Saturday, September 29, 2012

US Election Funny Figures, Benghazi and Syria

Dear readers, it's Saturday already and several stories are circling in my head asking to be written before they becone old news. So, let's do an item by item list with brief comments. 1. The manipulation of job and business activity and housing and consumer buying statistics by the Obama administration is becoming a Marx Brothers comedy. Jobs will inevitably end below 8% before election day...and buying will inevitably be better than 2008, housing starts will inevitably resemble a 1990s housing boom and business will be exploding. I just continue to wonder how Americans can be so gullible. And voting for Obama is just that - gullibility. Do not be fooled. Listen to your own good common sense. Things are not better. It is a mirage created with statistical manipulation to get Obama re-elected. Vote Romney. He is the real thing. 2. The Obama administration's chaotic response to the assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens and the destruction of the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi borders on malfeasance - deliberate bad actions made worse by lying to cover up their incabability to govern or to protect American lives, property and reputation internationally. I only pray there is no attack in US soil before we can get rid of the incompetent or deliberately ill-intentioned president we elected in 2008. 3. The death toll in Syria mounts daily. The Homs water supply has been bombed into non-existence by al-Assad and the residents drink polluted water. Doctots caught trying to aid wounded civilians are arrested and tortured. There are so many refugees on the Turkush border that Turkey is swamped and needs international aid in much larger quantity thst it us now receiving. Syrian children show growing signs of psychological damage that may well leave the next Syrian generation dysfunctional. And Russia asks for Geneva Convention treatment for al-Assad in case he loses. A mockery. Wake up world. Save Syria while there are still people and infrasturcture left to save.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Iran, Syria and Obama

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu gave his much awaited speech at the UN General Assembly on Thursday. It was widely anticipated because of growing world concern over the Iranian nuclear program focusing on uranium enrichment. The fear is that Iran is not pursuing uranium enrichment for medicine and energy generation but as a step-by-step enrichment up to the 90% level required for nuclear warheads and bombs. Iran is hampering the International Atomic Energy Agency oversight and inspection of its nuclear program but the IAEA has reported that it has found traces of uraniun enriched to 28%, while 20% is the maximum needed for peaceful uranium uses. Iran denies that it is enriching uranium for military uses but it has moved its enrichment labs deep underground so that normal attack bombs cannot reach them. Israel is profoundly concerned that Iran's developing nuclear bomb capacity, if unconstrained, will put Israel and its people at the mercy of a deeply hostile nuclear-armed Iran. The UN and world diplomats have used a series of sanctions to try to bring Iran to the table for serious negotiations to replace its enrichment program with internationally supplied peaceful-purpose enriched uranium. While Iran is feeling the pinch in terms of its sales of petroleum (down 50%) and much less access to its currency reserves in foreign banks, Israel and some nuclear experts are convinced that sanctions alone will never force Iran to abandon its enrichment program. The US has, in particular, insisted that sanctions should work and that there is still sufficient time to wait for them to bring results. Israel and nuclear experts, clearly on the front line of fire, believe there remains little more than six months before Iran will have nuclear warhead capability and sanctions will become irrelevant, with the result that Israel will become the target of Iran's fiercely anti-semitic oath to "erase Israel from the face of the earth." This has led to an estrangement in the relationship between Netanyhu, who demands a red line telling Iran what exactly will precipitate a US attack, and President Obama, who refuses to give such a red line, saying that America will do whatever is required to prevent Iran's becoming a nuclear power. Frankly, dear readers, the international diplomatic stalemate over Iran's nuclear program - an unchallenged fact - bears the same footprint as the diplomatic stalemate over the al-Assad regime's genocide against its own people in Syria - un unchallenged fact. At the heart of both problems is the refusal of President Obama to bring the gravitas of his office to bear on the side of reason. Obama clearly believes that talking and waiting will solve all problems. He is wrong - and his misunderstanding of the role of world leadership could cost Israel its existence and the Middle East its freedom. This may, finally, be the most urgent reason to vote for Mitt Romney - to deny Obama another four years of dithering with the future of the world.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Syria Worsens as Obama Campaigns

Early on Wednesday bombs hit in or near the Syrian regime army command headquarters in Damascus, followed by hours of sporadic gunbattles and a fire in one of the buildings inside the heavily guarded compound. Witnesses said they saw panicked soldiers shooting in the air randomly as they ran. The suicide attack shows both the determination and reach of the rebels dedicated to toppling President Bashar Assad's regime. The Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombings, confirmed in surveiiance camera footage, in a statement signed by the group's military council, saying dozens were killed in the attack. Residents of the upscale neighborhood near the attack have been sheltered from the violence that has shaken other parts of Damascus. Syrian Human Rights Observatory, which relies on activists in Syria, also reported armed clashes inside the compound of the army command that overlooks the immense central Damascus landmark Omayyad Square, adding that there were casualties on both sides. Since the protests began in March 2011, becoming a civil war through al-Assad's refusal to enter discussions with the protesters, the rebels have targeted security sites and symbols of regime power in an attempt to turn the tide in the war that has killed 30,000 people. UN Secretaty General Ban Ki-moon declared that the situation in Syria is a serious and growing threat to international peace and security that requires attention from the Security Council. But, dear readers, Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring al-Assad to end the violence and enter negotiations on a political transition. President Barack Obama, speaking this week at tbe annual UN General Assembly meeting, pledged US support for Syrians trying to oust al-Assad, whom he called "a dictator who massacres his own people." And the massacre goes on -- in the past two days more than 500 Syrians have been killed in the civil war - 365 on Thursday in the highest one-day total since the conflict began. Yesterday, Qatar and Saudi Arabia called for protection of the rebel-controlled areas to prevent al-Assad bombings. This would require a no-fly zone to be created. The question then would become - who and how to enforce it. So far, only France has suggested that it is ready to undertake protection of civilians in rebel-held areas. President Obama left New York without meeting any of the principal players in the Syrian conflict. Perhaps his need to get back on the campaign trail was also a way of avoiding the "no-fly zone" question he would have been asked.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Post-America Iraq

Iraqi foreign minister Zekari was a guest on the CNN Amanpour program while he is in New York for the UN General Assembly. He answered questions about the Iraq-US-Iran triangle and the recent comments of US Senator John Kerry about the possibility of cutting off aid to Iraq if it continues to draw closer to Iran and to allow Iranian weapons shipments to traverse Iraq on their way to the Syrian al-Assad regime. Zekari said several things that we should consider. First, he says that Iraq has a good relationship with America and is grateful for America's freeing it from the Saddam Hussein dictatorship so that it can forge a democratic country. But, he added that Iraq has, as well, a relationship with Iran. Zelaki said that Iraq has lost much of its capability to determine what is passing through its territory unless the US lends intelligence support. Amanpour answered that the US says this is being done and he replied, perhaps, but we do not have tactical air capability either. We need US help. Then he discussed the role of sunnis in shiite-majority Iraq and said that there are problems but that both sides are still working together to make the pact succeed. He noted that at local and regional levels, things are progressing faster. But, he added that al-Qaida is trying to gain ground and the Iraqi government is fighting against this. He emphasized that providing law and order for Iraqis so that they can lead normal lives is at the top of the government's agenda. When the conversation turned to prime minister Malaki, his foreign minister said he "hopes" that Malaki doesn't want to be a dictator, but said in any event this would be very difficult under Iraq's new form of government. Can we take away from these statements that Iraq is trying to become a real democracy? Yes, if perhaps not in the American sense of the term, but it is also a beleaguered country that has a long way to go to reach President Bush's goal for it. And Iraq faces tremendous challenges -- terrorists, Iranian domestic interference fron the east, abrupt withdrawal of US support under President Obama, a Syria in flames on its western border, and an Iran determined to supply al-Assad's massacre by moving supplies to Syria by the shortest route - through Iraq. I could not help but have the feeling that the Iraqi government has a plate brimming over with crises brought about by its location in the volatile region and endemic problems related to the need to forge a coalition between sunnis and shiites, something no one else in the Middle East has succeeded in doing. Perhaps Senator Kerry should consider these items before attacking an Iraq that is still a 'friend' of America in a region where friends are in short supply.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Creation and Evolution

I want to talk today, dear readers, about an issue that has re-surfaced in a big way in America...the question of "creationism." Creationist Christians believe, if I understand correctly, that God created the earth about 10,000 years ago and that the Bible accurately outlines the total history of mankind. Creationists do not accept scientific evolution as an accurate explanation of the history of the earth, because it describes the development of the earth as a series of evolving species leading to mankind's appearance on earth. Before I comment, you need to know my personal position. I am a practicing Christian who began my journey as a Calvinist but became a Roman Catholic in my early 20s. I firmly believe in personal salvation, in God's intervention in the life of every human being, and in the triune godhead that includes Jesus. I do not believe that God is vindictive, that He condemns anyone forever because of personal acceptance or rejection of manmade theological explanations of God and his requirements. Nor do I believe in the validity of any religion that encourages violence or self-destruction or that accepts doctrine that shuts out anyone honestly seeking union with God. So, dear readers, what are we to make of this Creationist-Evolutionist dispute in America? Must we choose a side? Do we need to involve public schools in the debate? Is the personal acceptance of Creationism the necessary rejection of modern science? I accept that God knows the answer to these questions. I also believe that He has not rejected science because He would be rejecting the development of medicines and engineering and many other discoveries and developments that make life better for His children. Jesus cured lepers and the blind just as doctors today cure cancer. Jesus fed five thousand just as today agricultural science feeds millions. But, how did God intend for humans to understand His infinite power? Did He inspire men and women to write about Him in mythic ways so that His omniscience could be easily understood? Or did He lay down the story of creation exactly as it happened by inspiring men to tell His story of creation in Genesis? I don't know any of these answers. But, if we want to believe that humans as we know them were created 10,000 years ago, I can't really disagree -- if the belief is based on biblical and physical evidence, on language, on elementary engineering mastery of the environment and on culture recognizable as human. No one who spends more than a few minutes reading about ancient Egypt can dispute that in this region in a period that started about 4-5,000 years ago mankind's cultural and scientific and religious knowledge exploded. But the scientific evidence for a physical world created 5-10 billion years ago is so overwhelming that Creationists should embrace it or become irrelevant. God exists...and...He created science just as surely as He created Genesis. Can we separate these two concepts - Creation and Evolution - and accept both as explanations of parts of the infinitely complex whole of God's revelation of Himself to man. Let us live in peace together as God's children. Sent from Samsung mobile

Monday, September 24, 2012

Egyptian-American Relations

There are many important stories and scenarios playing out in the world and since it's Monday, let's look at one of them that we'll be hearing more about this week. Egyptian President Morsi gave an interview last weekend to the New York Times. In it, Morsi said that Egypt policy will be more independent of the United States in the future and hopes that America will not expect Egypt to "live by its rules." This could be a worrying position that sounds like an Islamist anti-American manifesto, or it ciyld be the basis for a more balanced relationship that will make Egypt a more valuable partner for the US in the Middle East. Morsi did not mince words about America's loss of reputation in the region. He criticized the positions taken by the US in the Arab world, saying "it is not possible to judge Egyptian behavior and decision-making by American cultural standards." Like most Islamists, Morsi says Washington has earned ill will in the region by supporting dictators and taking "a very clear" biased approach against the Palestinians and for Israel. while Americans will argue with this opinion, it is easier to agree with Morsi's taking on the al-Assad regime's merciless attack on its own citizens, not just for the Times but in Teheran where the Iranian president was in the same room presiding over a conference attempting to take over the Syrian question from the UN. He strongly criticized the Syria regime for violently repressing the people of Syria. Recently, when President Obama was asked about Egypt, he said he does not consider it an ally or an enemy. Perhaps with more political aplomb, Morsi, when asked about Obama's comment, said that one would have to define "ally" and then added that he hopes to have a real relationship with America. I know, dear readers, that I am siding with a minority in America when I suggest that the US ought to be doing absolutely everything it can honorably do to cultivate a "real relationship" with President Morsi and the new Egypt. Being involved may give America the chance to re-create its image in the Middle East and to show that it is not a "dictator for democracy" but a leader that can adapt its principles, without compromising them, to Muslim culture and people struggling to undertstand what self-government is and how to create it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Benghazi Holds Mirror Up to Arab Spring Frustration

It is difficult to separate fact from. propaganda right now in Libya, and especially in Benghazi, where the September 11 protests led to attacks on the US Embassy and the asassination of US Ambassador Chris Stevens. From reports coming out of Benghazi, it appears that there has been a citizen backlash against the assassination, prompting street marches. These deteriorated into attacks on numerous private militia and Islamist militia by citizens demanding that they be disarmed and disbanded. At least 4 protesters are dead, 70 are wounded, and today 6 government soldiers were found dead, shot in the head and hands bound in gang-style killings. The weak government in Tripoli has asked the citizens to stop attacking the militia because they are the only means of securing and protecting much of post-Qhadafi Libya, something the government admits it is incapable of doing. Benghazi citizens answer by demanding that the government do its job - including providing military and police to replace the heavily-armed militia, who often enforce charia law, carry out private killings and generally leave the frustrated Benghazi community feeling exposed to the kind of authoritarian rule they fought a revolution to eliminate. The militia include those which protect the main Benghazi hospital, which is often attacked, and the huge ammunition cache left over from Qhadafi days. The militia feel that they are the real revolutionary heroes, and ask to be supported. Benghazi citizens are not convinced. They say it is time for the Tripoli government, elected in May but still unable to form a working cabinet-level group, to eliminate all militia and create the democratic and peaceful Libya that they fought to bring to life by ousting Qhadafi. Dear readers, that is the everyday reality in the countries struggling in the aftermath of their Arab Spring revolutions. We need to remember that it is not possible to move from terrorized semi-slavery to fully functioning democracy in a matter of months. If we feel frustrated by the street anger, lack of democratic order and general confusion in these countries, remember Benghazi - where citizens want order, would like to be free of Islamist intimidation, and who support America in the form of a fallen Ambassador who had shown them that he cared about them.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Media Bias, CNN. and Mitt Romney

I watch CNN often for US and presidential campaign news. I also watch BBC, Sky News, and French, Swiss and Italian TV, plus British, French and Swiss radio. It gives me a pretty good notion of who thinks what about whom. My pretty good notion right now is that the Americans (some reporters on CNN, to be exact) are so biased against Mitt Romney that it is impossible to get an unbiased review of any campaign event or statistic when they are on the air. And the "reporter" who does the best job of smearing Romney is Piers Morgan. If there are still enforced equal time laws in the US that give candidates the right to equal access and time on television before elections, then Romney should get at least 24 hours of uninterrupted TV access to counter Piers Morgan's continual anti-Romney commentary. His questions include "is there still any chance for him..." and "he started so well...but it is now impossible..." Morgan adds to this the ability ro give pro-Obama guests unchallenged time to praise Obama, while Romney supporters are cut off and finally ushered off summarily. Morgan is not alone in his bias. Soledad comes to mind, but CNN seems to have taken her off the political beat after her outrageous frontal attacks on conservative speakers. And Morgan's program, staged as an interview, makes it especially easy for him to choose his places to make his anti-Romney points as part of a "staged" conversation. I can only guess that Piers Morgan's ratings make it unlikely that CNN will sideline him. And, when he interviews non-political celebrities and experts, he often provides an interesting hour. What CNN could do is put political guests off-limits for Piers Morgan until after the election. At least this would take away one of Romney's most out-spoken and uncensored, as well as uncontrolled, opponents -- one, dear readers, whose pockets are as deep - because of CNN's powerful presence and reach - as those of any super PAC, which are regulated and have to file financial reports, while neither Piers Morgan nor CNN do.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

No Mentors Except Fate

I watched a documentary conversation with Clint Eastwood made in 2007. It was really a retrospective of his films. And, it seems clear to me that when the objective history of filmmaking in the last quarter of the 20th century is written, Clint Eastwood and his films will be the point of departure for evaluating all other directors. He has swept across the modern psyche like a hot wind generated by a forest fire - burning bare its landscape to reveal the bones and topography of post-Vietnam America. He has done it without resorting to gimicks or computer-generated images or photographic tricks. Eastwood's art, his genius is in taking ordinary human emotions and moral dilemmas and putting recognizable flesh and blood around them. One has only to call up the permanent wound he delivered to all of us who watched the final scene of Million Dollar Baby to understand his unique gift. He ended the filmed conversation by saying, "I never had any mentors except fate." That reverberating phrase made me think of Chris Stevens,the American Ambassador to Libya, who was stalked and assassinated last week in Benghazi by Jihadist terrorists. By all accounts, he was a professional of high quality, an expert in Arab affairs and a man who knew that to help, he needed to see and be seen in Libya. He took his conviction out onto the streets of Benghazi where he was known and appreciated for his concern and compassion for ordinary Libyans and their problems. In a way, Ambassador Chris Stevens, like Clint Eastwood, had no mentors but fate. He was badly protected, apparently ignored by the US State Department - which was proved wrong while he gave his life as proof of his correct evaluation about the deteriorating situation in Libya and the rise of well-armed Jihadist cells. Dying for America is not often the fate of US Ambassadors. Chris Stevens' assassination reminds us all that fate is a sly and efficient master.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Islam's Challenge

France has joined the list of countries facing Islam extremist anger over what they consider to be desecration of the Prophet Mohammed. A Paris weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo, published today, contained cartoons showing Mohammed in caricatures, both sexual and otherwise. Today, the reactions flowed fast. The French government refused to order the suppression of the cartoons. Charlie Hebdo also refused, noting that the edition had sold out in a few hours and a second run would be on the newstands Friday. The French government also closed its embassies in 20 Muslim countries until next Monday and ordered French schools in those countries to close until Monday as well. The French prime minister refused to grant a march permit for a planned Saturday demonstration against the American film that set off the current round of confrontation with Islamists. (President Obama...take notice.) Despite all these actions, some French leftist politicians either asked Charlie Hebdo to withdraw its edition or expressed concern about the timing and effect on the safety of French living in Muslim countries. French Muslim leaders called the publication of the cartoons dangerous and said they should be voluntarily withdrawn. Charlie Hebdo explained that censureship is not part of French culture and would lead to the end of independent journalism. For Europeans, British and Americans, the anger seems a staged political ploy meant to take advantage of the situation to arouse Muslims into an anti-West frenzy. Abd there is much of that in the "Islamist rage". But, as French President Hollande said yesterday, the best counter to the Islamists must come from Islam itself, which has nothing in common with the Islamists. And, because of our western tradition of a free press, we have occasionally seen Christian values and Jesus subjected to severe satire and "desecration." But we understand that this is the price we pay for freedom - of thought, speech, religion and political choice. Our Muslim brothers and sisters must learn this lesson before they and their religion are destroyed by those who are using their traditions to entrap and enslave them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Hidden Microphone Syndrome

Does it matter what a President or candidate says when he thinks he's talking privately with someone...or with a private group? Does it matter that someone violated the trust of Mitt Romney and recorded what was supposed to be a private after-dinner Q&A session? Actually, most experts confirmed his "47% of Americans don't pay taxes" answer to a question from the audience - a question that was conveniently omitted by TV and the Village Voice, which broke the story. (Mr. Romney has asked the person who made the recording to release it in its entirety.) And political pollsters say Romney was simply saying what more than half of Americans think, anyway. Did it matter that an open microphone caught President Obama saying of a rural Pennsylvania audience that they are attached to their guns and Bibles? Anyone who has ever been anywhere in rural America can vouch for the truth of the statement, even if Obama was speaking in a slightly belittling tone. Perhaps more important, did it matter that President Obama spoke with Russian President Medvedev while a hidden open microphone recorded his "after the election I'll have more freedom" to negotiate with Russia. Yes...this does matter and is not like the other examples because it suggests a presidential agenda hidden from the American people. Everyone has private thoughts. Just consider whether you would like to have your most private conversations or e-mails published. But, we are not President or presidential contenders. I don't fault either Obama or Romney for their tboughts. But I do fault them for being naive. They ought to know better than anyone that their lives are no longer private. Their words and actions and friends and activities are all public. That is the price of admission to the presidential circle. If they do not understand that, then perhaps they are not truly of presidential caliber. Or perhaps, like Prince William and his Kate, they have learned a very important lesson the hard way and it will make them better repositories of America's faith in her leaders.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Europe and the Terrorist Threat

I went down to the south of France to spend a few days with my Swiss cousins before they close the house they rented for the summer. It's past the big enslaught of tourists who fill Provence in July and August, but the little villages with their stone houses and cobble streets still have their fair share of Americans, English and Swiss enjoying the last hot days before autumn sets in. One night we ate at a country inn - the food and service were good and as fate would have it, there were two American couples dining at the table next to us. They were retired and obviously enjoying a holiday in Provence, something most Americans can only dream about. At our table and around the room the French speakers were talking about the wine and food - that is mostly the topic of conversation when the French dine out...even at the local cafe. But I couldn't help but pay attention to the conversation among the Americans. After the usual "what we did today" bits, they turned rapidly to 9/11 and America's job in the world...and to commenting about the valor of her military. They weren't boastful, only trying to express their concerns and their pride in their soldiers. It was interesting for me because I am far more often exposed to European opinions about America's role and about the necessity for American superiority, even though Europeans would like to be able to make it without America more or less setting the rules. What Europeans feel is that the GWB invasion of Iraq set off a chain of unnecessary catastrophic events. They feel this even while they have great sympathy for America's profound 9/11 wound and wonder how they would have handled such an attack. But what Europeans fail to get right is the real chain of the cause-and-effect sequence around 9/11. They forget the 1979 hostage taking at the American Embassy in Iran. They never paid much attention to the Kenya bombing or to the two prior attacks on Wall Street. So they judge Iran II as a stand-alone event and it seems like an over-reaction to them. Yet they have been through similar but less murderous attacks - the Madrid train attack that killed several hundred, the London metro bombing that killed almost 80, and various attempts in France, always thwarted by the efficient French national security police teams. But, as my cousin said to me the next evening while we were watching a program on French TV about 9/11, "it's hard to imagine killing 3,000 people." And that is the heart of the problem. Europeans cannot - even when they visit Ground Zero, as most Europeans who are in New York do - get their heads around 3,000 innocents dead in a fight they really have little experience with. So they shake their heads at the American reaction and they pretend that they are safe from such atrocities. But, they are not safe. And when Europeans face up to the terrorist threat, they trust that America and a few of their own troops will keep the terrorism away from their door. I hope they are right. And I also hope that America will continue to care enough about Europe to protect it - because Europe is an unprepared sitting duck in the war in terrorism and most Europeans are blind to this truth.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Jihadist Attacks on American Embassies

The events of the week of September 11, 2012, are disconcerting on several fronts. It would seem that negative references to the Prophet Mohammed and visualizations of Mohammed in trailers on Youtube for an as yet to be completed American film have triggered Muslim tirades against America. The US Consulate at Benghazi, Libya, was attacked with rocket fire and crowds tried to storm the building. The US Ambassador and three other personnel were killed. In Cairo, mobs stormed the US Embassy. While no life was lost, many were injured an American flag was desecrated...ripped apart and burned. Apparently, some of the protesters objected to the flag burning. However, even Coptic Christians present supported the attack. US officials at first accused Egyptian security forces of not trying to control the mob, but the complaint was later withdrawn. Later in the week, US Embassies and consulates in Nigeria, Tunisia, India and Yemen were also attacked. So far, President Obama's response has been apologeyoc, as if somehow America deserved the attacks. The White House even tried to force Youtube to withdraw the trailet. Youtube, understanding freedom of speech better than the President seems to, refused. It is perhaps unusual to compare a flag to a religious prophet. But, there are comparisons that need to be drawn, just the same. The American flag is sacred to all Americans - regardless of their politics, religious beliefs or ethnicity. Americans have laid down their lives time and again to protect the precious symbol of their independence and nationhood. The story of the winter at Valley Forge and the letter of a young lieutenant to his wife, Betsy Ross, telling her that the Americans needed a flag to bolster their determination, is known to all Americans, as is her creation of the first Stars and Stripes and General Washington's appreciation and call to the Continental Congress to adopt the flag. It is the seminal American story of love of freedom, country, of the sacrifices of the soldiers protecting her, and of the citizens sharing in the work of independence. So, while I appreciate that Muslims do not believe that their Prophet should be visualized, I cannot help but feel that they have deliberately desecrated the sacred symbol of America in the full realization that they are delivering the greatest injury possible to the American soul. Muslim governments who are charged, as is every government, to protect foreign embassies and diplomats in their countries need to consider that if violence against Americans is an acceptable reaction to a desecration of the Prophet, then serious negative American reaction should be acceptable when the American flag is desecrated - not street violence against Muslims but perhaps withdrawal of American support for their countries or the withdrawal of American aid in times of crisis. It is no longer acceptable, in any sense, for Muslim countries which want to be treated as full members of the international community of nations to permit such violent civil disobedience in their territories. It is now time for all Muslim nations of good will to accept their duty to control religious extremists. America does this, as do all serious civilized nations. And, finally, Muslims themselves must stand up and be counted. We are living in 2012...not 800...and they need to take control of, and responsibility for, their countries, their religion and their lives. After all, Ameticans have feelings, too, and it is high time that the Muslim world matures enough to understand this and act accordingly.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Afghanistan No - Egypt Yes

Dear readers, my computer problems continue. I ask you to be patient with the lack of formatting...I am posting from my smartphone. Thank you for your support. Casey Pops Vali Nasr, currently a dean of international studies at John Hopkins University and formerly a senior US intelligence advisor, and expert in Afghanistan and the Taliban, gave an interview today on CNN. His position is that the current rise in terrorist attacks by suicide bombers and the infiltration into and attacks on US and allied installations makes it clear that the Afghan military are not capable of either defeating the Taliban and their al-Qaida associates or of protecting the Afghan population from them. This only serves to emphasize what I and others have been writing -- America should not have gone into Afghanistan on a nation building task or, once there, wasted time trying to work with an Afghan government as corrupt as any on earth. Now, instead of leaving, heads high, the US and its allies are creeping out, leaving behind no sense of accomplishment and no hope for the Afghan people, who will gradually return to inhumaine and cruel Taliban rule. There is not much more to be said about Afghanistan. But, I would like to ask the US government to step up its efforts to make a real friend and ally of Egyptian President Morsi. It could be America's last chance in the new Middle East.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Obama vs Romney Is Really Keynes vs Friedman

Obama vs Romney Is Really Keynes vs FriedmanThe GOP and the Democrats have held their conventions. Romney and Obama are the candidates. But we already knew that. Did we learn anything new? The Democrats have better music. The GOP has a more orderly group of delegates on the floor. Joe Biden never learned that it's impolite to point your finger at someone...even on TV. Obama sounds like a preacher. Romney sounds like a doctor. No. We didn't learn anything new. What we should remember, however, is that the 2012 presidential election is a classic clash between the two prevalent econonic theories that have controlled politics in the past 80 years. The Democrats follow John Maynard Keynes. He was an English economist who developed the theory in the period of the Great Depression that when economic activity is slow and unemployment is high, the government should go into debt by borrowing money or printing it, i.e., increasing the supply of money, to pump up econonic activity - in the hope that good times will return and the borrowed money will be repaid from greater tax income. The Republicans follow Milton Friedman who developed the theory that if the money supply is kept stable and taxes are low and regulations minimal, then the free market will find its balance and economic activity and jobs will grow. After more than 40 years of Keynesian economic policy in America, started by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, Ronald Reagan brought Friedman to the forefront in the 1980s. The debate goes on about these two economic theories. But, with the money supply growing exponentially today under a Federal Reserve guided by Ben Bernanke, and with the enormous expansion of the national debt as a consequence of President Obama's use of the money printed by the Fed or borrowed from China and other investors to pump the economy, we see the logical outcome of Keynesian economics -- large and growing public debt, devalued currency because there is too much of it in circulation, and business not investing in infrastructure or developing new job opportunities. That is what 2012 is all about. That is what Paul Ryan (and Bill Clinton when he spoke at the Democrat Convention) means when he says we must get a handle on the national debt before it destroys America. That is why the choice is so clear and clearcut. Continue to print Dollars and fall further into debt, while business shrinks - vote Obama Biden. Regain control of the Dollar, the debt and the business outlook - vote Romney Ryan.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Will the Candidate's Wife Please Sit Down

I didn’t comment about Ann Romney’s speech before the Republican Convention last week. And I’m not going to comment about Michelle Obama’s speech last night before the Democratic Convention.
But, I would like to talk about the concept of the spouses of American presidential nominees taking the microphone to extol their husbands. One day, it will be a husband extolling his wife-nominee, but for now we have two women telling the world at large how super their husband-nominees are.
And why shouldn’t they, you may well ask.
Because, I would answer, they are not politicians - or candidates - or responsible for any political agenda - or vetted for honesty, integrity or intelligence, for that matter, in any sense of these words.
Politicians in America are all married, sometimes more than once. Their wives follow dutifully behind during election campaigns, or are sent off separately, to make speeches, shake hands, share recipes, give inklings of the state of their state of wedded bliss, and show photos of their children or drag them along to smile and look like all-American kids. Photo-op is the word that comes to mind.
But, what else can these wives really say? They should not be interferring in the political affairs their husbands are engaged in. They should not be front and center talking about how they changed their husband’s mind about Iraq or the Federal Reserve or the Taliban -- or anything else.
All they can say is, “He’s a great guy. I love him. Vote for him.”
Now it may be nice to know that there is marital peace within the presidential nominee’s home, but really, can’t we already see that? If there were war at the breakfast table, would the wife be tagging along, and even if she tried to put a good face on things, wouldn’t the truth be dug out by some enterprising reporter?
We in Europe know the answer to the last question. Cecilia Sarkozy did put a public face on for her husband, and she did follow dutifully, when they were already estranged and she had already bolted the marital bed once to literally flee to New York City with the man who would finally become her husband after she divorced Sarkozy. He was elected.
So, does that state of the marital union really make a difference? Maybe for those who have no better basis for deciding who to vote for, who either don’t care about or don’t understand the critical issues facing America - such as the state of the economy, the negative image of America in the world, the proper role of the White House in relation to the Congress, the unemployment catastrophe.
But, for a political wife to say, “I love him, vote for him,” is just about as useful and informative as a mother saying that she loves her son. Where’s the news? Where’s the political insight? Where is the glimmer of objectivity and informed opinion that we would normally expect from those who make political recommendations?
I prefer the old American view, which is still the European view of things. The wife dresses well, she sits quietly smiling while her hubby talks about the Big Issues, she visits hospitals and schools and talks about generally improving family life in America by being better parents.
If that role is not sufficient for the wife, I would say she has two options: (a) she can stay home and tell her husband that it’s his job to be elected or re-elected; or, (b) she can dive into the real political arena herself and become one of the candidates.
Like Hillary Clinton. You may disagree, as I do, with almost everything Hillary stands for politically, but at least she’s out front taking her licks and defending her own positions. She’s not smiling, as if above the fray, while saying, “I love my husband. He’s a good man. Vote for him.”
Ah-ha! The lightbulb just lit. How could Hillary Clinton ever say anything like that about Bill? She may be the exception that proves the rule. She had no choice but to separate herself and be her own person. After all, who would want to be forced to say Bill Clinton was a model husband.
It looks like Laura Bush still wins the day. Polite. Quiet. Non-political. Charming to everyone. Concerned about children’s futures.
As for Ann and Michelle, they ought to understand that when the conversation about their speeches inevitably turns to their dresses and hairdo’s, the content of their speeches was non-existent, or worse, offensive, as in Michelle’s case, because she pretended to be a politician and talk about policy issues.
Will the candidates' wives please sit down. We have enough trouble working through this election, without adding their dresses to the issue set.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Spain's Fiscal Headache Worsens

CNBC and the New York Times are reporting that Spaniards are taking their money out of the country and looking for jobs in other countries, as the situation in Spain deteriorates.
In July, according to CNBC, Spaniards withdrew 75 Billion Euros ($94) from Spanish banks. This is the equivalent of 7% of the national GDP. Spanish officials report that the wealthy have already taken their money out of the country and it is now the middle and working classes which are looking for foreign placements for their savings.
This trend began last year and has continued despite the European Union’s promise to pump 100 Billion Euros into the Spanish government’s accounts to permit it to aid failing regions and banks.
The acceleration in bank withdrawals comes as Andalusia joined the ranks of Spanish semi-autonomous regions announcing that its cash flow is insufficient to meet its current cash needs, i.e., Andalusia doesn’t have enough Euros in its state coffers to pay its bills. This is what is known as a liquidity crisis.
Other Spanish regions with the same problem include Madrid and Catalonia (Barcelona’s region).
The liquidity pinch comes as the Spanish government announced a plan to place 5 Billion Euros in Bankia, one of Spain’s largest mortgage-lending banks, which has lost its capital as a result of the real estate crash in Spain, much like what happened in the United States several years ago to several large American banks and to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Banks which lent large sums to home buyers whose properties are now not worth as much as the mortgage on them are going into default rather than continuing to pay their mortgages.
Workers and managers are now seeking employment in England because they cannot fins jobs in Spain, where the unemployment rate is 25%, the highest in the western world. Last year, some 30,000 Spaniards registered to work in England, and the figure would more than double if Spaniards without papers, i.e., those seeking work in England without registering, were counted.
While Spain’s economy is much more robust than Greece’s, the situation in Spain is very reminiscent of what has happened in Greece over the past three years. The Greek economy seized up as the Greek government could not find sufficient funds (because international lenders stopped buying its bonds) to pay its bills. The deposits in Greek banks have dropped by 30%, and unemployment is at record levels near 20%. The European Union’s continuing bailouts, now amounting to more than 200 Billion Euros, have not helped Greece recover because the austerity program forced on it by the EU as the condition for the bailouts has broken the Greek economy down even further, causing a downward spiralling vicious circle - fewer jobs, fewer social services, higher unemployment, fewer tax revenues, fewer jobs…
Spain appears on the brink of falling into a similar vicious circle, and Spaniards are taking their money and leaving the country just as Greeks who had the opportunity to do so, did.
Spain’s bond market is still functioning, but it is being forced to pay upwards of 6% interest to short term lenders, and long term lenders are disappearing.
Spanish remember the “corralito” in Argentina in 2001 when the Argentine government froze assets in Argentine banks to prevent a flight of capital. A million Argentines are now living and working in Spain, and their horror stories are to some extent feeding the anxieties of Spaniards who see the possibility of a “corralito” in Spain if things get worse.
The EU is trying to work out how to save Spain, because unlike Greece which represents perhaps 1% of the GDP of the EU, Spain is the fourth largest economy in Europe - after Germany, France and Italy. And, with the Greek disaster still page-one news around the world, the EU policymakers should be worried that if Spain’s economy continues to stagnate, the Greek syndrome will make a bailout program for Spain almost impossible, given the size of Spain’s fiscal requirements.
And, Moody’s is sitting in the wings, having announced that it is reducing the outlook for the EU AAA rating to negative and may actually reduce the rating if it decides to lower ratings for Germany, France and Italy, the largest contributors to EU finances.
America should take heed. Moodys has already suggested that another rating drop is possible in 2013, if the deficit and federal budget spiral are not brought under control.
There are no free lunches, dear readers, no matter how much we might like to believe that there are.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Dear Deb'h

Political parties may be political parties - but where were the friends of GW Bush after he was out of the White House, to say thanks???

Thanks to Anonymous

Thanks Anonymous. You filled my day of rest with words spoken like a true patriot and American - which I am sure you are.
It is never too late to remember who we are as Americans. What our ideals are. Why we work so hard. Why we find the time and money and people to help all over the world. Why the world looks to America, not just for money, but for moral and political leadership.
We have let the world down badly these last four years.
It is now time to correct the mistake by voting for Romney-Ryan and getting back to being America.

French Conservatives Get Set to Choose their post-Sarkozy Leader

While the world has been busy with Afghanistan, Syria, the two political party presidential conventions in the US, and other assorted world events, something interesting is taking shape in French politics,
A fight has begun for the leadership of the UMP - the party of the defeated conservative French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The UMP is the latest version of the Gaullist conservative right in France. The name changes often but the players and principles remain the same - support for business, lower taxes, fewer entitlements, less government in general - by French standards, that is.
Unlike America, in France, the leader of each political party is usually that party’s candidate in the next presidential election. Sarkozy, however, chose to leave the party leadership (akin to being the chairman of the Democratic or Republican National Committee in America) to one of the younger and more strident members of his coterie, Francois Copé, a man often expected to replace Sarkozy, once his two terms were finished, as the UMP’s presidential candidate. At least Copé saw it that way.
But, another UMP leader, Francois Fillon, was Sarkozy’s prime minister for the entire five years of his term as president, something rare in France where prime ministers change often. In France the prime minister is selected by the president and ratified by the National Assembly, usually controlled by the president’s party. Francois Fillon is extremely popular with French conservatives.
In fact, before Sarkozy announced that he would be a candidate for a second term, many UMP leaders said, very quietly, that Fillon would be the better candidate, having a greater chance of beating any Socialist.
It was reminiscent of the early 2012 whispers in Democratic circles hat Hillary Clinton would be a stronger candidate that Barak Obama.
As it turned out, Sarkozy, very unpopular because of his reforming changes in French entitlements, taxation and business policies, was the candidate. He was behind in the polls from the beginning and lost to Francois Hollande, the Socialist, who is now president of France.
It is now time to choose a new leader of the UMP, the person who will undoubtedly be the strongest contender to face Francois Hollande in 2017 for the presidency of France. From the day after Sarkozy’s defeat, Copé announced that he was a candidate to continue as UMP leader.
Grumblings began immediately about his stridency, lack of finesse, and general non-sympathetic approach to UMP politics.
The name being offered was that of - Francois Fillon.
And, Fillon, very close to Nicolas Sarkozy, had several meetings with him earlier in the summer. Fillon then announced that he was considering challenging Copé for the UMP leadership. There was also a weekend meeting of the “friends of Nicolas Sarkozy” to honor the former president
The game was on.
And this weekend, the first results of polls of party faithful were announced concerning whom they prefer as UMP leader.
Francois Fillon is way ahead of Copé -- 62% to 21%. Fillon has gained 14% since his announcement that he would be a candidate.
The poll results are enormously in Fillon’s favor: Men : 61%, Women 62%, city residents 69%, Parisians 63%.
Copé’s best poll numbers were with retirees at 25%, +65s at 28% and small city and rural voters at 26%.
The hand of Sarkozy, who announced that he was finished with party politics, is writ large here. Copé has never led the UMP. His work was to advance the cause of Sarkozy, something he failed to do if one looks at Sarkozy’s loss last May, in which no group or region voted for him with more than 50% of the vote.
And Sarkozy’s followers, and they are many and well-placed all over France in local and regional politics, blamed Copé for not working earlier and harder to muster the troops to get out the vote.
Fillon and Copé have agreed to a televised debate on October 2nd, which may tell us more about who will be the UMP’s next secretary general.
But, if you want to place an early bet, take Francois Fillon.
Nicolas Sarkozy is, despite his loss to Hollande, a consummate politician, and it appears that he has made a comeback faster than anyone imagined.
But, this time, it is as the Grand Old Man working behind the scenes to confirm his heritage - by putting his younger faithful in powerful places - like the French presidency in 2017.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Watershed Election Will Decide if America Will Continue or Become European

George F. Will, the “conservative-in-chief” of the Washington Post editorial staff, wrote an opinion piece for the Post last Thursday, August 30, 2012.
I have always admired George Will, and the article - “Voters, Are You Bluffing?” - was full of interesting and provoking ideas about the reality of conservatism and liberalism in America today.
I’m going to paraphrase it here because it is a very important piece.

His thesis is simple : when Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his vice presidential running mate, he called the nation’s bluff. What Will means is that Romney is unmasking the core problem in American politics, which is that while twice as many Americans consider themselves conservative as compared to liberal, they support liberal agenda items and often vote for Democrats. What Will said was, “Republicans undertook the perilous but commendable project of forcing voters to face the fact that they fervently hold flatly incompatible beliefs.”
Will believes that Americans are “ideologically conservative” but “operationally liberal.”
He quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan to support this idea. Moynihan was the Democratic Senator from New York, who was earlier a member of every presidential administration from Kennedy to Ford and ambassador to India and the United Nation. His controversial Moynihan Report on the Black family in America was influential in the 1960s when the Great Society was being created by Lyndon Johnson. He died in 2003.
What Moynihan said was that the American commitment to limited government is a “civic religion, avowed but not constraining.”
George Will goes on to make the point that this mindset, if it exists, is worrisome for Republicans, because they are acting as if Americans mean it when they say they are conservative.
He then says that it is an even bigger problem for the Democrats because they are “blissfully unaware” that the problem exists.
Will then undertakes a lengthy discussion of a book by Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard, “Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic”.
Will quotes Cost as saying that the Democratic Party has succumbed to “clientelism,” the process of purchasing cohorts of voters with federal favors. This has turned the party into the servant of the strong.
It was, according to Cost, and correctly stated, Franklin Roosevelt who created the politics of group entitlements by developing policies not just to buy the allegiance of existing groups but to create groups that from then on would be dependent on government -- labor unions (special workplace rights), farmers (subsidies), business (protectionism), the elderly (social security).
It is what became known as the New Deal.
George Will summarizes this phenomenon thus, “Government no longer existed to protect natural rights but to confer special rights on favored cohorts.” He then quotes Irving Kristol, one of the leaders of conservative thought in post-World War II America, who said, “the New Deal preached not equal rights for all but equal privileges for all - for all, that is, who banded together to become wards of the government.”

Read Will’s own words:

“In the 1960s, public-employee unions were expanded to feast from quantitative liberalism (favors measured in quantities of money). And qualitative liberalism was born as environmentalists, feminists and others got government to regulate behavior in the service of social “diversity,” “meaningful” work, etc. Cost notes that with the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, a few government-approved minorities were given an entitlement to public offices: About 40 “majority-minority” congressional districts would henceforth be guaranteed to elect minority members.
Walter Mondale, conceding to Ronald Reagan after the 1984 election, listed the groups he thought government should assist: “the poor, the unemployed, the elderly, the handicapped, the helpless and the sad.” Yes, the sad.
Republicans also practice clientelism, but with a (sometimes) uneasy conscience. Both parties have narrowed their appeals as they have broadened their search for clients to cosset. Today’s Democratic Party does not understand what one of its saints understood — that big government is generally a patron of the privileged, a partner of rent-seekers.”
When vetoing the 1832 bill to recharter the Second Bank of the United States, Andrew Jackson said, “It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” When government goes beyond equal protection by law and undertakes to allocate wealth and opportunity, “the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government.”
As Cost rightly says, “With the exception of the tea party, there is no real faction out there making the Jacksonian case for an end to special privilege.”
Human beings, said one of the wisest of them — Aristotle — are political animals and language-using animals. Americans, as you do not need to be Aristotle to know, are complaining animals. They use language to complain about politics. Mitt Romney should remind them that one function of elections is to force most voters — the winning majorities — to forfeit the fun of complaining. For example, if the swing state of Nevada, which has the nation’s highest unemployment rate (12 percent), votes for four more years of current policies, it must henceforth suffer in silence. Actually, all those who vote to continue Barack Obama’s distinctive brand of clientelism — crony capitalism — must, if he wins, become political Trappists, taking a vow to keep quiet.”

Dear readers, keep this blog handy and read it occasionally between now and November 6. You will find all that is being said, fought over, blared out in TV ads, and hammered home by political analysts fits into George F. Will’s opinion piece.
And, it is what makes this election so interesting and also so extremely important.
If Americans have really succumbed to Barak Obama’s 21st Centruy version of the FDR New Deal, then the American Republic, as the Founders meant it to be, is dead.
It will have been replaced by the European socialist model -- where :
- parents receive government checks in August to buy school supplies for their children,
- where health care is rationed and doled out either on a first come first served basis or by government decree about who will and will not be permitted to see a doctor,
- the price of gasoline is determined by the government and the excess costs are passed back to the producers who have to sink or swim with these costs,
- not only are unions permitted but they become “partners of the government” and virtually dictate what can and cannot be done about labor costs and perks,
- police become national in scope and are directed by the central government to carry out its policies, with local police being relegated to traffic control,
- universities are controlled by tight government budgeting so that what is studied and what matters are taken up in research are subject to the government’s social agenda.

I could go on. But, the point is clear.
November 6, 2012 is a watershed date for America. Let us hope that Cost and Kristol and FDR were wrong about Americans and what they really believe and want from government.