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Inside Latin America

An End to Kirchnerism in Argentina as the Tango Nation Faces Uncertainty

July 27th 2009

Latin American Topics - Kirchners
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina has now been in office one year and a half and is facing enormous challenges from within and without. Domestically, her call for national dialogue has been received cautiously by her opponents and the business sector, while her hard-core supporters appear to be flagging.

The Kirchner administration has been accused of corruption and manipulation of economic statistics, as well as putting pressures on both judges and the media. Industrial output dropped by nearly 11 percent this May with respect to the same period in 2008, according to the Argentine Industrial Union – a pro-business group. The annual rate of inflation has now surpassed 15 percent. Swine flu has now caused more than 165 deaths, according to official figures, but could actually be more, while official statistics have been called into question. World-renowned for its range-fed beef, Argentina may actually have to import beef this year because of the current impasse between the government and the private sector. Importing beef is something that just a short time ago would have seemed beyond comprehension.

As far as international affairs are concerned, Argentina appears to be more and more isolated. While its revenue appears to be in freefall, Argentina has no access to international financial markets even while it continues its feud with the International Monetary Fund. Recently, President Barack Obama placed Brazil and Chile at the forefront as examples of countries enjoying good relations with the United States. He failed to mention Argentina. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Meeting with Barack Obama—the Atmospherics As I Saw Them

July 20th 2009

Jewish Topics - Obama -Jewish Meeting 0347 lo-res
Barack Obama Meets with 16 Jewish Leaders

Last Monday afternoon, I was called to represent Hadassah at a small meeting at the White House with President Obama and 16 representatives of several American Jewish organizations. Here are the “fly-on-the-wall” details. 

The President spent nearly an hour with us, and also in attendance were several senior White House and policy staff including Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, Tina Tchen, Susan Sher, Dan Shapiro, and Danielle Borrin. 

The President entered the Roosevelt Room—just across from the Oval Office—without fan-fare at exactly at 3 pm and personally greeted each attendee, and hugged Lee Rosenberg (President-elect of AIPAC.) On my way to my seat I almost collided with the President when I went around the table to my seat and Obama suddenly entered thru a door in my path.

The President sat mid-table (with Emanuel to his left) and began by saying that Israel is an incredibly important ally; that the long term effect of the economic crisis has unfavorably impacted charities just as we are being called upon to deliver more services, and that reforming health care is an important priority for the future. Read more ..

Latin America on the Edge

Guatemalan Democracy: Hanging on By its Fingernails

July 13th 2009

Latin American Topics - Guatemala Protest
Guatemalan Protestors

In a country where an average of 17 murders are committed each day and 98 percent of criminal cases remain unsolved, the May 10, 2009 assassination of prominent Guatemalan lawyer, Rodrigo Rosenberg, could easily have been dismissed along with thousands of other ill-handled and heavily manipulated political murder investigations. Instead, the dramatic elements of a video recording shown at the attorney’s funeral, in which Rosenberg forewarns the viewers of his own death as a result of the alleged plotting of President Álvaro Colom, his wife Sandra Torres, and Colom’s chief of staff Gustavo Alejos, has brought Rosenberg’s murder to the height of national attention.

In light of the recent sharp protests that erupted in the aftermath of the video’s release, the political divides of Guatemala’s economically and culturally conflicted society are even more obvious now than before the garish Rosenberg murder. The government bussed thousands of Colom’s supporters from the country’s rural area to the capital to counter the protests of equally large numbers of urban middle and upper class residents using the event as a wedge to call for Colom’s immediate resignation. Read more ..

America’s Economic Collapse

Mortgage Confession: How I Helped Ruin the Economy for Ten Bucks an Hour

July 6th 2009

Economy - Money Money Money

The following recounts my experiences working for the Loan Delivery Department of a large multinational bank (hereafter known as The Bank) in Western New York during the hyper-inflated housing market. Almost all economists see the bursting housing bubble as a primary cause of the current global financial crisis. While there are many factors and actors to blame for the current crisis, my story highlights the impact securitization—the packaging and reselling of pools of mortgage loans—had on bank behavior.

Specifically, since the majority of profits for many banks were being generated by fees from loans, and as quickly as new loans were made, they were put into pools and sold to investment banks—who then manipulated these into more exotic financial instruments to sell to global investors—the banks’ incentive was to generate as many loans as possible, risk be damned! Everyone up and down the mortgage loan food chain was making money hand over fist, and no one wanted the gravy train to stop. But, as you will soon see, it required the complicit fraudulent behavior of banks (and others) to maintain it. Finally, while most analyses on the cause of the crisis have rightfully been directed at so-called “sub-prime loans,” my experience shows that fraudulent behavior was endemic, as the loans I dealt with were all classified as “prime mortgages.” Read more ..

The Edge of Ecology

Amazon Rainforest is Worth the Worldwide Crusade

June 29th 2009

Environment Topics - Amazon rainforest

Brazil is home to one-third of the world’s rainforest and half of the Amazon. Between its vast rainforests and bodies of water, Brazil hit the planet’s natural resource jackpot, although both are rapidly disappearing habitats. Despite its ecological wealth, Brazil has stated that international climate change is a burden that should be shouldered by both the developed and developing worlds. It also shortsightedly contends that each nation should take environmental action based solely on an inventory of its own needs. Among the world’s top ten largest emitters of greenhouse gases, Brazil needs to step up its actions in order to counteract deforestation and climate change. Moreover, this is an international issue that the rest of the world cannot sit idly by and wait for Brazil to join in and do its share in coping with the problem.

Recent Flooding a Wake-up Call to Climate Change
Increasingly severe weather irregularities are making Brazil’s environmental issues of more pressing importance to national and global policies. The existence of climate change no longer appears to be much of a debate for Brazil, in light of the unusual and frightfully destructive flooding in the north this May that killed forty-four people and left more than 180,000 homeless. Read more ..

Edge of Crime

The Montenegro Connection: Love, Tobacco, and the Mafia

June 22nd 2009

Investigation - Montenegro Cigarette Destruction
Montenegrin Customs Officer Destroys Smuggled Cigarettes

“My little cat... I'm going crazy without you.... You have repeatedly betrayed me, I think.... Little cat, when are you coming? ... I love you, little cat.”

On Jan. 4, 2001, Dusanka Pesic Jeknic, representative of the Montenegrin trade mission in Milan, Italy, was speaking on the phone at her home in the southwest of the city. Milo Djukanovic, at that time president of Montenegro, was calling from the capital Podgorica. Billions of people around the world had just hailed the New Millennium. Dusanka, nicknamed “Duska,” the beautiful 41-year-old widow of the late foreign minister of Montenegro, was alone, far from her country. And she spoke out freely about everything: love, tobacco, and crime.

Eight years after Jeknic's loving conversation with her president, transcripts of her phone calls, wiretapped by the Italian police for 20 months, are attached to hundreds of thousands of court records filed by the prosecutor's office in Bari, in southern Italy. Read more ..

Iran's Voter Revolt

How to Steal an Election in Iran

June 15th 2009

Iran - Iran Election

With Iran's presidential campaign now under the microscope the challengers to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and indeed many in the world are understandably expressing intense concern about the possibility of election fraud and manipulation of the election. How do elections work in Iran? Not only are there complaints about regime influence on the campaign, such as biased coverage by state-run television, the voting itself can be manipulated in numerous ways.

According to Iranian law, the Interior Ministry administers elections. In each ward or county, the ministry forms an executive committee that consists of the ward or county head, the local head of the National Organization for Civil Registration, the chief prosecutor or his representative, and eight respected local figures.

The Guardian Council has the duty of supervising the electoral process at each polling station and has created observation committees with more than 130,000 members. Each candidate has the right to send an observer to each fixed polling station to observe both the voting process and the ballot count. Read more ..

Edge on Crime

Canada’s Boom in Smuggled Cigarettes--Indian Tobacco Factories and Organized Crime Control a Billion-Dollar Black Market

June 8th 2009

Crime Topics - Tobacco Farmer
Canadian Tobacco Farmer Gary Godelie

Gary Godelie has been a tobacco farmer most of his life, struggling to keep alive a family farm that produces what most everyone agrees is a death crop. Whacked by global competition undercutting his prices, not to mention a dwindling number of Canadian smokers, he often thinks of getting out of the business.

Nothing brought this thought home more clearly than a series of events that began one hot July day in 2006 when two men drove up to his southern Ontario farm and offered to buy his entire crop. That surprised Godelie because anybody in the tobacco business would know that Canadian growers are part of a tightly regulated quota system. Buyers have to be federally licensed and can buy only through the marketing board.

“I said, 'Well no. I can't sell you tobacco. I have to sell it to the legal system,'” Godelie recalled. “They kind of looked at me and laughed and like said, 'Why would you want to do that when we're offering you cash money, a deal here, you know.' 'Well, no, I'm not going to do that kind of stuff.'”

The two men drove off and Godelie thought that was the end of it. Read more ..

Approaching the Holocaust

My Year in Treblinka--No Imagination Could Conceive It

June 1st 2009

History-Genocide - Treblinka

Recently, the Forward reprinted an historic article from its 1944 archive. The editor's modern-day introduction is appended. A condensed version of the original 1944 article by Yankel Wiernik follows.

Dear Reader: For your sake alone I continue to hang on to my miserable life, though it has lost all attraction for me. How can I breathe freely and enjoy all that which nature has created?

Time and again I wake up in the middle of the night moaning pitifully. Ghastly nightmares break up the sleep I so badly need. I see thousands of skeletons extending their bony arms towards me, as if begging for mercy and life, but I, drenched with sweat, feel incapable of giving any help. And then I jump up, rub my eyes and actually rejoice over it all being but a dream. My life is embittered. Phantoms of death haunt me, spectres of children, little children, nothing but children.

I sacrificed all those nearest and dearest to me. I myself took them to the place of execution. I built their death-chambers for them. I, who saw the doom of three generations, must keep on living for the sake of the future.

The world must be told of the infamy of those barbarians, so that centuries and generations to come can execrate them…. No imagination, no matter how daring, could possibly conceive of anything like that which I have seen and lived through. Nor could any pen, no matter how facile, describe it properly. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Sidney Fine was a Teacher, Scholar, and "a Mensch"

May 25th 2009

Obits - Sidney Fine

The University of Michigan's historian Sidney Fine died in Ann Arbor on the last day of March at the age of 88. To a great many alumni, that news will surely trigger a jolt of sadness and memory. Each department has had its great figures, of course, its important scholars and popular teachers. But few can claim a figure like Fine, who combined the roles of teacher, scholar and mentor so memorably, and who exerted an influence for good in so many lives.

Fine was a native of Cleveland who became a Michigan man through and through. A Navy veteran of World War II, he earned his Ph.D. at U-M in 1948, then taught in Ann Arbor for the next 53 years, one of the longest spans of any U-M faculty member ever. He loved the University in all its dimensions (though never with uncritical eyes), from the Bentley Historical Library on North Campus, where he was an indefatigable researcher and adviser, to Michigan Stadium, where he seldom if ever missed a home game.

Famed U-M football coach Bo Schembechler himself presented Fine with an autographed football at his retirement party in 1991—an occasion that turned out to be premature, since the Michigan legislature did away with its mandatory retirement rule for college professors principally to allow Fine to keep teaching beyond the age of 70. He did so for 10 more years. By the time he left the classroom in 2001, he had taught between 25,000 and 30,000 students, and there is no doubt that he was one of the most popular teachers in the University's history.

He was also an influential and prolific writer. He began his career as a student of intellectual history—his Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State: A Study of Conflict in American Thought, 1865-1901 remains a classic of that field—then turned to labor history, where he made his largest mark as a scholar. Many of his books told the story of 20th-century U.S. history as seen through the prism of urban, industrial society in Michigan—its labor strife in the 1930s, its racial turmoil in the 1960s, its public policy in the 1950s and '60s. Read more ..

The Violent Edge in Latin America

Guatemalans Incensed over their President, Accused of Murder in Victim's Damning YouTube Videotape

May 18th 2009

Crime Topics - Rodrigo Rosenberg Dead
Rodrigo Rosenberg lies dead in Guatemala

Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets on May 17; some to demand the resignation of President Alvaro Colom, some to show support. The embattled national leader is accused of ordering the murder of a local lawyer. The accusation stems from a damning YouTube video (view it here).

More than 40,000 of the president’s supporters thronged Constitution Plaza in front of the National Cathedral and the National Palace of Culture. Many of them were brought from outside the capital city of Guatemala by the ruling National Unity for Hope.

“Colom, we’re with you!” “Alvaro, friend/president, Guatemala is with you.” and “With Colom to the death” read some of the posters held aloft by supporters who came on buses to Guatemala City for the rally. Elsewhere, Colom’s opponents assembled at Plaza Italia, bringing together 15,000 Guatemalans who are demanding his resignation. The so-called “March for Peace” was apparently orchestrated by the powerful agribusiness sector of Guatemala along with other business sectors. Failed presidential candidates, such as Otto Pérez Molina and Alejandro Giammattei, were among the protesters.

Alvaro Colom, scion of a wealthy family and the nephew of a slain politician, is facing the gravest crisis of his presidency since coming to power in January 2008. He has been tied by his opponents to criminal organizations even while he has taken steps to address widespread crime and the influence of narco gangs known as “maras.” So far, the aristocratic Colom has been unable to stem the violence which has struck down politicians and ordinary citizens alike. The murders of hundreds of women, presumably killed by gang members, remain unsolved. Read more ..

America's Economic Collapse

A Forgotten Memoir Teaches Lessons for Surviving Hard Times

May 11th 2009

Economy - Depression Jobs

"A long, giddy boom fueled by irrational investment bubbles...lax regulators looking the other way...then rapid-fire crises and a downwar-spiraling slowdown..."

In the minds of many Americans, the economic crises of recent months displayed striking parallels to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression. One couldn't help but wonder: Is this the start of a New Depression? What would it be like?

Our collective memory of that era now consists of Littlemore than time-encrusted clichés and scratchy newsreel images— grim men in soup-kitchen lines and a jaunty Franklin Roosevelt declaring: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” As the parents of the Baby Boomers pass from the stage, firsthand knowledge of 1930s America is vanishing.

To summon the Ann Arbor of that era, we need only turn to a vivid memoir, now little remembered, by the Michigan-born writer Edmund G. Love (’36). Published in 1972 by William Morrow & Co., the book was titled Hanging On: Or How to Get Through a Depression and Enjoy Life. In spite of its happy-go-lucky subtitle, it is a searing recollection of what the term “hard times” really means. One puts it down shorn of any glib nostalgia about “the greatest generation.”

Love, born in 1912, was a journalist, screenwriter, and novelist, who published some 20 books, including Subways Are For Sleeping, which became the basis of a hit Broadway musical in the late 1950s. But the two books of his most likely to last are his memoirs of growing to maturity in Michigan. The first of these, titled The Situation in Flushing, is about Love’s boyhood outside Flint — an evocation of small-town life that the New York Times’ reviewer called “enchantment, pure and solid.” Read more ..

Significant Lives

The Anatomy of the Murder of a Just Man

May 5th 2009

Christian Topics - Bishop Juan Gerardi
Bishop Juan Gerardi of Guatemala

Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño of Guatemala City says he is assured eleven years after the still unresolved murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi there are still unhealed wounds in his church and Guatemalan society as a whole. In his homily during Sunday Mass April 26, marking the anniversary at the captial's Catholic cathedral, the cardinal recalled Bishop Gerardi as a “notable promoter of peace and human rights and an exemplary pastor of the poorest and most needy.” The bishop’s victimizers, said the cardinal, cannot have the interior peace that is enjoyed by Guatemala’s bishops. Bishop Gerardi’s murder, despite investigations conducted in cooperation with European and U.S. experts, has not yet been clarified.

Bishop Juan Gerardi was murdered on the night of April 26, 1998 at his residence in Guatemala City, only 300 yards from the presidential palace. He was bludgeoned to death by unknown assailants in his garage. The murderers used a concrete slab to smash his head to the extent that his face was unrecognizable. His remains were identified by the episcopal ring on his finger.

Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño of Guatemala City said he is assured, eleven years after the still unresolved murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, there are still unhealed wounds in his church and Guatemalan society as a whole. In his homily during Sunday Mass April 26, marking the anniversary at the capital's Catholic cathedral, the cardinal recalled Bishop Gerardi as a “notable promoter of peace and human rights and an exemplary pastor of the poorest and most needy.” The bishop’s victimizers, said the cardinal, cannot have the interior peace that is enjoyed by Guatemala’s bishops. Bishop Gerardi’s murder, despite investigations conducted in cooperation with European and U.S. experts, has not yet been clarified. Read more ..

The Legal Edge

National High School Mock Trial vs. Orthodox Jewish Students—Showdown Looming

April 28th 2009

Social Topics - Mock Trial

The National High School Mock Trial Championship is esteemed for bringing young people into the best traditions of the American legal system. But now the organization is being broadly criticized from the halls of Congress to state bar associations and attorneys general for clinging to one of the nation’s worst traditions: religious insensitivity.

The charge stems from the national mock trial group’s refusal to accommodate the need for an Orthodox Jewish team from Maimonides School from Brookline Massachusetts to reschedule its event from Saturday—the Jewish Sabbath—to a Thursday or Friday as has been done in the past.

From May 6-10, state champions from across the United States will assemble in Atlanta to compete in the national finals. A decision to accommodate the Sabbath observers must be made immediately. Hence, a showdown is looming in the coming days as high-profile Jewish cause attorneys Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin, the Anti-Defamation League, and supportive circle of prestigious legal personalities try to convince the national office to be flexible. If not, advocates are considering civil rights litigation and a Department of Justice civil rights investigation; and the national association risks yet another black eye for its inability to accommodate the needs of minorities—many would say, the essence of jurisprudence. Read more ..


Swine Flu Virus Spreads from Mexico City and Has the World on Alert

April 27th 2009

Latin American Topics - Mexico Plague Kisses

While Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has declared a health emergency in the United States, officials in Mexico, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Spain and France have also rung the tocsin to alert citizens of the danger posed by infection by swine flu. New Zealander students returning from California showed flu-like symptoms and have tested positive for Type A influenza. Specimens from the stricken students have been sent to the World Health Organization to determine whether they are afflicted with H1N1 swine influenza. H1N1 influenza is a subset of influenza A.

In Israel, doctors are running tests on a man who recently returned from Mexico with light flu symptoms. While the UK had a scare when a air-crew member who had flown from Mexico to London showed flu symptoms, it turned out he did not have swine flu. Canada has issued a travel advisory to its citizens who are considering a trip to Mexico. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Hebrew Catholics Celebrate Both Passover and Holy Week in Jerusalem

April 20th 2009

Israel Topics - Hebrew Catholics
Hebrew-speaking Catholic Vicariate in Israel

The traditional Jewish blessings over wine and bread, the Kiddush and the Motzi, echoed through the sanctuary at 10 HaRav Kook Street in Jerusalem. It was a room of striking simplicity — with just one small cross in brown wood.

Four Catholic priests wearing white robes and green stoles stood at the altar, as one of them recited these blessings. But unlike the blessings at a festive Jewish meal, these were blessings of consecration, transforming the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ. Just before taking Communion, church members exchanged the greetings of Pax Christi, Peace of Christ, saying to one another, “Shalom HaMashiach.”

At the Church of Sts. Simeon & Anna, all the prayers are in Hebrew, as was this Evening Mass for the community known as the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community of Israel.

This is not a messianic Christian gathering, but neither is it just another Catholic Church serving the country’s 22,000 Roman Catholics, most of whom are Arab. Read more ..

Edge on the Holy Land

Archaeologists Demonstrate Jewish "Foothold" in Ancient Canaan

April 13th 2009

Israel Topics - Beth Shemesh Dig
Israeli Dig at Beth Shemesh

Archaeology in the Mideast, especially in Israel, wields ramifications that go far beyond the classrooms and peer review of academic specialists. The implications of archaeology have political and social dimensions, especially for people of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

For example, legend has it that the great rulers of Canaan, the ancient land of Israel, were all men. But a recent dig by Tel Aviv University archaeologists at Tel Beth-Shemesh uncovered possible evidence of a mysterious female ruler.

Tel Aviv University archaeologists Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations have uncovered an unusual ceramic plaque of a goddess in male dress, suggesting that a mighty female “king” may have ruled the city. If true, they say, the plaque would depict the only known female ruler of the region.

The plaque itself depicts a figure dressed as royal male figures and deities once appeared in Egyptian and Canaanite art. The figure’s hairstyle, though, is womanly and its bent arms are holding lotus flowers—attributes given to women. This plaque, art historians suggest, may be an artistic representation of the “Mistress of the Lionesses,” a female Canaanite ruler who was known to have sent distress letters to the Pharaoh in Egypt reporting unrest and destruction in her kingdom.

“We took this finding to an art historian who confirmed our hypothesis that the figure was a female,” says Dr. Lederman. “Obviously something very different was happening in this city. We may have found the ‘Mistress of the Lionesses’ who’d been sending letters from Canaan to Egypt. The destruction we uncovered at the site last summer, along with the plaque, may just be the key to the puzzle.” Read more ..

Breaking News!

Exclusive Coverage of Exodus--Children of Israel Flee Egyptian Bondage

April 6th 2009

Edwin Black
Edwin Black


pproximately two million Children of Israel are now encamped in the Sinai following their extraordinary exodus from Egypt yesterday. Just days ago, they were slaves to Pharaoh. Today, they are free men and women, destined for self-determination in a land of their own. Only now are the details of their fantastic experience coming to light.


The dramatic sequence of events began some weeks ago with the unexpected return of exiled prince Moses, who previously fled Pharaoh's wrath after slaying a taskmaster. In his daring appearance at the Palace, the inarticulate Moses, speaking through his brother Aaron, declared himself to be the personal emissary of a powerful new “God,” previously unknown to the Royal Court. Moreover, Moses asserted that his God was the protector of the Children of Israel, who have been in bondage for more than four centuries in Egypt.

The entire Royal Court was aghast as Moses demanded that the Children of Israel be permitted to travel three days into the desert for an unprecedented “feast and sacrifice” to their God. Making clear that he was not asking a Court indulgence, Moses looked straight at Pharaoh, stamped his roughhewn staff and issued the ultimatum that would be his rallying call during the coming days: “Let my people go.”


After the Holocaust

A Catholic Witness of the Holocaust Who Refused to Serve the Nazis

March 30th 2009

History-Genocide - Franz Jaegerstaetter

On August 9, 1943, Franz Jaegerstaetter was beheaded for refusing to serve in the German army.

Franciscus (Franz) was born out of wedlock in 1907. His parents were young and poor. He was raised in poverty and in Catholicism by his maternal grandmother, a shoemaker’s widow with 13 children. His parents never married before his father died in World War I in 1915. In 1917, his mother married Heinrich Jaegerstaetter and mother and son moved to his farm in St. Radegund, Austria, a village of about 550 people. Mr. Jaegerstaetter adopted Franz.

Franz’ formal schooling took place in a one-room, one-teacher schoolhouse with 50 to 60 students and ended at age 14. All but one villager was Catholic.

As a teenager, Franz went with a rough crowd. At age 20, he left the area temporarily and worked at a farm and in iron mines. He went on pilgrimage more than once to the religious shrine in Altoetting. When he returned to his village three years later, he had become a devout Catholic. Nonetheless, he got a girl from another village pregnant and she gave birth to their daughter Hildegard in 1933. Franz’ mother strenuously objected to him marrying the mother, but he provided child support and visited Hildegard frequently. In that same year, 1933, Franz’ adoptive father died at age 49. In 1936 Franz married a devout Catholic, Franziska (Fanny) Schwaninger. Franzl – she called him – was 29 and she 23. While they were still engaged, they went to Hildegard’s mother and offered to adopt the girl but the offer was rejected. Franz and his bride went on an expensive honeymoon (the equivalent of seven months’ of her wages) to Rome.  Read more ..

America’s Economic Collapse

Toxic Truths—Get Ready for the Quadrillion Word

March 23rd 2009

Economy - Stunned Trader

Americans have been on the escalator of life for the last 30 years. The escalator has been going up for the vast majority of that time. Since Ronald Reagan was President, the escalator has been moving upwards with only a few momentary breakdowns. We wanted it all. We believed it was our right to have it all. Americans did whatever it took to have it all. That meant an explosion of household debt promoted by bankers, the Federal Reserve, politicians, the media, and Presidents. There are millions of Americans who have a guilty feeling about how they have lived their lives. They had their cake and tried to eat it too.

Americans are now repenting by dramatically reducing their spending. The U.S, government is desperately attempting to convince Americans to get back on the escalator. The financial system has stopped functioning because no one trusts anyone else. The rules are changed by the Treasury and Federal Reserve on a daily basis. It seems like every company in America has converted into a bank so they can acquire a slice of the taxpayer funded pie called TARP. The government has been using all the tools at their disposal to dig the country out of this hole. If they dig too far, the stimulus could blow up in a torrent of inflation.er

Which Assets Are Toxic?

Ov the last nine years, U.S. financial institutions became extremely creative with their financial "products." They were encouraged by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who was sure that any regulation other than self-regulation would be counterproductive. In the bully pulpit was our first Harvard MBA President George Bush, proclaiming the benefits of free market capitalism.


Edge on Human Rights

Press Rights in Latin America Are A Fading Concept

March 16th 2009

Crime Topics - Stop Killing Journalists

Gangs, drugs and politicians now menace the press in Latin America. Legislation and intimidation keep the Latin American press on a short leash. If the current situation regarding the press does not improve, the region will not only suffer, but it will lose its capacity to self-reform.

Currently, the Latin American press is up against formidable odds. Local drug cartels, street gangs, and government corruption are severely confining the ability of the press to report freely on a range of controversial subjects. Restricted reporting and the practice of “soft censorship” lurk behind the scene where government censorship could be a dangerous notion, not just for individual countries but also for overall U.S.-Latin American relations. If the press remains trapped in the grip of organized crime, threatened by drug cartels and governmental venality, then the quality of life throughout Latin America will be negatively affected.

There are two primary routes in which the press succumbs to censorship: directly, as a result of government intimidation, and through gang violence; or indirectly, which includes self-censorship out of fear, lack of professional solidarity from one’s journalistic peers or a supportive management, and a deficiency of reliable investigative journalism due to an infinite capacity for self intimidation.  Read more ..

Edge of the Mexican Crisis

Mexico Opens a Public Relations Front in the Narcotics War

March 9th 2009

Mexican Topics - Mexican Drug Police2
Mexican police

The Mexican government’s battle against drug cartels has opened yet another front attempting to repel the onslaught of bad publicity that the bloodshed has cast onto the country’s international image. Mexico’s instinctual reputation is being eroded into one that invokes chaos and violence rather than stability and order, making many uneasy and concerned over the country’s future political and economic future. Some of these are friends of Mexico; others are not.

The murmurs from Washington come in the ominous shape of travel advisories and insecurity threats from the State Dept. and the dire analysis by the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which dares to think the unthinkable:

Mexico’s possible implosion into a failed state

Mexico City has duly responded to the criticism in full force this week by mobilizing a coordinated response to placate the wave of negative press. In an interview with the AP, President Calderon attempted to diffuse the idea of a failed Mexico by claiming, “To say that Mexico is a failed state is absolutely false, I have not lost any part — any single part — of the Mexican territory.” Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Kathleen Moves to Washington, While Kansas Coal Fight Remains

March 3rd 2009

Obama Admin Topics - Kathleen Sebelius
Kathleen Sebelius

Many Kansans woke up Sunday morning with heavy hearts. Last night, the news that their governor had been tapped by President Obama for the health and human services cabinet post spread like wildfire at church potlucks, restaurants, bars and wherever else people gathered on a Saturday night. (Yes, Kansas has bars. It’s no longer a dry state.)

But shouldn’t they be happy, proud, that their very own beloved governor, Kathleen Sebelius, is going to Washington for a high profile job? Certainly, she is qualified. Raised on politics, she is the daughter of the former governor of Ohio, John Gilligan. A trial lawyer by training—and former director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association, she spent eight years in the Kansas House of Representatives, then another eight years as state insurance commissioner. First elected governor in 2002, she is now in her second term—a Democrat elected twice in an overwhelmingly Republican state.

Her special strength has been her ability to bring parties together to accomplish things, which included balancing the budget in her first year in office, increasing spending for education and tirelessly bringing new business and industry to Kansas with special emphasis on renewable energy. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Afghanistan's Constitution Creates Death Penalties for Religious Freedom

February 23rd 2009

Islamic Topics - Afghan Koran Translator
Protests Over Afghan Quran Translator

When Ahmad Ghawas Zalmi worked with a cleric from a Kabul mosque to produce 1,000 pocket-sized copies of the Quran in the Afghan language known as Dari, he probably was not expecting to end up facing execution for his efforts. But that's exactly what happened to the former Afghan government official: when Islamic clerics saw his version of the Quran in 2007—which had been translated from the original Arabic--they accused Zalmai of modifying the holy book, a crime punishable by death.

On February 15, Zalmai and his cleric friend were due to hear their fate in an appeals court. Though they barely escaped the death penalty, the three-judge panel upheld a lower court sentence of 20 years in prison for each man. When reading out the sentence, the chief judge reiterated that under Islamic Shariah law, "He who commits such an act is an infidel and should be killed." Read more ..

America's Economic Collapse

Boomers--Your Crisis Has Arrived

February 16th 2009

Social Topics - Baby Boomer Housing

Franklin Roosevelt, in the midst of the Great Depression, spoke these immortal words, "There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations, much is given. Of other generations, much is expected. This Generation has a rendezvous with destiny."

President Roosevelt was correct. The generation he was speaking to was already dealing with the worst financial crisis in the history of the United States, the Great Depression. By 1945, over 400,000 of this generation had lost their lives. Another 600,000 men were wounded. Much was expected and much was sacrificed. Every generation has a rendezvous with destiny. The generation that won World War II passed the ultimate test and proceeded to produce the next generation, the Baby Boom Generation. Their rendezvous with destiny is underway. Will it be a rendezvous with history that results in World War III, the collapse of the Great American Republic,  dictatorship, or a return to the original Constitutional principles upon which this country was founded?

It is comforting to think that history has recurring patterns and a natural rhythm. Trying to figure out why the major events in history occurred is complex, challenging and fascinating. An individual can learn from the past. Poet George Santayana’s quote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", is profound and worth studying. The crucial issue is whether societies as a whole are capable of learning from the past or are they condemned to the inevitable cycle of history. Can an individual change the course of history? Was World War II inevitable, even if Adolf Hitler had been killed during World War I? Is there anything that can be done to avert the cyclical crisis that seems to arrive on a consistent basis throughout history? Is our destiny already preordained? Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Charismatic Jewish Group Wages International Legal Fight for Its Spiritual Soul

February 10th 2009

Jewish Topics - Chabad Archival Document
Historic Recovered Chabad Document

A charismatic religious Jewish group is in an international legal battle against the Russian Federation, literally fighting for its spiritual soul. At stake is the right to possess the precious archive and library of the orthodox Jewish group known as Chabad.

The books and papers were plundered and fell from the movement’s control in Europe during the war-torn decades of the last century. The story of how Russia came to control the historic collections is nothing less than a chronicle of the mystical Lubavitch Jews of Poland and Russia during the tempestuous events of Czarist repression, the Bolshevik Revolution, World Wars I and II, the Cold War period, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the rise of the modern Russian Federation. The story of Chabad’s efforts to reclaim their papers is a bitter saga spanning all those periods.

Remarkably, Chabad has achieved a stunning legal victory—for now, thanks to the persistent efforts of a legal team headed by the Washington law firm of Lewin and Lewin, LLP. Known for championing Jewish causes— Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin -- sometimes called “attorneys for the Tribe,” worked together with attorneys from Howrey LLP and Bingham McCutchen LLP to obtained a rare federal court decision commanding Russia to preserve the books and documents and instructing Russia to provide the Court with a written description of the steps it is taking to preserve the books and manuscripts.  Read more ..

Civil Liberties

Blacklist--A Sad Lesson from American History

February 2nd 2009

Social Topics - Document Stacks

In his 1952 book The Loyalty of Free Men, Alan Barth, a Washington Post editorial writer, described the so-called “Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations” (AGLOSO), which the Truman administration began publishing in late 1947 as part of its wide sweeping federal employee loyalty screening program, as “perhaps the most arbitrary and far-reaching power ever exercised by a single public official” in American history, allowing the Attorney General to “stigmatize” and “proscribe any organization of which he disapproves.” 

AGLOSO played a critical and central part of the post-World War II “Red Scare,” far more important, in my view, than the role of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who arrived on the anti-communist scene only in early 1950 well after the Red Scare was underway.  It was a ubiquitous part of the early Cold War/Red Scare atmosphere, so much so that the November, 1956 Elks Magazine began an article entitled, “What the Attorney General’s List Means” by accurately noting that “there are few Americans who have not heard of 'the Attorney General’s subversive list' ” and concluded by summarizing AGLOSO’s clear message:  “There is no excuse for any American citizen becoming affiliated with a group on the Attorney General’s list today.”  Read more ..

Iran and Latin America

Probing the Chavez–Iranian Connection

January 26th 2009

Iran - Chavez and Ahmanijad

Last December 21st, the Italian daily La Stampa published a story putlining the real meaning of the Chavez-Iranian alliance.

Regular flights between Caracas, Damascus and Tehran constitute a device for Venezuela to help Iran send Syria material for the manufacturing of missiles, according to La Stampa. The flights are actually part of a 2006 military cooperation agreement signed between Syria and Iran. The materiel is destined for the "Revolutionary Guards," the main force protecting the Iranian regime, according to the newspaper. In exchange for this materiel, Iran has provided Venezuela with members of its revolutionary guards as well as its elite "Al Quds" unit to strengthen Venezuela's secret services and police.

La Stampa's report is not surprising to those monitoring Hugo Chavez's activities for the past several years. In testimony before Congress on March 5, 2008, it was again pointed out that Iran Air has weekly direct flights between Caracas, Damascus and Tehran. There are no large numbers of passengers that justify weekly travels between theses countries. Therefore, it is reasonable to speculate that these flights transport material which could be highly problematic. Read more ..

Surge Against Hamas

Israeli Navy Hunts Hamas During Gaza Siege

January 19th 2009

Israel Topics - Israeli naval vessel

"Fire. Fire. Fire," shouts Capt. Yoni into his two-way radio, before a typhoon cannon on the deck of the Shaldag ship lets off a burst of gunfire toward the Gaza coast.

"There was an indication that rockets were being fired from that location at Ashdod and Ashkelon," explains Yoni, the commander of the naval vessel.

Earlier, Yoni and his troops had scouted the coastline with an advanced thermal camera to ensure no IDF troops were in the area. Suddenly, as the camera zooms in on a hotel under construction on the Gaza coast, one of the soldiers says, "Wait. There's someone there."
The camera zooms in on the location and spots nothing more than a pack of dogs.

It's the 13th night of Operation Cast Lead and we're sailing on Yoni's ship some 2.5 kilometers off the Gaza coast. It is the first time a reporter has joined naval forces since the start of the operation. From the ship, capable of up to 45 kilometers an hour, we see a Tarshish naval vessel, Sa'ar 4.5, which is also part of operations against Hamas. Read more ..

Underground Business

Polish Cigarette Smugglers Upset at Tough New Rules at EU’s Frontier

January 5th 2009

Europe Topics - PolishCigs

It’s still frozen in eastern Poland. But Pawel Mlynarski is still steamed at the government for taking away his livelihood: contraband cigarettes.

Until recently, Mlynarski, a 25-year-old unemployed builder, would cross the border into Ukraine as many as four times a night. Each time, he would return with at least one carton of 200 cigarettes, or 10 packs, to sell in the bars of his hometown of Przemysl, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the European Union’s eastern frontier.

Then, on Dec. 1, Poland cut the import allowance to 40 smokes, or two packs. "This is an absolute tragedy," says Mlynarski, who used to make as much as 20 zloty ($6.80) per carton selling packs of Prima. "Most people around here did the border. It was our only way of earning decent cash."

The new limits are a result of the EU’s expansion a year ago of its passport-free movement of people, the so-called Schengen area, to include Poland. That forced the nation to bolster its -- and the EU’s -- eastern border. Now locals complain they are left with an unemployment rate above 17 percent, the highest in Poland, and the specter of more job losses as trade at the bars and cafes at border crossings collapses. Demonstrators threw stones and eggs at police to protest the new rules earlier this month.

"A gap has now opened up, and we have to fill it," says Robert Choma, the mayor of Przemysl. "There are all these rules that come along to tighten the border, but nothing that balances out the work that’s lost."


The Surge Against Hamas

As Israeli Ground Assault Prepares, Planners Know Hamas Has Graduated from Terrorist Group to Terrorist Army

December 29th 2008

Terrorism - Hamas Terrorists

Hamas, once known for its suicide attacks inside Israeli cities, is no longer a small-time terrorist group but today is a large guerilla army which has well-trained forces deployed throughout the entire Gaza Strip.

Since Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, Hamas has created a military with a clear hierarchy, led by the Hamas "chief of staff" - Ahmed Ja'abri.

Ja'abri is in his late forties and has been in Israel's sights for a number of years. In 2004, Israeli Air Force jets fired several missiles at Ja'abri's home in the Sajiya neighborhood of Gaza City. Ja'abri escaped the assassination attempt with moderate wounds. Five others were killed.

Since then, he has slowly climbed the Hamas ranks and today is believed to be the terror group's so-called "chief of staff," replacing arch-terrorist Mohammed Deff who was seriously wounded in an Israeli air strike in July 2006. Read more .. Read more ..

America Without a Plan for Oil Interruption

What If The Oil Stops?—Edwin Black Interviewed On The Plan

December 22nd 2008

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

Investigative journalist Edwin Black is the bestselling author of the award-winning IBM and the Holocaust, which documented for the first time IBM’s indispensable 12-year relationship with the Hitler regime, and Internal Combustion which chronicled how governments and corrupt corporations needlessly addicted the world to oil. His new book is The Plan--How to Rescue Society the Day the Oil Stops--or the Day Before. He was interviewed by Jamie Glanov, managing editor of Frontpage.com.

Edwin Black, you have previously written about genocide. Now you are writing about our addiction to oil. What inspired the switch?

I have been inspired to write about our addiction to oil based on the same values, fears and concern that I felt while working on my other books. In those books, I spotlighted a terrible past hoping for a precious future. Now I am chronicling a precious past and trying to avoid a terrible future. Oil today is the feedstock of radical Islam’s war against the west. We are financing it and doing so on a per-mile program. What’s more, Iran is using this money to accelerate its nuclear program which is aimed at destroying Israel. Indeed, Iran wants to achieve in 12 minutes with nuclear missiles what Hitler could not achieve in 12 years with tanks, trucks and gas chambers. If I was concerned about the first Holocaust, why would I not be concerned about a threatened second Holocaust? And remember in Hitler’s war against humanity, the Jews were the first victims but not the last. It will be the same if radical Islam triumphs—Israel will be the first victim but they will try to finish the job in Europe and North America.


Edge on Economic Crisis

General Motors Betrayed Its Founding Genius

December 15th 2008

Automotive - Durant Antique

As GM staggers towards either bailout or bankruptcy,  I am reminded that the big financial meltdown of 2008 began just around September 16th, the 100th anniversary of its founding. 

The giant corporation's present misery has a personal resonance for me as thirty years ago I completed a biography of its founder, William C. Durant, the very antithesis of the GM leadership of recent years—unimaginative, stodgy, wedded to old ways of doing things, and fiercely resistant for the last 20 years to all efforts to nudge it in the direction of smaller, fuel-efficient, pollution-reducing cars instead of heavyweight gas-guzzlers. Read more ..

America With No Plan for an Oil Interruption

The Confrontation Requires Adopting “The Plan”

December 8th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Walid Phares new

Storm petrels are birds renowned for warning of forthcoming cataclysmic tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons. Those who tried to warn the West in general and the United States in particular of threats lying ahead are identified as "human storm petrels" of our times.

In the late 1940s, a diplomat assigned to the U.S. embassy in Moscow saw the rise of a Soviet menace. He warned Washington about it. He was ignored.

In the 1990s, along with a number of experts on Jihadism, I tried to warn America about the gathering clouds of Salafism and Khomeinism. The strikes of September 11 vindicated those whom I called the "messengers" in my latest book, Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.

Today, new storm petrels are warning us about another type of storm—a sudden vast crisis in oil supply. One of these leading commentators is Edwin Black. In his recently published book, The Plan, the author informs the nation that an abrupt cessation of oil flow to the United States is more than possible—and America is not ready. It has no plan.

Black states it clearly: If events in the Middle East stop oil supplies, the United States and its economic underpinnings as we know them will be transformed. Our way of life will be radically affected. Back in 1973, OPEC waged a boycott on Western consumers in the wake of the October war between Israel and the Arab countries. Europeans remember the dramatic consequences during their cold months. Americans remember the long lines at the pumps. Today Westerners can project the magnitude of a repeated crisis on industries, social structures, and daily lives. The meltdown is only a reminder of the precariousness of capitalist societies when deprived of their needed energy. Read more ..

Ethnic Edge

A Family Affair as Ethiopians, Israelis, Jewish-Americans Celebrate a Shared History

December 1st 2008

Israel Topics - Isaac and JCC

The scene might have been a bar mitzvah: smiling guests circling the dance floor in a frenzied hora to the sounds of Hava Nagila. But there were clues—both big and small—that suggested otherwise. A dreadlocked keyboard player singing alternatively in Hebrew, English and Amharic. The smell of Ethiopian food wafting through the room. Yet, this was no bar mitzvah, but a recent event held at the Embassy of Ethiopia to celebrate the sub-Saharan country’s ties to Israel and the Jewish people.

“Ours is a shared history that goes back an extraordinary number of years—all the way back to Biblical times,” said Ethiopian Ambassador Samuel Assefa to the assembled guests. “From those ancient days until today, the branches of our family tree continue to weave themselves together.”  

In wide-ranging remarks, the Ethiopian representative retraced that unique heritage shared by Ethiopia and the people of Israel. According to legend, the founder of the Ethiopian Empire, King Menelik, was a product of the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Centuries later, Ethiopia was ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie, who traced his lineage directly back to Menelik and was known as the “Lion of Judah.” Read more ..

Inside Islam

Bangladesh's Secular Democracy Struggles with Violent Radical Islam

November 24th 2008

Islamic Topics - Bengali Islamists

Bangladesh is a country associated more with floods, cyclones and poverty than terrorism or radical Islamism. Indeed, it is a country founded on secular, democratic values and widely regarded as a moderate Muslim state. In recent years, however, militant Islamism has quietly been taking ground – and Bangladesh’s survival as a progressive state is on a knife-edge.

The warning signs have been there for some years, and some commentators have been sounding the alarm. In 2002, Ruth Baldwin wrote a piece in The Nation headlined: “The ‘Talibanisation’ of Bangladesh.” Hiranmay Karlekar wrote Bangladesh: The Next Afghanistan? While Maneeza Hossain’s Broken Pendulum: Bangladesh’s Swing to Radicalism and Ali Riaz’s God Willing: The Politics of Islamism in Bangladesh are all important contributions. 

Perhaps the most visible and dramatic sign of the growth of extremism came three years ago. On 17 August 2005, between 11 and 11.30 am, 527 bombs were exploded in a massive attack on all but one of the country’s 64 districts. Such a carefully co-ordinated campaign of terror shocked the nation – but in many respects it was just the tip of the terror iceberg. Other terrorist incidents, including an attack on the Bangladeshi-born British High Commissioner, members of the judiciary and sporadic attacks on religious and ethnic minorities are further indicators of the presence of well-organised terrorist networks. Read more ..

The Obama Transition

World Reacts Favorably to Obama Age--A Round-Up

November 10th 2008

Africa Topics - Obama in Africa

Newspapers across the world appeared to greet the election of Barack Obama with praise.


For example, in Kenya - the birthplace of the President-elect's father - the Daily Nation wrote on the day after the November 4 election, “Barack Obama’s victory over his Republican rival John McCain to become the 44th president of the US sparked off wild celebrations among Kenyans in the US. Like other Africans living in the US, Kenyans took to the streets with blaring car horns and loud music by Kenyan artists in their cars.” The paper added, “As Kenyans, we believe that with this win by our son, (America) will implement Africa-friendly policies that could lift not just the continent, but our nation from poverty.” Read more ..

Edge on Africa

Zambia's Election An Important Bellwether For Africa

November 3rd 2008

Africa Topics - banda
Zambia President Rupiah Banda

While desperate refugees flee eastern Congo in droves, and Zimbabwe buckles further under collapse, little attention has been paid to a crucial presidential election in the land in between, Zambia.

Following the August death of beloved President Levy Mwanawasa, considered by many observers as a rare good steward in Africa, the country had to hold a quick election to select a new leader. 

On Oct. 30, Zambians elected to continue the late president's sound policies by voting in his deputy, Rupiah Banda, who will now serve out the rest of Mwanawasa's term which expires in 2011. The relatively smooth transition of October's election, branded free and fair by independent election monitors, has helped to prove Zambia's young democracy. After all, Africa's largest copper producer has seen only three presidents since independence and has never lost one in office. With a wispy 2 percent margin of victory, Banda was sworn in November 2, only two hours after election officials announced the final results. Read more ..

Coping with Fear

The Truth About Hell

October 27th 2008

Israel Topics - Hell

Below the Old City walls in Jerusalem there is a ravine that begins as a gentle, grassy separation between hills, but then quickly descends south into the rocky earth. Eventually, the ravine becomes a steep, craggy depth, scarred on the far side by shallow caves and pits that vaunt hollowed-out chambers and narrow crypts.

Until recent years, everywhere one could see the scorches and smolder from trash fires. Rivulets of urine trickled down from open sewers at the cliffs above, watering thorn bushes, weeds and unexpected clumps of grass among the outcroppings. One could smell the stench of decaying offal, the congealed stink of putrefied garbage, and the absorbed reek of incinerated substances seared into the rock face. Crows circled low. Worms and maggots slithered throughout.

Listen. Imagine. Some cannot help but hear the tormented screams of babies being burned alive, the macabre incantations of the idolatrous in gruesome celebration, the agonized cries of helpless victims, and every other echo of death and disconsolation that dwells here so pervasively that not even the centuries can silence them.

Welcome to Hell. The real Hell. This is Jerusalem's Gei Ben Hinnom, the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom. The Valley was named for an alien non-Semitic family, the Hinnom clan that predated the First Temple period and immediately established the locale as a place of abomination. Gei Ben Hinnom became Ge Hinnom (Valley of Hinnom, and eventually Gehenna in English or Gehennem in Arabic and Hebrew. Read more ..

The Global Economic Collapse

UK and Europe Seek to Retard Global Economy

October 20th 2008

Economy - Corporate Cube

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom asserted earlier this week that the financial crisis revealed the need to "rebuild our fractured financial system." The European Union echoed this sentiment in a call for "a genuine and complete reform" of the world's financial architecture. The heart of Brown's proposal is to enhance the power and authority of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (known collectively as the Bretton Woods organizations) to create an unprecedented level of global governance to supervise financial institutions, impose universal standards for accounting and regulation, and serve as an early warning system for future crises.

The financial crisis certainly is serious, but Mr. Brown's suggested solutions would, for the most part, do little to prevent future crises; on the contrary, they could do great harm.

Brown's proposal coincides with ongoing meetings between the Bush Administration and European officials, and the announcement of a special G-8 summit as early as November to focus on the global financial crisis. The Bush Administration should not make the creation of a powerful new international regulatory authority a part of its legacy. Read more ..

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