race but Christian morality and the faith of the Church." Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

A Pandora's Box in India is Unhinged by Arrest of Christian Pastor by a Muslim Court

November 27th 2011

India Topics - Indian muslim protest

In retrospect, the Christian community of India has displayed remarkable sobriety and a sense of responsibility in its response to the arrest in Srinagar of Reverend Chander Mani Khanna, Anglican pastor of the All Saints Church. The Muslim Ulema of the rest of India have been reluctant to condemn the arrest, precipitated by the demand of a local Mufti.

The vital issues of the rights of minorities, and freedom faith are however involved, which impinge on all minorities even in states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Orissa and remain relevant in Kashmir. I suppose one can understand their reluctance in the backdrop of the complexities and sensitivities involved in anything that is concerned with the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The same is the reason perhaps for the silence of civil society in India and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Only journalists and activists Seema Mustafa in New Delhi and Javed Anand in Mumbai have dared spoken, pleading for caution but articulating the voice of sanity and freedom. Read more ..

Congress on Edge

Congressional Perks: Lawmakers’ Benefits that Might Surprise

November 27th 2011

Politics - 2011 Freshman Repubs

It’s seemingly been a pretty rough autumn on Capitol Hill. Last month, the public’s approval rating for Congress dropped to 9 percent, the lowest ever, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

But there’s still plenty for the nation’s lawmakers to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Being a member of Congress remains a surprisingly sweet gig.

In addition to the power to shape policy and public discourse, legislators get great health care and retirement benefits, hefty salaries with annual cost of living increases, and the incumbency-boosting ability to blanket constituents with mail touting their achievements.

But there are many less-publicized perks that come along with the job. Here are a few to keep in mind the next time you hear politicians refer to themselves as “public servants.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Dem Strategist Accuses Romney of Invoking Rev. Wright in New Ad

November 27th 2011

Politics - Romney Ad Image
Image from Romney Ad

Democratic strategist Tad Devine, an adviser to the Al Gore and John Kerry presidential campaigns, accused Mitt Romney’s campaign of invoking the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright in a recent ad.

Devine said on November 23 that he was “shocked” to see what he believed was imagery of an African-American church in an ad released just before Thanksgiving by Romney’s campaign team and airing in New Hampshire. The ad, Romney’s first of the campaign, is “clearly an attempt to bring back Rev. Wright and race,” Devine tweeted.

In the ad, a series of images including those of a foreclosed home and empty businesses flash by as text criticizes President Obama’s economic record. But at two points, the imagery cuts to well-dressed African-American women walking down a large hallway, and pans over a predominantly black audience. Read more ..

UN on Edge

US Shouldn’t Forfeit Influence within UN

November 25th 2011

UN Topics - UN HQ NYC

As American businesses seek to protect their patents abroad, famine ravages the Horn of Africa and the Arab Awakening unfolds, we need more U.S. engagement at the United Nations, not less. Laws that restrict American participation in U.N. Specialized Agencies are bad for U.S. interests and national security. Congress must act immediately to fix this problem.

In October, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) overwhelmingly admitted Palestine as a member. The following day, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations announced his government’s plans to join 16 additional U.N. Specialized Agencies. Although the Palestinian Authority’s statehood application did not pass the Security Council, it will likely pursue membership in other agencies as a way to continue its quest toward statehood.

Two provisions tucked into the Foreign Relations Authorization acts of 1990 and 1994 (P.L. 101-246, P.L. 103-236) undermine U.S. interests and national security by prohibiting U.S. funding to U.N. agencies that grant Palestine membership. The rationale for these laws no longer exists, however. Read more ..

The Immigration Edge

State laws Offering Tuition for Illegals breaks Federal Laws

November 23rd 2011

Social Topics - Arizona immigration rally
Immigration Rally

Federal law prohibits state colleges and universities from providing in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens “on the basis of residence within the State”—unless the same in-state rates are offered to all citizens of the United States. Today, 12 states are circumventing this federal law, and the legal arguments offered to justify such actions are untenable, no matter what other policy arguments are offered in their defense. Because at least one federal court of appeals has held that there is no private right of action under the specific statute in question—§ 1623 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996—the U.S. Department of Justice must enforce this statutory provision against states that have violated federal law. Yet even as it sues states like Arizona and Alabama for trying to assist the enforcement of federal immigration law, the U.S. government refuses to sue states that are incontrovertibly and brazenly violating an unambiguous federal immigration law. Such inaction is unacceptable: The President and the Attorney General have an obligation to enforce every provision of the United State’s comprehensive federal immigration regulations—including the federal law prohibiting state colleges and universities from providing in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens “on the basis of residence within the State.” Read more ..

Europe and America

CSR: New EU Strategy Threatens U.S. and European Companies

November 23rd 2011

Money - Euro Symbol

Apparently the bureaucrats in the European Union Commission’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) department were not content to see the EU’s burdensome regulatory requirements dragging EU economies into recession and financial crisis, so they came up with a new CSR strategy. Released on October 25, it fundamentally redefines the EU’s approach to CSR and signals a new era of heavy-handed EU social and environmental regulation.

CSR: From Sideshow to EU Center Stage

The commission’s new CSR strategy adopts a radical definition of CSR. The commission’s earlier definition, adopted in 2001, called for companies to integrate “social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interactions with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis.” The 2001 definition explicitly recognized CSR as voluntary and implicitly recognized the validity of the business objective: Companies are first and foremost businesses but are encouraged to address social and environmental issues arising in the course of operations and dealings with employees, customers, and other stakeholders.  Read more ..

The Architecture Edge

Oversize Load: Poop From Burj Khalifa – The World’s Tallest Building

November 23rd 2011

Architecture - World's Tallest Building

We wish we could take credit for being the first to ask of the world’s tallest building: “where does all the poop go?” But we can’t. Terry Gross from America’s NPR radio station did that for us. Actually, before her, Kate Ascher from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture wrote everything you ever wanted to know about skyscrapers in a book called “The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper.” All due credit aside, did you ever wonder what happens when a toilet is flushed on the 100th floor of a high-rise? And where all that poop and pee lands up when it finally makes it back down to earth? If so, read on…

After having a hefty meal at the restaurant on the top of the World’s Tallest Building in Dubai, maybe you even secretly indulged in Hamour – one of the UAE’s most endangered fish species, you excuse yourself from the table and head to the W.C.

You do what everybody does and without even thinking about it, you flush the toilet.

Your number one and two then travels 160 floors at breakneck pace, gravity interrupted by a sophisticated system of bends in the pipes that slows it down. These pipes are soundproofed by the way, because nobody wants to listen to traveling waste all day. Read more ..

Inside Russia

Medvedev Manages to Tell the Truth

November 22nd 2011

Russian Topics - medvedev
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

In a rare instance of truth telling, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appeared to reveal on November 21 the real reason Moscow went to war with Georgia in August 2008.

Speaking to officers of the Southern Military District in Vladikavkaz, Medvedev seemed to suggest that the goal was preventing Georgia from joining NATO (h/t to Civil Georgia for flagging this story):

Time goes by fast – more than three years have already passed, but what is the most important our approaches towards and our assessments of those events have not changed. We of course consider that it was absolutely necessary action by our army to save large number of our citizens and, if not to remove totally, to curb the threat which was coming at the time from the territory of Georgia.

If we had faltered in 2008, geopolitical arrangement would be different now and number of countries in respect of which attempts were made to artificially drag them into the North Atlantic Alliance, would have probably been [in NATO] now. Read more ..

The Arab Fall

Brothers in Arms: The Muslim Brotherhood Takes Over the (Sunni) Arab World

November 22nd 2011

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

On November 28, Egyptians will vote for a parliament which will also write the country’s new constitution. The Western media at first told us that the Muslim Brotherhood was weak and unimportant as well as moderate. Now, when it’s too late, the Western media is admitting they are strong and radical. But the Obama administration insists they are strong and moderate.

The last time I read an article in the Atlantic on the Brotherhood, it claimed that the group was a joke and only had 13 percent support. Now it is publishing an article that takes it for granted that the Brotherhood will win the election.  There’s a new poll out that I don’t think is accurate, but keep reading and I’ll tell you why it is misleading in a moment.  According to the poll, 38 percent of Egyptians would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. (Remember when we were told that this was a moderate split-off from the Brotherhood?) and 12 percent would vote for the even more radical al-Nour Party.


The Battle for Syria

Syria: No Longer Revolution, It is A Civil War--A Guide to the Battle

November 22nd 2011

Syrian Issues - Syrian Protesters

The only honest answer to the question of what will happen in Syria is: No one knows. After an eight-month-long battle in which more than 3500 people have been killed, there’s no telling who will be ruling Syria when the dust settles, or even when the dust will settle. A regime victory is quite possible—perhaps most likely—and its overthrow might–but not necessarily–bring an Islamist regime.

But what do we know about Syria? Here’s a guide.

1. Don’t overrate Iran’s role.

Despite wild rumors, the Syrian regime doesn’t need Iranians to help it repress the people. Iran is important as a source of financing for the government, but this is President Bashar al-Asad’s battle to win or lose. Tehran is definitely going to be a secondary factor. Read more ..

Health Care on Edge

Keeping an Eye on Insurance Rates in the Golden State

November 20th 2011

Politics - CA State House

If there is one organization that insurers despise and fear more than any other, it surely must be Consumer Watchdog.

Since its founding in 1985, Los Angeles-based Consumer Watchdog has dogged insurers relentlessly and played a key role numerous times in forcing them to change business practices and price their policies more fairly. I first heard of the organization in 1996 when I was still an insurance industry spokesman. Consumer Watchdog seemingly came out of nowhere to take the lead in trying to put a halt to a new practice in the insurance industry: requiring women to be discharged from the hospital within a day after delivering a baby or undergoing a mastectomy. Largely because of Consumer Watchdog’s efforts, insurers had to rewrite their discharge policies.

The organization’s first major attack on the insurance industry—a ballot initiative in California (Proposition 103) require auto insurers to seek prior approval from regulators before increasing rates—has saved drivers in the Golden State more than $62 billion over the past two decades, according to an analysis by the Consumer Federation of America. Read more ..

American Economy on Edge

We Don’t Want to End Up like Italy

November 20th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Star Parker, CURE

The Wall Street Journal calls the economic implosion now taking place in Europe “a crisis of the welfare state.”

The latest European nation to hit the wall is Italy, where national debt is 120 percent of GDP. That is, for every dollar their national economy produces, they owe $1.20.

The Journal calls this a crisis of the welfare state because the Italian national debt is well in excess of the ability of Italians to pay its obligations and is the direct result of excessive government spending.

When the Republican presidential candidates were asked in the most recent debate if the United States should help bail out these bankrupt European nations, the consensus response was “no.”

This, I believe, is the correct answer for two reasons.

First, the way to deal with irresponsible behavior is not to find new ways to finance it but to demand responsible behavior.

Second, we are on the same path here and we need to wake up.

Over the last five years, our national debt as a percentage of our GDP has doubled to 70 percent, where it stands today. Projections show that, continuing on the path that we’re currently on, in a little over 10 years, our national debt as a percentage of our total economic output will be exactly where Italy is today. Read more ..

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