Thursday, May 31, 2012

John Edwards

John Edwards -- former US Senator from North Carolina, former Democratic presidential candidate, former Democratic vice presidential hopeful -- walked out of a federal courthouse in North Carolina today a free man.
He had been charged with the misuse of federally regulated campaign funds, which had been diverted, according to the federal indictment, to pay the costs of hiding his pregnant mistress, and afterward supporting both his mistress and his daughter by her, so that he could continue on his political path to…to what?
Anyone who is interested in legal details can find them on CNN, but let me make just one legal point - the federal prosecutors did not prove that Edwards criminally violated any federal campaign law; they didn’t even produce one credible witness who testified to such activity. Their only witness, Andy Young, who worked for Edwards and “took the rap” for sometime by agreeing to say he was the baby’s father, could only prove on the stand that he misused the money given to him to help the mistress and her child. He built a million dollar home with it.
So, today, the jury found Edwards not guilty of the least of the charged offenses and was hung on the others. The waste of taxpayer dollars in the John Edwards case is almost criminal in itself.
But, none of that is really the point to the John Edwards story.
Edwards, himself, says as much whenever anyone puts a TV camera in front of him.
He lied to his wife, dying of cancer. Elizabeth Edwards was a wealthy woman. She learned about his affair too late. But, if he had had even the slightest trust in their relationship and marriage, he would have tried to explain, to resolve the problem with her, instead of hiding it from her by not using their joint funds to support his mistress. We will never know what Elizabeth Edwards would have done, faced with the facts, because her husband decided for her. He decided for her by not giving her the chance to make a mature decision.
He lied to his children or at the least put them in very difficult positions as youngsters - the sadly worn face of the daughter who stuck by her father, sitting every day in the courtroom to hear the sordid details, speaks volumes about the suffering of John Edward’s children.
John Edwards clearly did not trust, or perhaps even love or have real affection for, his mistress. He covered up their affair. He refused publicly on numerous occasions to admit he was the father of her child. He sent her packing around the country, pregnant and with a newborn infant, so that he could continue to play at politics. Play is the right word, because Edwards must have known in the latter months that the story time bomb was about to explode.
So, he sacrificed his wife, his children, his marriage, his mistress, and his new child…for what?? For the chance to spend one more day in the public spotlight, where he was adulated, coddled, treated as a rising star. His ego was being massaged at the expense of wife, children, mistress and child.
And, at the end of the day, perhaps what makes me most angry about his behavior is something almost laughable. Laughable except that it sets a very poor example for young people who badly need role models.
We live in an age where AIDS is perhaps the greatest fear parents have. We encourage, preach, plead, cajole and threaten our teenagers about the need to use condoms.
Did John Edwards ever hear of AIDS? Did he and his mistress ever have an HIV test? Did he ever think about using a condom? Apparently not. It would seem that John Edwards didn't even have the good sense that he would expect of his own children.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Obama's Black Hole

I think President Obama has a Black Hole in his brain, and sometimes he falls into it.
The latest fall was yesterday. President Obama referred to “Polish death camps” during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden to honor a Polish officer, Jan Karski, who was the first witness to alert the Allies about the World War II extermination camps built and operated by Germany in Poland.
Of course, there were no “Polish death camps.” Instead, during World War II, in occupied Poland, Germans killed 6 million Polish citizens, among them 3 million Polish Jews.
Polish Prime Minister David Tusk said that Obama’s faux pas shocked and hurt the Polish people. He said that to talk about “Polish death camps” is to negate the responsibility of Germany for the exterminations in German camps in Poland.
The Grand Rabi of Poland said that the Polish community of Jews is waiting for the President to personally correct his mistake.
Lech Walesa said that the error on the part of President Obama should serve to correct once and for all the use of the erroneous phrase “Polish death camps.”
Obama is not the only one to have misstated the facts. Between 2010 and 2012, 200 such errors have occurred and been corrected by the Polish government, in an effort to eliminate the phrase and to recall to the world the fact that Poland was one of the countries that suffered most under Germany’s occupation during WWII.
As for Obama’s Black Hole -- it seems to extend to his speech writers, or to whoever failed to adequately brief him before his speech.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The World vs al-Assad and There's Nowhere to Hide for Either Side

Things are moving rapidly today concerning Syria, as the world continues to be stunned by the massacre of 108 civilians in Houla, many children (49 by some counts) and as many women.
The preliminary UN report confirms that they were executed, shot at close range or garrotted. If you had the opportunity and the courage to watch the images on TV, you saw toddlers and young children with bullet holes in their chests or their throats slashed.
France, Germany, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States today declared the Syrian ambassadors in their countries persona non grata and expelled them.
It is clear that this was an concerted worldwide effort to send a firm message to al-Assad and his clique that they are now considered international pariahs not worthy of diplomatic exchanges. Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and Switzerland have also ejected their Syrian diplomatic representatives. Belgium has called for a meeting with the Syrian ambassador in Brussels, pointing to an expulsion as well.
Most western nations have already withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria after the shelling of Homs.
French President Hollande went so far as to say that the use of an armed contingent under the control of the UN and approved by the Security Council is not to be ruled out, although he explained that the pressure on the Syria regime could be something other than military, which would be in the best interests of the country.
President Hollande went on to say that he will meet in Paris Friday with Russian President Putin, noting: “It is Russia and China which are the most reluctant on the question of sanctions. Well, we will have to convince them that we cannot allow the regime of Bashar al-Assad to massacre its own people.”
Special UN envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, has called on al-Assad to “act now” to end the violence. “The Syrian president must act now, and the other parties in Syria must do their part, too” Annan said in a news conference after a Tuesday meeting with al-Assad in Damascus. Annan, who also met with the armed opposition leadership, added, “I told him that it is now time to act courageously, not tomorrow but now, to create the conditions necessary for putting the ceasefire in place.”
An Arab League official said that it is also time for “the armed militias supporting the regime to stop their military operations.” It is thought that the “chabbiha” - a pro-regime private militia - was instrumental in the Houla massacre. Many in Houla were killed with knives, indicating chabbiha activity, while others were killed by exploding bombs, which only the al-Assad regime possesses.
Al-Assad said after his meeting with Kofi Annan that the only way to end the fighting is for outsiders to stop arming terrorists. The regime is carrying out its own investigation and will have a report on Wednesday. It seems that al-Assad has not changed his stripes or his tune.
The leading opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council, welcomed the West’s diplomatic moves and asked for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution permitting armed intervention if needed to prevent or stop massacres and genocide.
Perhaps the most promising news today is that UN monitors and journalists on the ground in Syria are reporting that the al-Assad army is tired and shows it in combat. It has taken many losses in the past few weeks, and has also lost members to the opposition.
Moscow, meanwhile, continues to support al-Assad, saying that both sides are to blame for the Houla massacre and calling for an impartial UN investigation. But, there are rumors that Russia is working with al-Assad to try to get him out of Syria and into a safe haven, so that he can keep his freedom and his money if he resigns.
Lebanon, a country always in the midst of Syrian politics through no fault of its own, often simply by being overrun by Syrian forces, is saying that it does not want to become a base for international operations against the al-Assad regime. Lebanon wants to remain neutral in order to stop the fighting now occurring on its territory by pro- and anti-Assad guerrilla groups.
As several reporters said on CNN special programs last night, this time we cannot say we didn’t know what was going on. It is not Bosnia or Sarajevo, or Rwanda or the Congo.
This time, reporters and civilians with smartphones have covered the Syrian massacres and civilian killings.
This time, there is visual and eyewitness evidence.
This time, if the world turns a blind eye, it will, itself, have Syrian blood on its hands.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Memorial Day. The day on which Americans honor their war dead. It is not, or should not be, a day of raucous celebration, but a day of solemn reflection on the sacrifices American soldiers have made to win independence and keep the United States free.
Soldiers are not very talkative generally, and they don’t really enjoy telling “war stories.” Rather, they are proud and stoic in the face of their mission and its ultimate demand.
I cannot think of a better place to remember America’s war dead than at Arlington National Cemetery, where my father is buried. He survived three wars and died in his 83rd year, but his memories of war never left him, nor did his belief that nothing on earth is as terrible as war.
So, let us today remember America’s fallen heroes and pray for them and their families.

Remember --

The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery bears the following inscription:

Here rests in honored glory
an American soldier known but to God

There is also a Civil War Unknowns Monument at Arlington National Cemetery that marks mass graves of about 2,111 unknowns gathered from U.S. Civil War battlefields. The side of the memorial features this inscription:

Beneath this stone repose the bones of
Two thousand one hundred and eleven unknown
Soldiers gathered after the war. From the fields of Bull Run,
and the route to the Rappahanock, their remains could not be
identified. But their names and deaths are recorded in the archives of
their country, and its grateful citizens honor them as of their
nobel army of martyrs. May they rest in peace.
September. A. C. 1866.

There is also an area, called Jackson Circle, at Arlington National Cemetery where, after many years of bitter debate about allowing them to be buried at Arlington, the remains of Confederate soldiers repose. Reverend Randolph Harrison McKim, a Confederate chaplain who served as pastor of the Epiphany Church in Washington for 32 years, wrote the inscription on the monument to peace that overlooks the Circle. It is hard to find a more fitting description of America’s war dead. It reads:

Not for fame or reward
Not for place or for rank
Not lured by ambition
Or goaded by necessity
But in simple
Obedience to duty
As they understood it
These men suffered all
Sacrificed all
Dared all-and died

Memorial Day, 2012.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Latest Syrian Massacre Includes 32 Children under 10 Years of Age

A massacre in Syria…
100 bodies at least…
32 of them, children under 10…
many with their throats slit…
all confirmed by UN monitors in Houla, where the massacre occurred.

Has the world finally woken up and seen the slaughter for what it is…
crimes against humanity that rank right up there with Bosnia.

UN Secretary General Ban-ki-moon and the UN special representative Kofi Annan condemned the act as “…revolting and terrible crimes …flagrant violations of international law and of the Syrian government's international engagements…which must be judged.”

The UN has, however, stopped short of saying clearly that al-Assad forces carried out the massacre, but on site, the head of the UN monitors has said that Houla was bombed from Friday evening till dawn on Saturday and that some of the bombs were lobbed from Syrian regime tanks on the streets of Houla.

The Free Syrian Army has called urgently for an international force to start aerial bombings of al-Assad military targets and said that it could no longer uphold its commitments under the Kofi Annan ceasefire.

In condemning the massacre, Paris, London and Berlin did not say that they would support such a move. The new French Foreign Minister has called for a meeting of the Friends of Syria as soon as possible in Paris to review the situation.

British Foreign Minister William Hague has said he will call for a UN Security Council meeting in the immediate future to discuss how to proceed.

The Gulf Cooperation Council has condemned the massacre and asked the international community to assume its responsibility and halt the bloodshed.

The United Arab Emirates have asked the Arab League to meet next week.

Will this be enough -- or will it be just another round of meetings and hand wringing with no further action to follow.

How long, Oh Lord, how long?

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Week of the Euro, Greece, Spain, Egypt, Trump, Iran and Formula 1

It has been a busy week on many fronts and so it’s time, dear readers, to note some of the most important events of the past seven days.

1. After saying that it needs no exterior help in solving its bank debt crisis, Spain was on Friday faced with two serious events. First, Bankia, one of Spain’s largest banks, had its stock trading stopped while it began negotiations with the Spanish government about how to provide the US$23 Billion it needs to re-capitalize itself. It’s not good news if the banking crisis is spreading to Spain, but it is likely to continue because Spain was in a huge real estate building bubble that has burst much like that in the US, and so far, no steps have been taken to solve the banks’ liquidity and solvency crises.

2. At the same time, the largest region in Spain, Catalonia, which represents 25% of Spain’s economy, has said that although it will meet its debt obligations and continue to function, it needs help from the Spanish government to stabilize its financial position.

3. Withdrawals from Greek banks continue and there is no mechanism in the Eurozone compact to provide for halting such bank runs. Perhaps more unnerving is the fact that major European financial funds are reportedly getting rid of their Euro investments, which could be the beginning of a run on the Euro itself. The Euro has fallen to $1.25 from $1.30 this week, the steepest weekly decline on several years.

4. Donald Trump has said that he is starting a Super Pac to provide political advertisements against the Obama administration’s bungling of the US relationship with Asia and China, in particular. Trump, no friend of the President, says this is a neglected area of discussion and he aims to plug the hole.

5. Latest US polls and analysis show that Mitt Romney and President Obama are in a dead heat with probable voters. Of course, it is early days and the real poll figures will come in September.

6. Iran may be enriching uranium to a 27% level, instead of the 20% it reports. This in itself is not dangerous - 90% enrichment is needed for bombs - but it may be that a program to get to 90% is now underway. As the IAEA inspectors pointed out, the 27% traces found in enrichment labs may also simply be leftovers from adjustments made to get to 20% in new enrichment apparatus.

7. Egypt looks set to have a second round of presidential voting that will pit a Muslim Brotherhood candidate against a former prime minister under Murarak (he was PM for only a very short time during the revolution that toppled Mubarak). A starker choice could not be possible and Egyptians must now decide if they want an Islamist state or a modern democracy. That may sound like a simple decision to make, but it is not in an Egypt that has been torn apart and is looking for stability and a strong president - the Brotherhood candidate may seem more compatible with the voters’ goals, but their fierce desire for modern participatory government, which led them to sacrifice their lives to topple Mubarak, may yet win the day.

8. But, don’t forget, dear readers, that it’s the weekend of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix, and after you digest the bad news of the past week, take time out to sit back and watch the best F1 race of them all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Merkel vs Hollande while Greece Suffers

While German Chancellor Merkel and the rest of the Eurozone leadership were busy meeting in Brussels on Wednesday and later telling the media that they were determined to keep Greece in the Eurozone and asking Greece to abide by its austerity commitments -- another European Union meeting had already wrapped up.
The Eurogroup Working Group on Monday met by teleconference as expert representatives of Eurozone finance ministers.
Reuters has reported that the EWG has told member nations of the Eurozone to prepare contingency plans specific to each country to cover the possible consequences of a Greek departure from the Eurozone.
This dichotomy puts into sharp focus the political disarray in the European Union and the Eurozone over the Greek question.
While top policymakers insist that they will make it possible for Greece to stay in the Eurozone, financial managers are planning for a Greek exit.
The German State Bank (the Bundesbank) wrote in its most recent monthly report that the situation in Greece is "extremely worrying" and that the parliamentary stalemate and its creation of uncertainty over the implementation of the austerity package is making it difficult to continue to provide financial aid to Greece. Greek governmental sources are meanwhile saying that if no further immediate funds are provided, Greece will run out of funds in two months.
Add to the uncertainties the fact that former French President Sarkozy always met with German Chancellor Merkel before major meetings, but now that the French President is François Hollande, he chose to invite the Spanish Prime Minister to go to Paris and meet with him, instead. If Merkel and Hollande cannot continue the Franco-German tandem in the Eurozone, things could unravel into policy rifts and in-fighting in quick order.
Spain continues to insist that it will not ask for European aid for its fiscal and banking crisis, but every day European media report that Spanish requirements for its badly under-capitalized banks are more than it can supply internally from Spanish government funds.
All of Europe fears a Spanish collapse because there may not be sufficient funds available in the EU to cover Spain’s needs and protect it from default and a subsequent abandonment of the Euro as its currency.
Perhaps Hollande was trying to bolster Spain’s courage to deal with its problem, but without Germany, France would be unable to help Spain alone.
And, there were no decisions coming out of the Wednesday Eurozone leadership meeting. The next meeting was scheduled for June, and several agencies were asked to prepare plans for a pan-Eurozone fund to cover problems such as Spain’s through Eurobonds or other arrangements.
Chancellor Merkel is still adamantly opposed to Eurobonds, which would be issued by the European Central Bank as a joint bond backed by every Eurozone country. This would result in lower interest rates for Greece and other countries having trouble borrowing at low interest rates -- but it could raise Germany’s cost of borrowing by raising interest rates to a Eurozone “average”. Hollande wants to set up a Eurobond system.
Merkel is not ready to abandon Germany’s prime position as a low cost borrower to bail out countries like Greece, which Germany considers to be at fault in mis-managing their fiscal affairs.
And the beat goes on…

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Egyptians Go to the Polls to Elect a President

Egyptians are at the polls today to elect their new and first popularly elected president. There are 12 candidates on the ballot -- among them a Muslim Brotherhood leader, the last prime minister of Hosni Mubarak, the former foreign affairs minister and Arab League president, and an Arab nationalist.
Both police and military attachments were in place to guarantee calm, but thee appeared to be no real problems.
The turnout seemed to be good on day one and the polls were kept open an extra hour, but there will be a second day of voting tomorrow.
Results will be announced on the 27th of May and there will undoubtedly be a second round of voting on the 16th and 17th of June to decide the final victor.
On-site Egyptian analysts say the real decision will be between having a retrogressive Islamist president or a stable democratic government going forward.
Some supporters and candidates did not observe the “day of silence” called for during the election and there will be several cases brought before Egyptian courts for those who were out of line.
The new president of the 82 million Egyptians will have his work cut out for him.
Making his job more difficult is the fact that the new constitution is not ready and therefore the duties of the president are not legally defined. In addition, the Egyptian parliament is already in session and the president will have an Islamist Salafist - Muslim Brotherhood majority to deal with.
The new president will need to decide how to increase jobs, restart the economy, rebalance the social structure under which poverty was rampant, and rebuild the moribund tourist industry that is the lifeblood of the Egyptian economy.
So, dear readers, we should all wish the new Egyptian president well and hope that his programs and ability to heal the wounds of a half century of dictatorship and more than a year of sectarian fighting will work.
It is important that Egypt, as the largest and most influential Muslim-Arab country, function and show democratic leadership for the Muslim and Arab worlds.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Obama, Romney and Bain Capital

President Obama and Mitt Romney are tied at 47% each in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll on the question of fixing the economy and jobs.
Eighty percent of Americans see the economy negatively, and more than half believe that the economy will be the major factor in deciding who to vote for in November. However, 54% see the economy as improving and 58% are bullish about their futures. Both these figures are improvements over earlier polls.
The key may be in the poll numbers about whether they are better off today than they were when Obama took office - the famous Ronald Reagan question to America in 1980. Only 16% say they are better off and 30% say they are worse off. It could spell trouble for the President if he cannot move these percentages, which are similar to President H.W. Bush’s in 1992 when a weak economy probably cost him his re-election.
Other poll results show the President ahead, 52% to 39%, in “who has the better personal character to serve as president.” The two are tied on “personal values” and you, dear readers, can figure that one out because the two results are simply not consistent. Maybe it is the fact that the President is still well-liked by a majority of Americans, despite his being perceived as not doing enough on the economy.
All these poll results are tied tightly to party affiliations and leanings. So, both Obama and Romney will have a lot of work to do to change anybody’s mind. Party loyalty is very difficult to move.
Overall, the President would win if the election were held today - 49% to 46%. That’s within the margin of error, so nothing is decided and the conventions and fall campaign are yet to get underway.
But, Bain Capital seems to be a non-starter for Obama. Newt Gingrich said last night on CNN that his attempt to use it against Romney in the primary debates was a failure. Maybe the President ought to listen to Newt and lay off the Bain non-issue.
My feeling is that the Democratic pro’s have already decided to stay away from Bain as an issue. Many of them have already attacked the Obama political ads trying to discredit venture capital. They also have disagreed with the President's use of airtime Monday to continue the Bain Capital attack on Romney. Most say that they want Obama and Romney to stick to real issues.
I think the Democrats who will need to be re-elected in November are afraid that business is not the right attack tool and that it will backfire because most Americans see the issue as an attack against capitalism as a whole and the American free market system in particular. Obama could well lose the election on either of these issues if he stays on his current course because his words seem to be an attack on America, not on Mitt Romney.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Greece, the Euro, Michael Jordan and LeBron James

Today, it’s again time to talk about Greece.
When I’m in groups, the main question is always - “What will happen if Greece defaults?” The sub-topic is - “Let Greece default; it’s not so important anyway.”
So, let’s tackle these two themes.
First, everyone is now saying what some of us have been saying for more than a year now - Greece will default and it is only a question of how and when. The G8 meeting last weekend put the Greek question on the table, and it made German Chancellor Angela Merkel uncomfortable, I’m sure. That’s because if Greece defaults, Germany and German banks will be big losers.
So, instead of trying to sort out how to proceed to save Greece or help it exit the Euro as painlessly as possible, the G8 and Chancellor Merkel pushed the can down the road yet again, more or less saying, “Let’s wait to see what the 17 June elections produce.”
The truth is that it doesn’t matter who is elected to the Greek parliament on 17 June. Greece cannot support the borrowing it needs to pay its ordinary current bills (its 10-year bond interest rate is now 23%), but nobody is lending to Greece, except the European Central Bank, which is really lending to Eurozone member countries which then pass the money along to their banks holding Greek and other questionable debt and the banks use the money to build up their bank capital.
The problem with this is that since EU rescue funds intended for banks can ONLY be lent to national governments, who then re-capitalize the exposed banks based in their country, such lending increases the nation's sovereign debt, thereby solving one problem by creating another.
Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and Barclays have already published various reports with titles along these lines: “What to Do If and When Greece Exits the Euro.” All of the reports say this likelihood is becoming more and more probable.
Dear readers, you will note that there are no banks headquartered on continental Europe in the above list. That’s because continental banks are singing the same song as the Eurozone leadership. Basically, they say, Greece cannot exit the Euro; Greece has made commitments to its lenders that it must honor; and the people of Greece will decide on 17 June if they want to keep the Euro and stay in the Eurozone. Germany could have written the script and probably did.
But, all over Europe there are rumblings of plans being finalized to be ready when (not if) Greece defaults and leaves the Euro behind for its old Drachma.
To be somewhat unpleasant about it - Greece is a patient on expensive life support; at some point Greece or her family of Greek citizens will say, “pull the plug” because we can’t go on watching her suffer and we can’t pay any more. This could easily happen on 17 June if a new anti-Euro anti-austerity parliament is elected.
And, even if the new Greek parliament muddles along and tries to force austerity on a people already suffering beyond most of our imaginings, and even if Greece keeps taking the life-support money from the Eurozone, someone else could say, “pull the plug.”
That would be the Eurozone leadership and the Central European Bank. They could very well reason that there are other patients (Spain and Italy, for example) who need life support, and since it is clear that Greece is dying, they could wake up one day and say, “Hey, let’s pull the plug on Greece so we can plug in and spend the money now going to Greece to save these other patients who have a greater chance of surviving.”
And, the truth is that Greece’s already- weak economy has been so devastated by the austerity program forced on her by Eurozone “friends” that the chances of a Greek economic revival in the mid-term are next to zero. So, she has no chance to survive on the Euro - it is too expensive for her ailing economy and +20% unemployment rate.
So, if Greece either chooses to opt out of the Euro on 17 June or is forced out later, what happens then?

1. The Eurozone and the ECB will refuse to “lend” Greece more money and so Greece will have no money to pay her debts. Greek banks will collapse because they will have none of the Euros they need to operate.
2. There could be a run on Greek banks, but this would probably not happen because the Greek government would declare a Bank Holiday and keep the banks shut…no open desks or cash machines = no money for Greeks whose funds are still in Greek banks. This possibility has already led to several mini-runs on Greek banks by Greek citizens trying to get their money out while they can.
3. There will be even more unemployment, retirement checks will not be mailed, state social services will shut down, the military and police won’t be paid, and Greek citizens will be pretty much left on their own to sink or swim.
4. This could lead to severe civil unrest, perhaps even a military takeover such as occurred in the 1970s when The Colonels took over Greece.
5. European and other banks that hold Greek debt will need to write it off their books. This is one of the reasons that America and the European Union have been demanding that all banks boost their capital - to cover such write-offs and still stay afloat.
6. Greece will begin the long process of printing Drachmas, agreeing with the international financial community on their value vis-à-vis the Dollar and the Euro, and then distributing them to Greek citizens in exchange for their Euros in the frozen bank accounts.
7. At the same time, Greek businesses will have to re-negotiate their commercial lines of credit and other contracts with suppliers and customers. This will make the Greek cost-of-living go up because with a devalued Drachma, Greeks will have to pay more for imported goods and services.
8. The Greek government will need to re-negotiate all it debt, finding acceptable terms for repayment with Drachmas, and also finding banks and other financial institutions willing to lend Greece money on a Drachma basis.

Enter President Hollande of France…elected on the basis of promising a growth pact instead of the Fiscal Compact between France and Germany. Merkel has said NO RE-OPENING of the Fiscal Compact, but this weekend at the G8, Merkel said the words that France, Spain, Italy and the world have been waiting to hear, “Of course there must be growth and we will make a separate pact to provide for growth.”
François Hollande's election in France has shifted the Eurozone crisis debate, and Hollande has lent his weight to several important players who were not able to budge Merkel on their own - José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Mario Monti, Italian prime minister -- a powerful new Hollande ally.
This next weekend, there will be meetings in Europe to tackle the agenda of possible growth programs.
This just might save Spain and Italy, but not Greece. It is too late for a Greece poisoned and beaten to death by austerity programs not of her own making. Greece will leave the Euro and will finally find her feet again as a country managing her own affairs in the way that suits her economy and with her own currency that can be valued over time as is best for Greece.
Experts may argue, and people in the street may say, that Greece should pay for her over-spending and too lavish social welfare way of life.
But, given the lavish social welfare programs in every country in the Eurozone, that is something like Michael Jordan telling LeBron James that he’s making too much money and should give most of it back.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Syria Weekly Report

While the G8 meeting was deploring the violence in Syria, demanding that it stop and urging support for the Kofi Annan ceasefire, in Syria it was business as usual.
A suicide bomb in a car exploded in Deir Ezzor killing 9. And elsewhere, 23 were killed, including 12 civilians, in a battle between insurgents and al-Assad troops, while UN monitors were in place and unable to stop the fighting.
These suicide attacks and other attempts to damage al-Assad troop enclaves are called “terrorist attacks” by the regime, but the insurgents say they are being carried out by tiny fringe groups not included in the insurgent coalition, hinting that these groups may be part of al-Assad’s strategy to demonize the insurgents.
The insurgent leadership this weekend called on Lebanon to honor the bank sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States. The US has called the al-Assad regime a “terrorist economy.”
The United Arab Emirates have asked their citizens not to enter Lebanon because of the ongoing guerrilla-style fighting between anti-Assad Sunnis and pro-Assad Alaouites in that country that have caused 10 deaths in the past week.
Dear readers, we can only regret the events that are destroying Syria but whether anyone will step up to ending them is questionable.
Are we entering a “last man standing” situation? We can only hope not, because such civil wars - Ireland, Congo, Sierra Leone - can go on for years, with the worst kind of partisan tactics used to terrorize and subdue civilians.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Greek Banks Losing Deposits

The European media is reporting that Greek banks have lost approximately 1.5 Billion Euros in the past two days, money taken out of accounts by Greek account holders.
Greeks are trying to secure their money before anything happens to force Greece out of the Eurozone, something that is more and more seen as a real possibility. So far, there has not been a “run” on Greek banks, but authorities in Athens and Brussels are watching the situation for signs of panic.
At the same time, the European Central Bank has stopped lending money to certain under-capitalized Greek banks. This is thought to be behind some of the recent bank account withdrawals. However, the ECB has stated that the under-capitalized banks are in the process of being re-capitalized by a special fund set up in the Eurozone for that purpose, and as soon as the process is complete, the ECB will again begin to lend to these banks.
Reality on the ground, however, may show a different situation. At least four Greek banks are reported to be operating with negative capital and are being supported by the Greek of Greece, which is, in turn, being supported by the ECB.
In addition, the failure to form a government after the recent parliamentary elections has left Greece with a caretaker government to handle day-to-day operations until a new election is held on the 17th of June.
The ECB is reported to have decided that the electoral stalemate makes the possibility of the needed re-capitalization of the banks almost impossible.
And, the ECB needs to provide 18 Billion Euros to Greece soon so that Greece can pay its creditors the latest installment on the debt Greece owes them. If the ECB does not provide the money, Greece would be in default and there would be “disastrous” consequences, including a declaration of bankruptcy by the creditors that would automatically, in theory, force Greece out of the Euro as its national currency and might even force Greece out of the European Union.
What is interesting in all this chaos is that a majority of Greeks want to remain in the Eurozone but they vote for parliament members that do not want to follow the Eurozone rules for austerity required to put Greece’s fiscal mess in order. But, a poll last week shows that 48% of Greeks are beginning to believe that an exit from the Eurozone is inevitable.
Even some members of the caretaker government have said that Greece will be forced to leave the Eurozone and return to the Greek Drachma, but a greatly devalued Drachma.
So, dear readers, it is easy to see why Greeks are withdrawing Euros while they still can. These Euros will be worth much more if exchanged in an open market for Drachmas or other currencies, instead of being exchanged automatically by the banks under orders from the Bank of Greece after a default and exit from the Eurozone.
Since January 2010, some 72 Billion Euros have been withdrawn from Greek banks. Analysts say this is partly because Greeks need the money to live on, but it is also because they fear losing money if there is a default and their new Drachmas are valued at a very low rate in relation to the Euro.
Add to this the rumor mill that is churning ever faster in recent days in Greece and everywhere in Europe and you have an explosive situation. That the Euro has fallen against the US Dollar from 1.32 to 1.27 in the past few days is further proof of the troubles brewing in the Eurozone, with no real solutions being offered.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Obama Continues to Bully Boehner and the GOP

The more President Obama talks about not tolerating another debt ceiling crisis such as occurred last year, the more it seems likely that his talk will precipitate one.
House Speaker John Boehner has said, yesterday and often in the past months, that there will be no increase in the US debt ceiling without meaningful spending cuts. At a $15 Trillion debt rising to $16.4 Trillion when the debt ceiling issue is addressed, it is hard to argue with Boehner’s line in the sand.
Not only is Speaker Boehner delivering this message to the President and the Democratic Senate, but the financial community and ratings agencies are also trying to point the way to spending cuts in Washington.
Obama's calling for a “bi-partisan approach” to the debt ceiling question rings hollow since he is at the same time blaming the GOP majority in the House for the entirety of last year’s fiasco. It will be difficult to get any bi-partisanship off the congressional ground while Obama insists on placing all the blame on the other party.
The debt ceiling will be on the table in November, after the 2012 elections and before the new Congress and President take office, so whether anything can be accomplished on the lame duck session is questionable, but President Obama’s bullying effort is surely not the best tactic.
With the Bush tax cuts also ready to expire on January 2013, and with the ratings agencies warning about another possible downgrade in America’s credit rating, one would expect the President to be more accommodating.
Perhaps this, more than any other reason, explains why it is critical to elect both a Republican President and Congress in November, because it is the only sure way to get control of the national debt and budget while there is still time to make meaningful progress.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Francois Hollande Invested as President of France and Oh the Faux Pas

It was a big day for the French. The "Passation" of power, as it is called in French, from Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy to Socialist Francois Hollande took most of the day on French TV.
Hollande arrived at the Palais d'Elysée at 10 am and was greeted by Sarkozy at the entry stairs. First error - Hollande did not, as is the custom, walk with Nicolas and Carla Sarkozy to their car as they left the presidential palace. Was he snubbing them, the TV commentators asked.
Holland's four children were not present as he signed the book making him president of France. His ex-companion and mother of his children, Segolene Royale (who was the Socialist candidate defeated by Sarkozy in 2007 when he became president) explained that the children didn't want to be compared to the parade at Sarkozy's investiture when his children from several marriages, as well as some of their mothers, were present. Of course, the French took the opportunity to ask when Hollande is going to marry his "concubine" and become a real French president - wife and all.
At 2pm Hollande went to a public garden and gave his first "homage" to Jules Ferry, whose statue is in the garden. Ferry is the father of the French public school system, and also stripped it away from its religious past and admitted girls. So, he is somewhat of a hero. BUT, Ferry also was a staunch supporter of French colonialism and many civil rights activists were angered by Hollande's move to honor him.
From Ferry's garden, Hollande went to the Fifth Arrondissement (a precinct of Paris) and honored Nobel Laureate Marie Curie, who discovered radium. He laid a wreath at her and her husband's grave. Pierre Curie was also a Nobel Laureate who worked with his wife, Marie, on the radium program. Hitch - Marie Curie was born in Poland and went to France for political reasons. She was made a citizen, but, wags wondered if there wasn't a "real" French scientist who could have been honored instead.
From the Curie Institute, Hollande's cavalcade went to the Paris Mayor's palace. This is truly a splendid building which would make the Medicis jealous. Paris is presided over by a Socialist Mayor, so everything was cozy. The Mayor of Paris always receives the new President - almost to give him the right to stay in Paris and rule France - and today was no exception, with Mayor Delanoé heaping lavish praise on his city, as he rightly should since Paris is probably the most beautiful city in the world. Then, it was Hollande's turn to speak, and among other things, he said that he was born in Normandy and entered government from a southern department called Correze, but that he had lived in Paris a long time and considered himself Parisian. Oops - everyone outside Paris was offended. You see, most French don't like Parisians, considering them arrogant and impolite (sound familiar?).
So far, President Hollande's day is not going great.
But, it was now time to get on his jet and head to Berlin to schmooze with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was still raining - poor Hollande ruined two suits by walking or riding in open cars as he made his rounds because it poured and even hailed at one point during his visits. His private plane took off and was struck by lightning four minutes into the flight. Back to the military airport to change planes. Someone called ahead to tell the Chancellor he'd be an hour late.
But, he finally arrived in Berlin and the two heads of government had their private meeting. A press conference followed. Now, Hollande campaigned on renegotiating the Eurozone austerity treaty and focusing on growth in the Eurozone, and Merkel continually said it would not happen, and even voiced her preference for a Sarkozy victory. At the press conference, the two were definitely not happy campers - and the wound is obviously still open.
One last item. Hollande named the head of the Socialist National Assembly caucus as Prime Minister. One of his qualifications mentioned is that he speaks fluent German. You guessed it. The French media and conservative pundits said, "Since when is speaking German a reason to be named France's Prime Minister?"
Welcome to Paris, President Hollande. It surely has to get better soon, but maybe you ought to hire a PR type who understands what to say when one is resident in the Parisian French presidential palace.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ron Paul's Last Hurrah

Mitt Romney just became the last man standing.
Ron Paul, the Libertarian-cum-Republican who vowed to go all the way to the GOP Convention, today announced that he is quitting his course toward the White House, one he never had a chance of winning in any case.
In his announcement, Congressman Paul said that he is not disposed to spend more money to try to win primaries against the well-oiled machine of Mitt Romney. “To continue to do that with any hope of winning would require tens of millions of dollars that we simply do not have,” Paul said.
Ron Paul is not leaving the GOP battleground, however. He intends to leave his name on the remaining primary ballots, to continue to collect delegates and to take his message to the floor of the GOP Convention in Tampa in August.
The libertarian message of personal liberty, low taxes, American isolation from world conflicts unrelated to American interests, and small government, will no doubt be heard positively by the GOP delegates, many of whom will be tea partiers who sympathize with Paul’s message. And, together, the tea partiers and Ron Paul will influence the GOP platform and the positions taken by Romney when the autumn campaign gets fully underway.
At 76, Ron Paul has surely now had his last hurrah. Paul, a gynecologist elected from Texas to the House of Representatives for many terms, will pass his Libertarian-Republican mantle on to his son, Rand Paul, the US Senator from Kentucky.
Ron Paul - just a personal note - don’t stop reminding Americans what is actually written in their Constitution. While most Americans love their founding document, they often misunderstand it, and American politicians usually just wish it would go away.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

One Month of Syria's Ceasefire Celebrated with Regime Bombings

It is one month since the Syrian ceasefire was put into place. To celebrate, the Syrian army bombarded a village near Damascus, killing 5 civilians and wounding 18 others.
This assault brings to at least 30 the number of people killed by the Syrian army since the ceasefire took effect.
It seems cold comfort, therefore, to hear that two-thirds of the UN monitors are now in place in Syria.
Other bombardments this weekend have killed at least 9 others, including a child who was killed when his home was bombed, while the human rights observation group based in London report more than 20 killed.
Bashar al-Assad’s regime still does not officially recognize that the rebel cause is anything but a terrorist group, which they label as “probably al-Qaida,” trying to destabilize the country and that the bombings are their work, and not the regime’s.
The rebel leadership has responded that if al-Qaida is really now in Syria, it is because the government has invited them to help quash the rebellion, which is not terrorist but civilians trying to eliminate the dictatorial al-Assad regime.
Diplomatic efforts to make the Kofi Annan ceasefire work are not succeeding, but in Paris on Sunday, the Russian ambassador to France said that there is every reason to think that the Annan deal will work and that everyone ought to be trying to help it take effect. This sounds good until one remembers that Russia is still al-Assad’s staunchest ally.
This is not really news, because it simply reflects the stalemate on the ground, with Syrian civilians paying the price with their lives for the inability of the international community to stop al-Assad.
The real regional news this weekend is not good. Lebanon, which shares a border with Syria, has seen sectarian fighting break out between factions supporting al-Assad and the rebel movement. The skirmishes are isolated for the moment and no one is concerned that Lebanon will fall into a generalized state of guerrilla war, it is not good news for a region already as unstable as any on earth.
And, in what has been labeled as a prisoner exchange deal, two Turkish journalists detained by the Syrian regime for two months were released Saturday. They were subjected to psychological torture by having guns pointed at their heads, but were not tortured physically. European sources say al-Assad partisans were released in order to secure the journalists’ freedom, but there has been no official word on this.
Finally, Jordan is asking the Arab Gulf states to help pay for the more than 20,000 Syrian refugees now sheltered in Jordan.
Just another weekend in Syria…will it ever end? One can hope, I suppose.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Gay Marriage

I hesitate even to open up this topic, but it seems to be the only thing going on in the American political arena right now. And while in Europe the question is for the present not on the front burner, it is always simmering because of the large number of European Catholics and therefore the clash of the Church's ideas about gay marriage with the needs of politicians.
So, gay marriage vs equal rights for gay couples -- is there a difference that is meaningful between these two situations?

For me, gay couples should have equal rights in every respect - pensions, health care for partners, owning or renting property, wills and testaments, job and political opportunities -- everything except...and here, I tread softly because we have no real experience or data to guide us. Except for adoption. I don't know whether a child is damaged by being raised in a gay home, and neither does anyone else. The problem here is that unless children actually live through the experience and can give society their commentary, we will continue to be flying in the dark. So, I have no idea what position society should take with regard to gay couples adopting children. I have to leave that to others. I can only speak for myself. I would not like to see the practice grow because I still think a mother (female) and father (male) are the best combination for preparing children for the society they will live in.

Here, I probably agree with the majority of my peers in thinking that marriage is not really necessary in order for gay couples to live equally in their society. This belief is not based on factual information but on religious conviction. The proof of this is made clear every time someone tries to explain why they are for or against gay marriage. The explanations are always of the same kind -- it doesn't feel right to me; God doesn't want same sex marriages to exist; I think marriage is meant to be a union between a man and a woman.
The arguments are religious and philosophical. And, dear readers, that is the problem with gay marriages. Marriage is generally seen as a religious state, as a sacrament, that is agreed to by the state for health and governmental purposes (sexually transmitted disease control, keeping too close relatives from producing unwanted genetic results, taxation, state welfare services, testamentary passing on of property, etc).
In European countries, marriage is seen principally as a political function (the mayor performs the ceremony that is official and the religious ceremony, if the couple chooses to have one, is religious and not essential to the creation of the married state) and therefore the argument I just made might be weaker for Europeans.
But, in America, the vast majority of marriages are performed by clergy, with the approval of the state in the form of a marriage license (this allows the state to control the items listed above). Americans see marriage as a religious function. Therefore, when the state meddles in religion by telling clergy that they must marry gay couples, it is the basis for severe disagreements. This is the reason so many Ameircan states (about 2/3 of them) have had ballot propositions banning gay marriage -- it is to keep the state out of what these citizens see as a religious activity.
So, yes, gay marriages can exist where a majority of citizens want them to exist. But, when a majority of citizens do not want gay marriages, it is time for the state to "butt out" and stay away from divisive and unneeded arguments about religious beliefs that are not going to change, even if President Obama has made his view clear.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Far Right - in France and America

France is preparing to elect its National Assembly (parliament) members. They used to be elected with the presidential election, but now it's after, and it seems good to let the voters reflect before giving the presidential winner's party an absolute majority in governing.
But, the problem right now is that the Front National, the far right group that we would think to be voting with the conservative party of ousted President Sarkozy is apparently making plans to vote for socialists in key districts, so that the conservatives will not have a parliamentary majority.
This is a continuing feud between the French conservative party and the FN, which detests the conservative party's seeming conservatism but laxity when it comes to hard decisions. And, there is a personal feud between Nicolas Sarkozy and the FN founding family, the Le Pens, father and daughter, that is deep and bitter.
So, the outcome of the French parliamentary election is far from certain, and the new Socialist President, Francois Hollande, may get a National Assembly majority of his own party that will agree to his "spend-and-tax" agenda that would bankrupt France, which is teetering on the edge of falling into fiscal chaos.
Does this resonate in the United States? I think it does.
If the social conservative wing of the Republican Party stays home instead of voting for Mitt Romney in November, it could be a death blow to his presidential chances. And they would be, in effect, as is the FN in France, cutting off their noses to spite their faces, so to speak because their opt-out would surely give Obama a congressional majority as well as a second term.
So, as in France, to satisfy their desire to draw blood from Romney, the GOP moderate victor, they will give their country the worst of all worlds, in so far as their own goals and philosophies are concerned.
As for personal animosities, in the US, we only have to look to Jon Huntsman's overt talk about a third party to understand how much he dislikes Mitt Romney.
It is here that both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum can behave like statesmen instead of sore losers by supporting Romney with enthusiasm and working hard to get him elected by bringing in the social conservatives of the GOP.
When I was still a youngster, I remember my great grandmother telling me that any Republican is better than any Democrat because of the ideals and convictions that support their actions.
If we substitute "conservative" for Republican and "socialist" for Democrat, that is still good electoral advice in 2012.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Romney Team Electoral Vote Strategy

My sister sent me an analysis of the Romney team strategy for winning the White House in November. It’s interesting for its facts, but, dear readers, it also gives us an upfront look into how presidential campaigns are mapped out for victory.
First, you have to know that it takes 270 electoral college votes to become President of United States. The electoral college, provided for in the US Constitution, is the group that is made up of electors from each state, chosen on election day in November through separate ballot entries with their preference for President usually noted, and each state is allocated electors according to its population. They assemble in Washington on the first Monday in January and cast their votes for President. Normally, they vote for the person who won the election in their state, casting all their votes for that person, although there is no constitutional imperative to do so. When the elector votes are cast, the candidate who has at least 270 votes is declared President.
With that in mind, the Romney team’s strategy is to campaign first to hold all the states won by Senator John McCain in 2008. This should be very possible because states that voted in the face of the blitz win in 2008 by Barak Obama are surely conservative and Republican at their core, so this will probably give Romney 180 electoral votes.
Then, the plan is to add three normally GOP states that went to Obama in 2008 - Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina. This could be not too big a problem because these states have, since 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected, voted for GOP presidential candidates.
Now comes the harder part.
The Romney team will focus on winning in two crucial swing states - Ohio and Florida. These states often change the party they vote for in presidential elections and so can be big predictors of who will win the election.
But, even if Romney wins Ohio and Florida, he will be 4 electoral votes short of victory, so he will need to win at least one more swing state to be elected President. The possible states are New Hampshire (where Romney has a home), Colorado, Pennsylvania, or Michigan (where his father is remembered as a great governor).
So, now all you have to do is mark your map, or keep this blog as a guide and you’ll be able to interpret early vote returns on election night, November 6, and perhaps you will make the big prediction even ahead of the more careful media analysts who like to be sure before making their announcement of the victor.
Something to keep in mind, though, is the one statistic working against Mitt Romney and the GOP. In the last 100 years, there have been 25 presidential elections but only 5 challengers have beaten incumbent sitting presidents. That puts a different perspective on the Romney team’s goal.
And current polls put President Obama and Romney in a virtual deadlock. The candidates are even in Ohio and Florida polls, and Obama is slightly ahead of Romney in Virginia and North Carolina.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Romney and the Hispanic Vote

The Republican National Committee held a roundtable on Tuesday to highlight the GOP’s Hispanic get-out-the-vote effort. The roundtable ended with RNC director of Hispanic outreach Bettina Inclán trying to explain to the media the GOP’s message to Hispanics when it comes to immigration without much success because it seems that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney hasn’t communicated to the RNC yet what his position on immigration is.
Recent polls show President Obama beating Romney with Hispanic voters by a margin of as much as 47%.
Now, it seems to me that it doesn’t take higher math to figure out that carrying the Hispanic vote is crucial to a Romney victory in November. It also seems clear that after four years of campaigning to get the GOP nomination, Romney ought to be better placed than anyone to understand this fact of Republican electoral life.
Senator Mark Rubio and the RNC Hispanic outreach committee are doing their best in New Mexico, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, Colorado and Virginia (Arizona is not in the effort because its polls show it in a “comfortable” lead - something they ought to be adding to instead of ignoring, I’d say), but without leadership from the top in the person of Mitt Romney, their efforts will be drowned out by the Obama campaign’s pounding away at the GOP primary debate record on immigration.
“Hispanics are incredibly disappointed on President Obama and immigration,” Inclán offered. “This is a President who as a candidate promised immigration reform; promised it in his first year. Three years later, we still don’t even have a plan. He talked about uniting families and all he’s done is deport more immigrants than any president in American history.”
When asked what she would say to undecided Hispanic voters who conclude that Romney’s proposals on immigration are too strict and are “out-of-line with what Hispanics want,” Inclán had no ready answer.
“I think as a candidate, to my understanding, that he’s still deciding what his position on immigration is,” she said. “So I can’t talk about what his proposal’s going to be, because I don’t know what Romney exactly — he’s talked about different issues. And what we saw in the Republican primary is that there’s a very diverse opinion on how to deal with immigration. So I can’t talk about something that I don’t know what his position is.”
The Obama campaign’s director of Hispanic press, Gabriela Domenzain, said in a statement that Romney “has proven time and time again that he is the most extreme presidential candidate in modern history on immigration. His position may be inconvenient, but it has been clear,” she said. “He has promised to veto the DREAM Act, thinks all undocumented immigrants should self-deport, has called the anti-immigrant Arizona law a ‘model’ for the nation and has paraded around the country with the nation’s leading anti-immigrant voices. Mitt Romney has decided to be the most extreme presidential candidate on immigration; Hispanics and all Americans have heard it loud and clear.”
Inclán responded to the Obama attack by saying it is “almost insulting” to assume that the only thing influencing Hispanic voters is immigration.
“People continue to pretend that the only thing that Hispanics care about is immigration,” she said. “Most Hispanics were born here in this country. We are American citizens. While immigration’s an important issue, we are American citizens.”
RNC press secretary Kirsten Kukowski stepped in to try to save the day.
“To be fair, everyone, we just started transitioning with Governor Romney’s campaign a couple of weeks ago,” she said. “So, let’s take it back a step here and understand that the RNC’s lane in this campaign is to do voter outreach and get-out-the-vote efforts, and that’s what we’re going to do, and that’s what these people were hired to do.”
She added: “Mitt Romney is going to, I’m sure, talk an awful lot about jobs and the economy, how they affect Hispanics, and his immigration policy. But he has been our general-election nominee for approximately two weeks. So let’s all be fair and put this all in context that we’re sitting in May, May 8, of the general election.”
Well, whatever date we're at, the fact is that Senator John McCain won 31% of the Hispanic vote in 2008, and George W. Bush won 44% in 2004.
It would be useful for the Romney team to get its immigration policy in line with the work Senator Rubio is doing to counter the Dream Act, and to step up to the constituency that could make or break a GOP presidential win in November.
As for the RNC, could it be that the prior planning and coordination of any Roundtable should start with "outreach" to the Romney team???

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday's Plate of News

There are several stories today that should be noted. Let's take a look at some of them.

1. An Improvised Explosive Device intended for a US-bound airplane has been retrieved - we don't know where or by whom yet. But, experts are piecing together the facts released by the American Defense Department, including the detail that the bomb was "non-metallic" and that it was made by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (i.e., Yemen), and believe that it was Saudi Arabian intelligence that traced the bomb and alerted the US. This is the latest of AQAP's unsuccessful efforts to plant bombs on US airplanes and it shows that perhaps, annoying as it is, the passenger searches carried out on US commercial aircraft are needed. At least, it will make it mose difficult for anti-search lawmakers to succeed in drastically changing the regulations. Apart from searches, the use of the word non-metallic is an indirect way of saying that the bomb was made of PETN, a powder explosive impossible to detect in small quantities.

2. Trumped up elections were held in Syria today and roundly condemned by UN Secretary General Ban-ki-moon, who said they did not meet standards required of democratic elections. Meanwhile, more UN monitors are in place, but the killing goes on.

3. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has invited newly elected French President Francois Hollande to Berlin, but at the same time said that the austerity pact now in place is not negotiable. Thus, the first shoe falls on Hollande's grand plan for Europe and he wll need to figure out how to circumvent Merkel's "no" vote.

4. The Greek far-right party has said that it cannot form a coalition. This leaves a mess in Greece, where no party won an outright majority in Sunday's parliamentary elections. A coalition of some sort will eventually be formed, but whether it will honor Greece's commitment to its strict austerity program, which is rquired for it to continue to receive operating funds from the Eurozone and the European Central Bank, is now an open question. If the new Greek government fails to comply with its austerity program, it would probably need to leave the Eurozone in order to enter bankruptcy and come out with its old currency, and that would bring the Euro itself into question. This is a little like, "what goes around comes around" because the problem has been on the table or pushed under the tablecloth for more than a year now.

5. And lastly, the good news. Phil Mickelson has been chosen to be inducted into the PGA Golf Hall of Fame. The 41-year-old is imminently qualified. Bravo and congratulations, Phil!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

French Election Results Signal Hard Times for Europe

The major French media outlets have just reported their projection of a Socialist win in the French presidential election. Exit polls show that Francois Hollande will defeat conservative sitting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with an estimated 52% to 48%.
This result will certainly change everything in Europe. Hollande has vowed to demand a stop to the austerity budgets imposed by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the help of Sarkozy.
Hollande will embark on a spending for growth agenda for France and try to re-open the European Union treaties that put severe constraints on national autonomy in budget making and deficit control.
Whether Hollande will succeed is an open question, but it is now sure that Europe will face increasing budget deficits, rising national debts and the great probability that the financial rating agencies will lower France’s AAA/AA rating, causing the cost of borrowing for the French Republic to rise, as it already has in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy.
While there is no question that growth must accompany fiscal tightening for the package in any country to be effective, the fear now is that the EU Eurozone countries long constrained by Germany and France will break out of their austerity programs and the red ink will flow even faster, and with even less chance of being corrected in the next five years.
For example, Greece also voted today, for parliament members, and it looks like the incumbent government coalition, socialist, will also be defeated. The newly elected conservative coalition has already said it will abandon much of the austerity program foisted on it by Merkel’s Germany.
The news from Europe is certainly not as good as it could be, and now we will have to wait for the political maneuveuring to begin. Will Merkel be able to hold the Eurozone together as a functioning financial power without the help of France’s conservative Sarkozy. Nothing is less sure.
And, our attention must now turn to America, where the same scenario will play out in the next five months.
Will American voters toss out President Obama because he was on watch when the financial crisis hit and grew, or will they, like Europe, elect the Republican Mitt Romney, in the hope that he can straighten out the mess.
If it seems that Obama should win because he is leftist like Hollande, one must think again. What has happened in Europe in the last year is that every sitting head of state has lost his latest election - whether left or right made no difference - simply being in power was the single common thread that made them lose. Ten of them out of twelve.
So, it is far from certain that President Obama will be re-elected.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Rambo Police

I don't know who told American police that they are supposed to behave like Rambo - smashing down doors, tasering a 68-year-old retiree who is yelling that he's okay and telling them to go away, handcuffing and arresting a 7-year-old girl because she was out of control in a primary school room - the examples are too numerous to be treated as aberrations.
Are American police being so routinely trained to go after the Taliban and al-Qaida and they forget that in most American cities these terrorists just don't exist - and certainly not in the form of 7-year-old girls and 68-year-old ex-Marines. Their gear looks like something out of a recent computer-generated action film and their actions follow suit.
And, I also don't know who has told the media that the police are only doing their job and trying to prevent being sued later if they don't follow the Rambo techniques right up to causing the death of a citizen.
Well...I probably could make a good guess who is responsible for the police violence and over-reacting that precipitates the media's explanations. It is undoubtedly the justice system - lawyers who are trying to adjust their advice to court rulings that defy common sense. I can say that because I'm a lawyer. And lawyers are as honorable as the next guy, but something has gotten way out of balance.
Was it the Miranda ruling that gives suspects the right to remain silent or was it the brutality of some of the modern gulag style killings by deranged outlaws who ought to be in prison and out of society's view forever or was it simply the fact that modern warfare and the high tech equipment that goes with it has made police more dangerous, sometimes, than the suspects they are pursuing?
I don't know the answer, and I'm sure you don't either.
But, I do know that no 7-year-old girl ought to handcuffed and arrested - never - not for any reason. Children who misbehave - even violently - can be subdued by adults - police if the school administrators and teachers are afraid to act for fear of being sued.
And, I know that a 68-year-old man was terrorized, tasered, and killed because he had been ill and thought he needed medical help. What he got was a SWAT team looking for bin Laden - and like bin Laden - he was gunned down, not as bin Laden was, correctly, by troops who were looking for the terrorist and found him. The American was gunned down by a domestic bunch of armed hoodlums who don't know the difference between helping someone in need and going after a terrorist.
Something needs to be done, and quickly.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

French Poll Shows Hollande in Lead

The latest French poll, taken after last night's debate, shows that Francois Hollande has a lead over Nicolas Sarkozy, 53% to 47%.
In addition, the centrist leader, Francois Bayrou, has said that he will vote for Hollande but that he will give no instructions to his party members, most of whom are center-right by conviction. This is a very risky move for Bayrou, but we can discuss that another day.
Today, President Sarkozy gave a rousing patriotic address to 10,000 supporters in the southern French city of Toulon. His speech set out in stark terms the differences between his vision of France and the vision of Hollande - controlled immigration, careful budgets, reduction of the national debt, creation of private sector jobs, tax relief for those who work and contribute to the French economy and culture.
Hollande also spoke to a large crowd of supporters in toulouse. His vision includes adding 60,000 public sector jobs, keeping the flood gates open to both illegal and legal immigrants, local voting rights for non-citizens, taxing the very wealthy at a 75% rate, placing price controls on petroleum products and paying the difference between the controlled price and the market price with tax dollars.
The difference is real and will either keep France on a footing to continue its leadership in Europe if Sarkozy is elected, or drive the French economy into the tailspin that the 14 years of the Socialist Mitterrand government produced, which this time around would mean a lowering of the French credit rating and higher costs when the government borrows its operating funds.
Sunday we will know which direction France will take for the next five years. I only hope the French electorate thinks long and hard before taking the short term easy road offered by Francois Hollande and his Socialist allies in the big labor unions.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The French Presidential Debate

The long-awaited French presidential debate took place Wednesday evening. The Socialist Francois Hollande sat across the table from French President Nicolas Sarkozy for three hours of questions posed by two journalists who had some trouble keeping the debate on an even keel. It was ferociously hot and unpleasant most of the time between the two candidates.
Hollande won the toss and went first in the answer sessions. His first two minutes were filled with telling the TV audience that he would correct Sarkozy’s errors and unify the French people as Sarkozy had not done, repeating several times that Sarkozy was seen by the French as divisive and supportive only of conservative issues and the rich.
Sarkozy answered by accusing Hollande of talking about unity but really being the voice of the Left and its powerful French labor unions.
In what was often a technical debate on national finances, President Sarkozy also hit home the fact that his term had seen no recessions (unique in the EU, since 2009, he added) and that he had actually reduced France’s national debt.
Hollande struck back with the idea that Sarkozy’s government had allowed the unemployment rate in France to increase from 5% to 10% since 2008. Sarkozy repeated that the world financial crisis was mostly responsible for that and that, again, France had done better than the 18% unemployment average rate now existent in the EU.
After much bickering about figures and results, the two men finally moved on to other topics, but left the impression that Sarkozy is interested in containing the national debt and keeping expenses reasonably low to support France’s position in the financial world so that it can continue to borrow the funds it needs to operate. Hollande seemed more interested in creating government jobs and spending money to keep the French people from suffering in the current world crisis. Sarkozy answered consistently that these ideas are just what got Spain and Greece into such financial trouble.
When Hollande attacked Sarkozy’s tax policies, which rebated a percentage of taxes paid over 50% back to taxpayers, Sarkozy said, “you are for fewer rich but I am for fewer poor…” suggesting that his tax policies stimulate business and therefore increase employment opportunities. Hollande wants to impose a 75% tax on people who have incomes of more than 1 million Euros per year.
Sarkozy repeated several times that, in trying to prove what is not true, Hollande resorted to lying, something later commentators saw as a risk for Sarkozy.
Hollande, in turn, said that Sarkozy was blaming the financial crisis and others for everything that was wrong with his government. Sarkozy countered that the Socialist Party in the National Assembly had voted against every bill brought to the floor by Sarkozy’s conservative government, and so they should not complain if things went against their wishes.
For me, dear readers, the real news of the evening was in the attitude and comportment of Hollande and Sarkozy.
President Sarkozy politely called his opponent ‘Monsieur Hollande’ all evening. Hollande never used Sarkozy’s name, something rather disrespectful in French culture.
Sarkozy’s use of the word ‘liar’ was nevertheless harsh in a presidential debate. A later analyst pointed out that the last time such a term was used was in 1988 in the Mitterrand-Chirac debate, and it was considered shocking back then.
But, again for me personally, the attitude of Francois Hollande was one of impoliteness. He never adhered to his time limits. He constantly interrupted Sarkozy when Sarkozy was trying to give his answers. He talked over the journalists trying to restore order when he spoke out of turn, and, finally, even during Sarkozy’s two-minute summary, Hollande interrupted and was rebuked by the journalists. President Sarkozy was silent while Hollande gave his summary.
The last poll before the debate showed Hollande at 54% and Sarkozy at 46%. There will surely be another poll tomorrow or Friday.
After that, it will be up to the French voters to decide on Sunday who will live in the Elysée Palace for the next five years.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Senator Rubio's Immigration Effort

Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio is taking the immigration issue to a level not seen in American politics before.
His idea - to propose an alternative to the Dream Act that would legalize certain young people who came to the US while they were children and grant non-immigrant visas so qualified young people could remain in the United States for college or to serve in the military - has not yet become a bill in the Senate, but his approach to drafting it is certainly out of the box for a GOP Senator.
Rubio asked for the help of Gaby Pacheco, a 27-year-old immigrant activist who did not rule out working with Senator Rubio.
Just hours after Pacheco had been approached by Rubio, she was called by the White House, along with other activists, to meet with President Obama’s top advisors on immigration issues. They were told to beware of the GOP and Rubio. Pacheco’s answer: “We’re not married to the Democratic or Republican parties....We’re going to push what’s best for the community.”
These events illustrate how the new effort by Rubio has changed the immigration debate in Washington, exposing the strains in both parties as Obama and the GOP try to master the issue that could sway the crucial Hispanic vote in November.
In recent weeks, Rubio has quietly approached other immigrant advocates who are usually White House allies but who are frustrated with some of the President’s policies.
Some of the activists say they are open to Rubio’s effort, even though it would not include a citizenship path provision like that in the Democratic-backed Dream Act because Rubio’s idea would at least provide current relief to people who risk being deported.
The dilemma is real for President Obama. If he continues to treat Senator Rubio’s efforts as merely trying to paper over the GOP’s primary debates on illegal immigrants that tarnished the party’s image with Hispanics, Obama runs the risk of alienating the very group he hopes to have in his corner come November.
The President has painted himself as the best friend the Hispanic community has, yet his bill is going nowhere and his administration has deported more than 1 million illegal immigrants, while the Hispanic community is being courted by GOP Senator Rubio, one of their own, to help in crafting a bill that would give them relief and make the GOP look a whole lot better in their eyes.
Granted the Dream Act is stalled in the House where GOP members do not agree with its “path to citizenship” provision, but the GOP may put the Rubio bill on the table before November and ask Democrats in the Senate to compromise so that some forward movement on this difficult issue can be made.
That would put the White House and Obama in a tough spot - refuse Rubio’s compromise and look like the party that opposes immigration reform, or sign and be painted as unable to do anything on their own, relying on the GOP House for leadership. Not a happy position for an incumbent Democratic President in an election year.
For now, the White House is saying that it is impossible to fully judge Rubio’s plan until it is submitted in writing as a bill.
But, it is not just the President who has a problem. GOP standard bearer Mitt Romney took very conservative positions on illegal immigration in his primary battles in order win conservative GOP votes. Now, he will have to decide whether to risk agreeing with Rubio’s approach and chance alienating these GOP voters or refuse Rubio’s ideas and seem to be against an election issue critical for the Hispanic community.
Romney has acknowledged the Rubio effort, saying “I’m taking a look at his proposal....It has many features to commend it, but it’s something that we’re studying.”
Meanwhile, Rubio is talking to conservative GOP voters and media leaders to ask that they hold off on attacking his ideas until he can present a finished product in the form of a bill.
Conservatives have blasted Rubio’s idea as an amnesty, while some Democrats have dismissed the effort by Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who was elected to the US Senate in 2010 as a Tea Party conservative after taking conservative positions on illegal immigration, saying that he is trying to create a second class of Americans, permitted to live in the United States but unable to achieve full citizenship.
But, Rubio’s effort seems to be driving a wedge between Obama and his unhappy Hispanic supporters.
Rubio has conferred with leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Illinois Democrat Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, a vocal critic of Obama’s deportation policies and Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, one of the country’s important Hispanic advocacy groups. “It’s clear that there wouldn’t be an effort to be talking about this right now if it weren’t for Senator Rubio engaging on this,” Murguia said.
Rubio’s outreach to Pacheco, brought to the United States illegally when she was 8, and other young undocumented immigrants, came after they had been unsuccessfully asking for months to meet with Obama. The Senator called Pacheco on her cell phone and they talked for half an hour. He later met with an activist group at Miami-Dade College. “He said, ‘If you feel at any point that this is something you guys cannot support, let me know,’ ” according to Pacheco.
The President meanwhile, has had some rough going in recent weeks, including tense encounters between top White House aides and Hispanic leaders, who are asking that the President sign an executive order preventing the deportations of anyone who would qualify for the Dream Act path to citizenship. In one meeting between Congressional Hispanic Caucus members and White House domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz, California Democrat Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard grew so frustrated that she walked out, according to sources familiar with the encounter.
The White House has told Hispanic activists that Rubio has not demonstrated he could win support from fellow Republicans and that the President would push an immigration plan next year if re-elected.
But Pacheco, who is still undocumented after graduating from college, said Obama should see the situation as more urgent. “We’re at a point of desperation, at a point where we cannot continue to live the way we’ve been living,” she said.
As for Senator Rubio, one thing seems clear. He actually understands what being a US Senator is all about - taking on tough issues, talking to everyone about them, finding compromises and selling them to key players and the public.