Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year to All...and to the Fiscal Cliff

In a few hours, dear readers, it will be 2013, a new year with the usual resolutions of both individuals and governments to do better. Unfortunately, the New Year 2013 will be remembered by Americans as the year when we went over the fiscal cliff. The House is going to end today's session without a vote. The Senate is still in session and is expected to vote on a stopgap measure tonight. The House will be back in session tomorrow and could take the Senate bill, if passed, under consideration. But stopgap is the right word because it appears that the Senate bill does not address the larger issues in the fiscal problem -- there will be no mention of a balanced budget or a plan to reduce the national debt. So, what we will see is a compromise about which taxpayers will see their rates move back up above 39% and which federal agency budgets will be saved from cuts under the "sequester" that was voted into place in 2011 to force the Congress and President to get serious about the federal budget and debt and tax mess. It seems that 'getting serious' means that we are going to get a little chip at a corner of the mess instead of the hammer blow needed to solve the problem. Instead of "kicking the can down the road," President Obama and Congress are now thinking bigger and "kicking the fiscal cliff down the road." All I can say, dear readers, is that I wish each of you and your families and loved ones a very Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Obama's Arrogant Federal Pay Increase Executive Order

While most Americans are intently waiting with fading hope for their government in Washington to prevent their going over the fiscal cliff, President Barack Obama was focused on an entirely different agenda. He has has ended the pay freeze on federal employees, thus giving workers, ranging from Vice President Joe Biden to members of Congress and the Supreme Court, a raise. Obama signed the executive order on Thursday for increases to take effect in late March. “The pay raise will generally be about 1/2 of 1 percent," the order says. Obama instituted a pay freeze in 2010, citing the recession and budgetary constraints - still worrisome for most, but apparently not for Obama. Under the new order, Vice President Biden’s salary will jump from $225,521 last year to $231,900 next year. Members of the Senate and House will receive a slight raise, from $174,000 to $174,900. The majority and minority leaders in both chambers will receive $194,400. The salary of the Speaker of the House, currently Ohio Republican John Boehner, will increase to $224,600. In addition, members of the U.S. Supreme Court will see their salary rise, with Chief Justice John Roberts receiving $223,500, and associate justices being paid $213,900. In enacting a pay raise, instead of a pay cut, for senior government employees and officeholders, Obama - whose annual pay is $400,000 - is in a distinct minority. The only other such pay rise is in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel, her ministers and their parliamentary secretaries of state will see their wages rise in three stages between now and August 2013, until they all get 5.7 percent more. However, this is the first pay increase for the German cabinet in twelve years. The chancellor's total pay is set to rise from €193,000 before tax to around €205,000 ($266,000) per year. Ministers' pay will rise to around €170,000 ($221,000) per year. In contrast, French president Francois Hollande, in a highly symbolic debut, began his first cabinet meeting in May 2012 by announcing that his 17 men and 17 women ministers had agreed to a pay cut of 30 percent. Hollande and his prime minister will earn €180,000 ($216,000) a year, down from €255,000 ($327,000). A government statement said the cuts would reduce the gross pay of ministers to €120,000 ($156,000) a year from €174,000 ($230,000). Hollande was simply repeating what British prime minister David Cameron had already done after his election, when he honored his pre-election promise by announcing in his first cabinet meeting in May 2010 that all ministers in his Liberal-Conservative coalition would take a five-year pay freeze, as well as a 5% pay cut. Cameron earns £142,000 ($220,000), which includes his £65,000 ($100,000) per year salary as a member of Parliament.~~~~~~Dear readers, the timing of President Obama's executive order to increase pay for federal employees and officeholders is just one more indication of his lack of appreciation for the American public's deep concern and fear about the fiscal mess he is largely responsible for. One might argue that it would have been an indication of Obama's aloof arrogance whenever he would have chosen to issue the order - but to rub it in the faces of American taxpayers who will be facing a minimum of $2,500 in increased taxes if Washington cannot prevent the fall over the fiscal cliff is just plain political cynicism on his part. Washington takes care of itself...and maybe it will take care of the Americans who pay the bills, but nothing is less sure. It brings to mind one of George Washington's darker but surely accurate comments : "Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force! It is a dangerous servant and a terrible master."

Friday, December 28, 2012

Respect for Women

The woman who was gang-raped and viciously beaten on a public bus in New Delhi recently has died. She had been in hospital in New Delhi and was then transferred to Singapore for additional treatment. The announcement of her death said she died of severe internal organ injuries and damage to her head from being physically attacked.~~~~~~~ I suppose it would be useless to say to men who do such things that she could have been their mother, sister, daughter, wife. It would be useless to say to such men that women are human beings. Useless because such men would probably be in agreement with burning wives they find objectionable because the wife's family refuses to pay additional dowry (although dowry is illegal, it is almost universal in India). Useless because such men would agree with those who throw acid on the faces of women who refuse their advances. Useless because such men agree with beating their wives whom they consider their property. Women die every day from such horrendous abuses. What can be done? The Old Testament 'eye for an eye' justice system was overturned by Jesus, Who said, "turn the other cheek." But we can demand that governments educate boys to recognize women as human beings. We can demand that governments eliminate all laws that treat women unequally in terms of property and personal rights. We can demand that governments pursue the perpetrators of any rape or physical abuse of women with real force, putting them in prison for long terms. And we can encourage all people everywhere to speak up for women, to help women whom they witness being treated abusively, to teach their own sons to respect women and treat them honorably. At the end of the day, when male children see their fathers treat the women in their family with respect, the battle for the safety of women will be won.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Washington Fiddles while America Burns

The US Dollar is weak, having fallen in the past two months - now at 1.32 Dollars per Euro and 1.1 Dollars per Swiss Franc. French unemployment rose 0.9% in November, with 13.3 million people unemployed and seeking work. Some of them, like the Spanish and Greek unemployed, are seeking work outside France, mainly in London. The Chinese economic machine is visibly weak, with 2013 growth estimated at between 4.5% and 8%, dependng on whom you believe. Germany is forecasting a lower growth rate for 2013, at around 1%, admitting that the European and world economic situations are having an impact on its export business. And, dear readers, in the midst of all this gloomy news, America's federal government is playing with fire - choosing to roll the dice that the effects of the fiscal cliff will be minimal. Congress is in a deep freeze, with the Senate under Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid refusing to consider a GOP-led House bill that would increase taxes and cut spending. And the House is refusing to consider a Senate bill that reflects President Obama's position last summer, a position that he no longer supports. Americans may well ask how in the world their political leaders got them into this mess. For, make no mistake, it is ordinary Americans who will suffer. The congressional budget will continue, with all the perks, pensions, expense accounts and staff positions to hand out for political favors. The White House...ditto. But Americans will see their taxes rise, the value of their Dollar fall and the worldwide reputation of their country fall. And, while it is an honorable GOP goal to hold the spendthrift Democrats and President hostage to the required raising of the national debt ceiling early next year in order to get some control over spending, it is also incumbent on the GOP, as on the Democrats and President Obama, to face the cold facts. America needs a budget. NOW. America needs a reduction in its annual spending with the discipline of a balanced budget law. NOW. America needs a plan to reduce its national debt that begins in 2013 and succeeds. NOW. And most of all, America desperately needs statesmen and women in the halls of Congress and in the White House. They do not exist now. Americans had the chance to elect them last November and chose "more of the same." One can seriously ask if America really cares about its own future. Do Americans want to continue to be the shining city on the hill -- or are they content to slide inevitably into the ranks of the has-beens, like Rome and the British Empire. It is a question only Americans can answer. And the answer must come from political candidates with integrity and intelligence who are elected by voters who choose the future of the United States above the petty personal payments offered to them by small-minded politicians who care not about saving America but simply about being elected so they can access those rich congressional and presidential perks. Washington fiddles while America burns.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Friends of Syria Tri-Partite Oversight Coalition...why not?

Syria's interior minister, who was wounded in a rebel suicide attack in Damascus on December 12, stopped his treatment at a Beirut hospital Wednesday and returned home for fear of being arrested by Lebanese authorities under international arrest warrants being prepared against him. Meanwhile, Syria's chief of military police defected to the opposition, becoming one of the highest-ranking officers to switch sides and join the opposition during the 21-month-old revolt against al-Assad's authoritarian rule. Military pressure continues to build on the regime, with government bases falling to the rebels near Damascus and elsewhere across the country. Dozens of generals, along with thousands of ordinary soldiers, have defected since Syria's crisis began in March 2011. In July, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass became the first member of Assad's inner circle to break ranks and join the opposition during the uprising, which anti-regime activists estimate has led to more than 40,000 deaths. Today, regime shelling in the province of Raqqa killed at least 20 people, including eight children and three women. Rebel forces took control of another regime base in the northern province of Idlib. The base, Maaret al-Numan, has been under siege for weeks. But none of this compares to the massacre of at least 60 men, women and children who were shelled and strafed several days ago while they were standing in line to buy bread from a bakery re-opened after the Red Cross managed to supply it with flour. The bakery was in a town recently secured by rebel forces after a violent fight, and those killed had not had bread or other food for several days and were waiting patiently in line when the regime attack occurred. Al-Assad's media characterized the attack as a "terrorist" action. A more coldly brutal attack by al-Assad would be hard to imagine. China is silent these days, offering neither support nor condemnation to al-Assad. And with Russia's President Putin still cautiuosly separating himself and Russia from al-Assad, one wonders what the world is waiting for - it should certainly be able to find a face-saving compromise for Russia if it had the will to do so. Dear readers, I could imagine a tri-partite "Friends of Syria" Oversight Coalition that would replace al-Assad. It would look to the Syrian rebel coalition for day-to-day government and political arrangements, while providing funding and oversight for the rebuilding of Syria's infrastructure and also back-up intelligence and military support to prevent independent jihadist militia from dividing the country into helpless fiefs, as has occurred in Libya. The tri-partite Friends of Syria Oversight Coalition could be composed of the United States leading a UN contingent, as well as contingents representing the Arab League and Russia. In this way, Russia would have a continuing presence in Syria and could use it to try to re-develop its traditional commecial, but not military, relationship with the new Syria. There are surely other possible solutions to dealing with Russia's dilemma, but we need to have world leadership capable of creating and selling them to the world community...something sorely lacking for the moment.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Dear Readers of All Faiths...Merry Christmas

Dear readers, I wish for you the peace and joy of this season so special for Christians. But, the hope and promise of Christmas is for all people, as St. Luke told the story in his Gospel. Whether you are Christian or Moslem or Jewish or Buddhist or skeptical of all religion - there is a message of peace and joy for all mankind in St. Luke's timeless story of the angel and the shepherds. So, we pray for our Syrian brothers and sisters, and for all people who are oppressed or hungry or homeless. Let us remember them and find a way, however small, to help them and send them a message of solidarity and hope. Merry Christmas...may God bless us, one and all, Casey pops. Luke 2:8 - 16. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them: Fear not. For, Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and singing: Glory to God in the highest and on Earth, peace, good will to men.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich to the Fiscal Cliff Rescue

From the day Barak Obama was elected in 2008, it was clear that his inner circle at the White House would be led by the "Chicago school of politics." To Americans, that is shorthand for bullying, cheating, pay-off led, don't bother me with the facts because they don't matter way that Chicago has run itself politically for the last century. These tactics are the antithesis of the non-confrontational, compromise, let us all look good at all cost brand of politics practiced in Washington. It explains in large part why Obama and his Chicago gang got little done in his first term. The only exception - Obamacare - is the only major piece of legislation passed in Obama's first term, and it passed because the White House got out of the way and gave the task to the Democratic leaders in Congress - Chicago politics gave way to Washington insider tactics. Some of the gang went back to Chicago toward the end of be elected mayor of the Windy City and to run Obama's re-election campaign. Enter Obama Term Two. He has not changed. -- still no budget submitted, no offer of a presidential plan for dealing with the national debt or the fiscal cliff. No effort to rein in the diplomatic security mess and enforce his rule. But, it was yesterday, when President Obama appeared in the White House Press Room to plead for compromise on the fiscal cliff debacle that I realized just how much of a Washington amateur he is. I actually felt sorry for him...and for America. Barak Obama does not understand either the system of presidential power and leadership or the niceties of Washington negotiation and compromise between the White House and Congress. Instead, he chose to 'beg' publicly for help from Congress. What he should be doing is providing the plan and leadership that would make it possible for both Democrats and Republicans to compromise their positions without giving way on their principles and thereby risking being booted out by their constituencies at the next election. It is clear, based on the President's performance yesterday, that this will not happen. And Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seem unable to bridge the gap and move Obama toward the position that would make it all work. ~~~~~ So, dear readers, I have a suggestion. Let Obama spend the holiday season in Hawaii and send Boehner to Ohio - both out of harm's way. Call Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich and ask them to go to Washington and huddle together until they have thrashed out a deal. I really don't see any other solution.

Friday, December 21, 2012

John Boehner's Fiscal and Political Dilemma

Despite the noisy political clash created by the looming fiscal cliff and the weeks of lukewarm bargaining between President Obama and Speaker Boehner, America appears ready to celebrate Christmas with no solution in sight. What is surprising is the relatively miniscule dollar differences between the two men by Washington standards. By almost any measure, the difference is $20 billion -- Obama wants to raise annual taxes $20 billion more than Boehner does, and Boehner wants to cut annual entitlement expenditures $20 billion more than Obama does. AND, compared to the $2.6 trillion the government expects to collect next year and to the $3.6 trillion it plans to spend, $20 billion is loose change - less than 1 percent of what the government already is on track to raise and spend. Relative to the US economy, which should generate well over $15 trillion next year, $20 billion is even smaller. Many analysts and financial journalists describe it as too small to go over the fiscal cliff for, because doing that would put serious brakes on the US economy over time. But, dear readers, that analysis misses the real issue -- the real issue is the huge $1 trillion difference between the 2013 federal government income of $2.6 trillion and its spending plans at $3.6 trillion. Speaker Boehner and the GOP are standing between Obama's and the Democrats' continuing annual $1 trillion addition to the national debt and the general belief of American citizens and financial markets that a trillion dollar annual debt increase is dangerously unsustainable. Yesterday, Speaker Boehner tried to get his House GOP majority to give in a little on this increasing debt issue. He failed because there are enough fiscally conservative tea party and libertarian GOP House members to prevent giving at all on their fundamental belief that America is at a watershed - the runaway national debt must be mastered now or it will be too late. They are adament in their belief that America is doomed if she continues on the Democrat-sponsored tax-and-spend socially leftist vision of government. Speaker Boehner is in a lonely place. He can give in to Obams and pass a compromise bill with votes provided by Democrat House members, in which case his fellow GOP House members will strip him of his Speakership in January. Or he can refuse to compromise, go over the fiscal cliff with Obama and keep his Speakership. Neither option is easy. Either moves America into unknown territory. Historically, House Speakers faced with such unpopular and draconian choices have found the nerve and political savvy to save the day and America with it. I wish Speaker John Boehner Godspeed and courage in the days ahead. On his smalltown Ohio shoulders may well rest the future of the Republic.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Boehner's Fiscal Cliff Plan B

House Speaker John Boehner has moved to what he calls Plan B. The Speaker, an Ohio Republican, presented to the Republican-controlled House on Thursday a bill that would raise taxes on people earning over $1 million a year as hopes faded for a pre-Christmas deal between President Barack Obama and the Speaker to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff." Democratic leaders vowed that the House bill will die in the Senate without a vote. As a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff's automatic tax hikes and spending cuts seemed elusive, Senate Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid said lawmakers would return to the Capitol after the holiday to try to forge a deal. But at the same time, Boehner told reporters that it is the responsibility of the President and himself to negotiate a deal and he said he would continue trying, saying, "I expect that we'll continue to work together." House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the GOP has enough votes to pass Plan B, aimed at increasing the year-end pressure on Capitol Hill Democrats and Obama. Boehner won a letter of support from anti-tax activist Grover Norquist during the day. Norquist's organization, Americans For Tax Reform, issued a statement saying it will not consider a vote for the Plan B bill a violation of a no-tax-increase pledge that many Republicans have signed. Norquist's support for Boehner may signal that the GOP and its tea partiers are closing ranks to try to turn the fiscal impasse to the GOP's favor. While the GOP is moving forward with a plan that all Republicans can accept, even if they are not overly enthusiastic, the President and the Democrat-majority Senate are standing pat, caught in the President's continuing refusal to negotiate the GOP's issues. The White House has said the President will veto any House bill, in the unlikely event that it passes the Senate. A presidential spokesman said that the Republicans have wasted the opportunity to negotiate what could be a large deal for the American people, instead "...the Republicans in the House have decided to run down an alley that has no exit while we all watch....again it's something we've seen in the past." Republicans have reportedly told senior administration officials that Boehner put forward Plan B after he concluded he could not get enough GOP support for the proposal he made to Obama over the weekend. The President says that he and Boehner are just a few hundred billion dollars apart on a 10-year, $2 trillion-plus deficit-cutting pact. In what could be considered a disrespectful reference to the Sandy Hook school murders, the President said Republicans should "peel off the partisan war paint" and take the deal he's offering. He noted that he had won re-election with a call for higher taxes on the wealthy, then added pointedly that the nation aches for conciliation, not a contest of ideologies, after last week's mass murder at the Connecticut elementary school. This, dear readers, is what one might call a non sequitur...something that does not logically follow on from what was already said. In this case, the murdered school children and the fiscal cliff have absolutely nothing in common and the President mentioned Sandy Hook simply to try to transfer America's sympathy to his fiscal position. Meanwhile, Boehner will introduce a second bill in the House that would put aside the economically dangerous set of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies set to take effect in January. Boehner, taking the offensive in his battle with Obama, said that the President will bear responsibility for "the largest tax increase in history" if he makes good on his veto threat. Obama has changed his position somewhat and is now seeking $1.2 trillion in higher tax revenue, down from the $1.6 trillion he initially sought. He also has softened his demand for higher tax rates on household incomes so they would apply to incomes over $400,000 instead of the $250,000 he cited during his successful second-term presidential campaign. But Obama has thrown down yet another gauntlet, saying he will not negotiate over the national debt ceiling limit coming up in March, in an effort to force the GOP to settle the fiscal deal now and not try to tie the fiscal cliff fight to the debt ceiling fight. I hope, dear readers, that the President soon realizes that a flat fiat refusal is not a negotiating position or tactic. It is the absolute absense of the spirit of American political negotiation and compromise.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chinese Wealth Management Funds

WMF...Wealth Management Fund. Dear readers, you may want to pay attention to WMFs...they are the Chinese equivalent of private equity finds and venture capital groups in America and other western countries. Venture capital and private equity are important in market-driven economies because they provide start-up and development money to small and mid-size businesses that often gave trouble getting funds from normal banks. As an example, neither Apple nor Microsoft nor Intel would have become large, leading companies without venture capital infusions. Why follow the Chinese WMFs? Because they support start-up businesses, often ignored in China's centrally planned and managed economy. AND one of them has just given signs of going belly up. It was supposed to pay an 11% dividend/interest in November but didn't. Its investors are waiting for news of the money they invested. The Chinese government is now investigating WMFs in general. The fear is that because one WMF failed, others may be fragile. And if Chinese investors stop putting their money into WMFs, the future of Chinese start-up companies will be jeopardized. Experts are already estimating that such a result could reduce China's economic output by several percentage points. This would impact not only China but Asian and western economies as well. So, watch WMFs...they are probably more important to the world's economies than we would have suspected.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Emotional Response to Horrific Killings Will Lead to New Assault Weapon Ban

Most of those calling for a total or partial ban on guns in the United States have no regard for the majority American opinion on gun control or for the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Their demand is an emotional reaction to the horrific murder of 26 people, including 20 children 6 and 7 years old, at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown in Connecticut. The act of the deranged but highly intelligent young man was carried out with two pistols and a semi-automatic rifle. The popular logic is simple in the extreme -- a killer murdered 20 tiny children with a semi-automatic gun, so we need to outlaw guns, or at least any type of automatically firing gun because this will prevent further mass murders of the Sandy Hook type. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But truth is not foremost on the agenda of the groups now shouting for gun control, nor is it on President Obama's agenda. And all of this is being fed by an almost messianic frenzy of media demands for gun control. The United States will probably adopt a federal ban on assault guns, including automatic and semi-automatic arms. The ban will certainly be challenged and the US Supreme Court will be required to review its 2005 decision that the Second Amendment right of US citizens to bear arms does not relate only to their use by militia but also to individuals. We can not know what the Court will decide. But we can know that the Second Amendment will not stand in the way of those who oppose the right to bear arms. The National Rifle Association will be demonized. Those who oppose tampering with the Second Amendment will be told that they are in reality in favor of mass murder. Last night, CNN's Piers Morgan actually told a guest supporting the right to bear arms that he had no right to express such an opinion. AND, dear readers, all the while the societal problems that are most likely to be causing this particular type of violence in America will continue to be ignored -- lack of medical insurance coverage for psychological and psychiatric treatment or medicines, and lack of laws that permit parents or public officials to demand psychological and psychiatric care until a troubled person has actually caused harm to himself or others (this means that mass murderers can be forced to undergo treatment after, but not before, they have murdered innocent people). Finally, elected federal officeholders, from the President down, need to make clear in the legislative history and in the actual sections of the ban itself that the limited gun ban law passed has nothing to do with the otherwise valid Second Amendment right to bear arms, which is inviolate and will be honored.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian Civil War

This weekend, Iran announced a plan for ending the Syrian civil war. The plan, vaguely offering a transition to open elections and a new government, is neither new nor surprising. Iran has been trying to resolve its Syrian problem for months, because if al-Assad falls, Iran will lose its only remaining partner in the Middle East, as well as its supply lines to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Like Russia, Iran has a real problem in trying to manage its Syria relationship. Unlike Russia, Iran's problem is more vital to its regional position. Iran, like the Syrian Alawite minority led by al-Assad, is shiite. This pits it and al-Assad against the Saudi sunni faction with its majority position in the region. Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard needs Hezbollah to wage its war of attrition against Saudi Arabia, the sunni Moslems, and Israel. Iran is separated from Saudi Arabia by the Persian Gulf and Iraq. It is separated from Lebanon's Hezbollah by Iraq and Syria. So, an isolated and angry Iran with its link to Hezbollah severed could launch a serious effort to come to terms with the Iraqi leadership in order to preserve its Hezbollah foot soldiers. But the problem here is that Iraq is still easily available to US troops in the region and the Ayatollah would have to roll the dice against US and allied intervention if Iran sought visible hegemony in Iraq. An Iran attack against the joint major US-Saudi military presence in Saudi Arabia is less likely. The other factor weighing on Iran is the increasingly severe sanctions against it that has reduced its petroleum sales by 50%, leading to the reaction of its citizens who blame its government's nuclear enrichment policies for the sanctions and the resulting devaluation of the Iranian currency by 40% this autumn. So, Iran undoubtedly sees its best chance of maintaining its lines with Hezbollah to be Syria, and this means that Iran must now reposition itself to be a major player in Syria, no matter what the outcome of the civil war...including a rebel victory. So, dear readers, look for Iran to become more conciliatory toward the rebels while maintaining its relationship with the Alawites under al-Assad. Do not be surprised if Iran's interests lead it to support the Syrian military, now cautiously putting distance between itself and al-Assad, as the most reasonable pro-Iran survivor of the Syria civil war. Al-Assad is not essential to Iran's regional survival, but the Syrian army may well be.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Second Amendment's 221th Anniversary

Amendment II to the United States Constitution, proposed 25 September 1789 along with the other nine Amendments that compose the Bill of Rights, was ratified on 15 December 1791. Thus, today is the 211th anniversary of the American constitutional right to bear arms. Here is the exact text of the Second Amendment : "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Those favoring a severe restriction of the Second Amendment right to bear arms instantly pounce on the single word "Militia to support their view that arms were intended for citizen armies and not for individuals. Those favoring a universal citizen right to bear arms argue that the word Militia is not controlling but merely one of the examples that makes the universal right to bear arms necessary. To give historical perspective -- the English common law right, indeed obligation, for all freemen to possess arms in order to assist in the keeping of the king's peace is clear from the 12th century Assise of Arms by Henry II. That is, all freemen were required to show that they had an arm available in their home. That right began to be drastically curtailed in the 19th century when professional police forces were introduced in England. And today, except for hunting guns, it is extremely difficult for a British citizen to possess a gun. In fact, one of the earliest British attempts to curtail the citizen right to bear arms was directed at the American colonies. In the 1760s, American colonial militia were largely individual colonists without training or company formation. The problem was that some of these men were loyal to the English king and the others called Patriots, fearful that the Loyalists might turn on them, seized their arms and began building up Patriot-controlled arsenals, so that only Patriots possessed arms. The British parliament, fearful of an American revolt, in turn passed an embargo against any shipment of guns, parts or ammunition to America. After the Revolution, many state constitutions included a right to bear arms. When the Constitution was being drafted, the right to bear arms was included in the Bill of Rights and written discussion shows that the reasons included personal protection, as well as militia-type needs. But, overriding was the idea that America should not be held hostage to an all-powerful federal government that might actually turn on the states and suppress their rights -- here we see the purely American idea that the balance of power is tripartite...armed citizens, military power and political government. Thus the citizen right to bear arms. So, dear readers, we will again hear the arguments pro and con. But in all of this, it is wise to remember that armed Americans are in a sense the protectors of their own Bill of Rights and of their freedom from governmental tyranny. The American citizen, wary of the federal government's power, is obviously wary of that same federal government when it attacks the Second Amendment that gives American citizens their best defense against the federal government.

Friday, December 14, 2012

When Children Are Killed...Anywhere

I think it would be indecent to talk about anything today. I went to a church service early this evening, as I always do on Friday, and then watched the parade that opened the local Christmas market. Then I came home and turned on the TV. The news from Newtown, Connecticut, was there, horrific. According to the preliminary investigation, a very disturbed young man shot and killed his brother in New Jersey, then he drove an hour to Newtown and shot and killed his mother, a teacher in the Newtown elementary school. He then turned his gun on the young children in her classroom. All we know now is that about 30 people were killed, including the principal and an estimated 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10. I sat in front of the TV with tears running down my cheeks. President Obama spoke, brushing tears away and trying to control his voice. The whys and hows will be completely dissected in the days to come. For now, I simply ask a prayer for the children, both dead and alive, and for their families, and for the community, because real tragedy deserves silence and prayer....and reflection. And, while you pray, dear readers, a prayer and a tear for the children of Syria would be the decent thing, because babies of 1...2...3...and children of every age are being killed there every day.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The United Nations Needs American Leadership

Dear readers, if you have ever wondered about the effectiveness of the United Nations as a keeper or enforcer of world peace and order, you should consider the following recent events. (1) Russia, which has supported the Syrian al-Assad regime against the entire world's stated wishes, has finally acknowledged that it may have chosen a losing partner. "An opposition victory can't be's necessary to look at the facts: There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Moscow's Middle East envoy, said during hearings at a Kremlin advisory body. Russia's acknowledgment that al-Assad could lose the fight is an embarrassing blow to the regime, which describes the rebels as terrorists sent from abroad with no popular support. Despite its negative evaluation, Russia gave no indication of its intention to remove its support from the al-Assad regime or to support the UN Security Council in its effort to oust al-Assad. (2) North Korea launched a "satellite" missile after repeated failures and hundreds of millions of dollars. It is an achievement for the young despotic leader Kim Jong Un, whose late father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, made development of missiles and nuclear weapons a priority despite international opposition and his nation's poverty. Kim said the achievement "further consolidated" the country's status "as a space power," the government's official Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday. It added that Kim "stressed the need to continue to launch satellites in the future." Kim visited the command center and gave the final written launch order. After a closed door session, the UN Security Council said that the launch violated UN resolutions against North Korea's use of ballistic missile technology and said it would "urgently" consider appropriate responses. US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the launch represented a use of ballistic missile technology, not peaceful use of space. Even the North's most important ally, China, expressed regret. ~~~~~ As these two events suggest, the UN is a debating society where the world comes to talk about peace and international order as if they could do anything to achieve either. It is now, as it has always been, the umbrella for American, British, French, Canadian and Australian action - when they agree about what action to take. There are the 1950s Korean conflict and the 1990s Balkan war as prime examples. And, if you remember, it was America that led the way. Today, this is the problem - America is not leading, and without America, there is no hope of concerted UN action. It is the lack of US leadership that goes a long way to explaining Russia and China's dogged insistence on allowing al-Assad to murder 40,000 Syrians. It is the lack of US leadership that has allowed North Korea's rogue pursuit of ballistic missiles capable of launching its developing nuclear bombs. And, lest we forget, it is the lack of US leadership that is allowing Iran to continue its nuclear capability program. There are times when any country would just like to say, "count me out this time" but for America, that is not an option. President Obama has created an immensely more dangerous world by opting out during the last four years. It is time to opt back in...while America can still be taken seriously as the world's leader. Because, as US Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain point out, if America does not lead, someone else will.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Politics as Usual in Washington

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he is "more than a little" overweight - but fit enough to be in the White House. His remark came during an interview with Barbara Walters for her "10 Most Fascinating People" special Wednesday night on Amercian TV network ABC. Walters praised Christie's handling of Superstorm Sandy, which has sent his popularity soaring. Concerning his physical fitness, the governor said the nation saw him during the crisis every day for a number of weeks doing 18-hour days and getting right back up the next day and still being just as effective. "So I don't really think that would be a problem." Thus is the Republican Party dealing with the grave problems facing America - the front players are beginning their positioning for the 2016 presidential election. But not to be outdone, the Democrats are already trying to position a reluctant Hillary Clinton as their candidate-in-waiting. And, as if the lack of serious attention given to the looming fiscal crisis and the huge and ballooning national debt by both parties were not enough, the Republicans have decided to attack their GOP House Speaker instead of supporting him, by suggesting that his position as Speaker may be challenged by GOP House members in January. It almost seems that Speaker John Boehner and President Obama are, by default, the only politicians in a position to do something about the fiscal mess in America who are actually working on a solution. And for them, the effort must be daunting. They have to close a deeply felt divide between the GOP's belief in balanced budgets and smaller government (equating with lower taxes) and the Democrat's preference for a burgeoning tax-and-spend welfare state. But, to be honest, it seems that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats in Washington are worried about the December 31 deadline or the future of America. They are interested only in being re-elected by refusing to compromise on anything that would alienate the respective right or left wings of their parties. So, while the real America outside Washington is profoundly disturbed by both the fiscal mess and Washington's inability to function - almost 60% of Americans are pessimistic about solving either the fiscal catastrophe or the dysfunctioning in Washington - the nation's political parties are busy with 2016 presidential candidates and being re-elected themselves. It has not occurred to them that the 2016 presidency may not be worth much if they don't put the nation's vital interests above their own petty political positioning.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Al-Assad, Putin, Obama and the Syrian People

Syrian rebels, aided by Islamic extremists, took full control of the Sheik Suleiman military base near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday. This is the second large northern military base they now control. It was just the latest victory for Syrian rebels re-inforced by al-Qaida-linked groups that have provided skilled fighters. Jihadi groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra raise concerns in the US and other nations that are supporting the opposition in Syria but do not want extremists to gain power in the region. The US recently blacklisted al-Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization and said the group was part of al-Qaida in Iraq. Nevertheless, al-Nusra fighters are among the most effective fighters on the rebel side, spearheading many of the recent Free Syria Army gains. Several hundred fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra - Arabic for "the Support Front" - have also helped rebels in the vicious battle for control of Aleppo. The group also claims responsibility for suicide bombings on Syrian government targets. Meanwhile, last weekend the Obama administration said it is getting ready to tighten its ties to Syria's main opposition group, the newly formed Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, at an international conference on the crisis in Morocco this week. The move will pave the way for greater US support for those seeking to oust Assad while the administration tries to blunt the influence of extremists. At the same time, the US has blacklisted al-Nusra, an act that will do little since al-Nusra has no assets in the US or in US banks. On another front, recent diplomatic speculation about Russia joining forces with the UN Security Council to oust al-Assad seems to be ill-founded. Experts on Russia are this week saying that Russian president Putin missed the chance to broker a deal in Syria when it could have been arranged, and now he will not lose face by abandoning his last friend in the Middle East. However, it appears that a softening line on Russian state TV suggests that Putin knows that al-Assad will finally lose and he is preparing Russians by saying that it was an uneven fight between the West and al-Assad forces. Concerning the possibility of an escape route for al-Assad, Belarus seems to be one possible destination that Putin could arrange, thereby boosting his image. But Syria experts believe that the Alawite community tied to al-Assad and his family would never let him leave, preferring to go down together with him. So, dear readers, we see the ill-conceived plans of three leaders. Al- Assad thought he could suppress yet again the Syrian people's desire for freedom. He was wrong. Putin thought he would support the winning side, believing that the Syrian people would not be able to endure the extreme suffering required to gain their freedom. He was wrong. And, most sad of the three, Obama thought he could assist the Syrian rebels using words alone. He was wrong. They found help in jihadist groups, and for this judgment error of the American president, Syria's and the region's future is clouded by extremist desires for regional power now more likely than ever to be fulfilled.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Exodus of Wealthy French Taxpayers Continues

Gerard Depardieu is considered to be the most gifted French actor of his epoch. His most famous roles include Cyrano and Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. But Depardieu is leaving France for Belgium...why? To escape the new Socialist government's levy of a 75% tax rate on all income above €1 million per year. Since France also annually taxes accumulated wealth, which had income tax levied at its creation, wealthy French are feeling the pinch of President Hollande's new tax scheme designed to help bail out France's large budget deficit and accumulated national debt. And Depardieu is not the first wealthy French citizen to leave his country. Many celebrities had already become "tax exiles" in prior years, fleeing the highest tax rates in Europe. And with the new 75% rate, people such as the president/chief shareowner of the biggest French family-run business, that includes many of France's fashion couturier houses such as Louis Vuitton, announced several weeks ago his intention to become a Belgian resident. Belgium taxes high-income inividuals at 50% and does not tax wealth. And national icon Johnny Hallyday, the French version of Elvis, left France several years ago. If President Obama and his Democrat Party had the capacity to understand such trends and act on their message, his current determination to tax the upper two percent of American taxpayers at what will work out at just over 50% might end. Because wealthy people are flexible and can live where they choose - and where they feel welcome. But, the wealthy French who leave France to reside in other countries have one big advantage over similar Americans. The French can keep their passports and leave their businesses in France because income and wealth held outside France is safe from the French taxman. But Americans, unlike the citizens of all other countries and in common with Germans, cannot move and avoid US taxes. Wherever their income is generated, it is subject to US taxation. So the longer term problem for Obama and the Democrats is to try to hold these Americans as citizens. For if the top two percent begin to flee America, they will take their wealth and businesses with them and abandon their American passports for those of another country. And America will lose not only wealthy citizens who now pay close to 70% of all individual taxes in the US. America will lose the businesses and JOBS they create and support. Is this really the right goal for an American President to be pursuing?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Dear Nelson Mandela...Get Well Soon

Nelson Mandela, first president of post- Apartheid South Africa, was admitted to a military hospital Saturday for medical tests. South African President Zuma told the public there was "no cause for alarm" over the 94-year-old's health, who, Zuma said, was receiving medical care "which is consistent for his age." The statement gave no other details. Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for fighting racist Apartheid rule, became South Africa's first black president in 1994. He served one five-year term. He later retired from public life to live in his village of Qunu. His last public appearance was in 2010 when his country hosted the football World Cup. Although there was official reassurance concerning Mandela's health, he is viewed as a father figure in this nation of 50 million people. Each hospital trip raises the same worry about the increasingly frail founder of the African National Congress - that the man who helped bring the nation together is slowly fading away. In 2010, Mandela was admitted to hospital for a minor diagnostic surgery for an abdominal complaint. In January 2011, Mandela was again admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for what officials initially described as tests but which turned out to be an acute respiratory infection. He was discharged days later. Mandela contracted tuberculosis during his years in prison. He also had surgery for an enlarged prostate gland in 1985. The South African military has taken over caring for the aging leader since the 2011 respiratory infection. At 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria on Saturday night, everything appeared calm, and there was no sign of an additional security presence. Mac Maharaj, a presidential spokesman, declined to say whether Mandela had been flown by the military from Qunu to Pretoria. He also declined to say what the tests were for. ~~~~~ Dear Nelson Mandela, we are thinking of you and praying for your full recovery - you who are the brightest and most enduring of the world's symbols of racial harmony and the true fellowship of all people. Get well very soon.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The American Political Divide...Individuals vs the State

In an audaciously muscular political move, Michigan Republicans in one day reached a goal that seemed an all-but-impossible dream: making the labor stronghold of Michigan a right-to-work state. With majorities in both the Michigan House and Senate, and backing from Gov. Rick Snyder to push through legislation in both the House and Senate on Thursday, state Republican lawmakers ignored denunciations and walkouts by helpless Democrats and cries of outrage from union activists who swarmed the state Capitol hallways and grounds. At one point, police used pepper spray to subdue demonstrators who tried to force their way into the Senate chamber. Indiana, Wisconsin and now Michigan, - all bastions of the early 20th century union movement in states which were then centers of heavy manufacturing industries such as steel and autos - have all now produced activist Republican majorities that have dealt unions one body blow after another. Nationwide, the right-to-work laws, as they are called, exist in 23 states, many of these in the southeast, where the modern right-to-work movement began in the 1970s, creating a push for heavy manufacturing and other traditionally unionized industries to move south in order to avoid the forced unionization of their workforces. Next Tuesday, when the Michigan state House and Senate vote on each other's bills, which would prohibit making payment of union fees a condition of employment, Michigan will almost certainly become the 24th state with right-to-work laws. The United Auto Workers union president, who was in the protest crowd, said the bills' passage was "a very partisan, polarizing attack." President Barack Obama continues to oppose right-to-work laws. A White House spokesman said after the Michigan vote that the President believes the revival of the US automobile industry "is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy." ~~~~~ Dear readers, this may seem like a relatively local topic for my blog, but it is one of the faces of the profound philosophical Divide that separates America into two uncompromising political camps. The Divide is separated by the word RIGHT - right to work, right to life, right to controlled immigration, right to traditional Christian-based family values, right to small non-intrusive government, right to individual liberty, right to free markets, right to a balanced budget, right to a reduction in the national debt. These are the rights held as sacred under the US Constitution by American conservatives, who are organized under the Republican Party umbrella as old-line GOPers, tea partiers and libertarians. They are convinced that the other side of the Divide is inhabited by a Democrat Party that adheres to European socialist principles leading to big government tax-and-spend policies that are certain to destroy individual liberty and traditional values, by championing uncontrolled spending on welfare and social programs, cemented by extensive government regulation of all aspects of life, that will tax free markets out of existence and destroy the US Constitution by ignoring it. This is why the fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington are likely to produce almost nothing. There is no way to close the Divide. One side or the other must finally win the argument and define America's future. But, until then, be prepared for more and more deeply partisan arguments that may seem out of proportion to the topic at hand. But it is not each topic that matters. It is the vision for the future of America underlying each topic that counts. Compromise on anything - from right to work laws to fiscal cliffs - is seen as losing one more step down the slippery slope into philosophical oblivion. America is in a Second Revolutionary War over its political vision. The battles will be fierce and unbending. And for me, it is imperative that the Republican philosophy prevail if the United States created by the Constitution is to survive. The world does not need another Europe. It does need an America that defends individual human beings and their inalienable rights.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Who Are the Intended Targets of al-Assad's Chemical Weapons

If diplomatic activity is a sign of increasing tension or concern, then we may assume that the world is very tense and concerned about ongoing events in Syria. And well it should be. After almost two years of civil unrest morphing into full-blown civil war - after 40,000 deaths - after the destruction of huge chunks of Syria's infrastrucure now estimated to cost more than $40 billion to replace - after al-Assad regime aerial bombings of rebel-held areas leading to the displacement of more than 1 million Syrian civilians - and finally, after growing evidence that the regime is at least preparing chemical bombs, leading to the logical conclusion that there is, at a minimum, some regime discussion about chemical weapon use......after all of this, dear readers, the world is finally concerned. NATO is placing Patriot missile defense systems along the Turkish side of the Turkish-Syrian border. NATO and the US are openly warning al-Assad about any attack on Turkey or any use of chemical weapons against its own citizens, the "red line" described by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama. But, at the same time, both NATO and America say they will not make incursions into Syrian territory or enforce a no-fly zone to protect civilians in rebel-held areas. Nor will they provide arms or other military equipment to the rebels because, as they describe it, of the fear that the weapons could fall into the hands of extremist elements fighting with the rebels. Dare we point out that had the weapons been provided early on, there would be few or no extremists involved. They are there because of the vacuum created by the west's lack of support for the rebels. But, the world is now concerned...what does this mean? US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Thursday that intelligence reports suggest that an increasingly cornered al-Assad is considering using his chemical weapons arsenal, something that the U.S. and Russia agree is unacceptable. It is for this reason that the Patriot missile systems have been deployed in Turkey, and al-Assad is being frontally warned. Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisel Mekdad said in an interview with Lebanon's Al-Manar TV : "But if they think this will affect our determination and work for a decisive victory in this fight against terrorism, they are very wrong." Mekdad added that the al-Assad regime would never use such arms against its own people....We cannot possibly commit suicide " If we take the Syrian regime's words at face value, we must then ask why the chemical bombs are being readied? Why are NATO and Europe and America so concerned? Why is German Chancellor Angela Merkel making an obvious effort to publicly support Israel during Israeli prime minister Netanyahu's current visit to Berlin? Why did US Senator John McCain actually say this week, for the first time, I believe, that one option for America would be to "go in and take out Assad"? I think the answer is clear. The world is worried about Europe and Israel. Assad may not be ready to turn his chemical bombs against Syrian civilians...but he has not excluded their use against Israeli and European civilians. It seems clear that the world is willing to wait out the domestic endgame between Syrian rebels and the regime...the clean-up will be only a matter of money. But, chemical weapons unleashed against Israeli or European civilians...that is another matter entirely, and al-Assad has been forewarned.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Violence and Children

Several days ago, a troubled 24-year-old American football player shot and killed his 22-year-old companion and then went to the stadium where he aplogized for not living up to expectations and shot himself. A few days later, a 16-year old and two 15-year-olds who were members of a young boys' Dutch football (soccer) team kicked a linesman to death because his calls, in their twisted minds, had caused their team to lose. And just yesterday, we saw video footage of a man falling from a New York City subway platform onto a train track and being killed by an oncoming train while a photo-journalist recorded images of the tragedy instead of trying to save the man. What we have heard about these unrelated cases is the following : (1) in America, as we would expect, there was a media uproar for strict gun control; (2) in Europe, we were once again bombarded with laments about the violence in football, but the laments were sorely lacking in ideas about how to end the violence; (3) and in New York, psychologists explained that there is a "group effect" that suggests that people in groups are less likely to help someone in danger than a lone person faced with such a situation. I feel sure, dear readers, that you will not hear one word about the real common thread that ties these three terribly sad events together. The thread is the unwinding of social norms for children. Today, we are exposed to violence routinely and unavoidably - murderous physical confrontations, bloody military attacks, mob attacks on political opponents, sexual excess. We know that personal fights can lead to death. We know that war is bloody and to be avoided except when necessary. We know that sometimes political opposition in non-democratic situations has no choice but to take to the streets. We know that the dark underside of sexual desire can end in violence between the partners. None of this is new. What is new is our societal attitude to the public presentation of various forms of violence. We allow our children to watch TV programs and films - labelled not for those under 10 years of age - that often go beyond my adult capacity to absorb violence. We permit our children of 13-15 to be taught about the details of oral sex. We cheer for and support sports stars whose comportment would have been subject to expulsion from the sport in my youth. But we do not blame ourselves. Never do we say...that is too violent for TV. Never do we speak out to defend our childrens' right to a childhood free of the violence of emotion and physical confrontation that adults can survive even if they do not agree with or enjoy it. I am reminded of the end of the Roman Empire when excess was sought out in a frenzy of decadence. I think of the Middle Ages after the end of the Empire and before 18th century European philosophers and educators began to ask serious questions about the differences between children and adults. Surely today we do not live in a period where we believe in the marriage of 12-year-olds or that children should work 12 hour days or that children should be treated as adults in the justice system. But we do seem to live in a world where we cannot or will not protect our children from violence or teach them that violence is not acceptable in society. And so we can expect more murder-suicides to solve personal disputes...more football violence up to and including kicking referees to death....and more denial of personal responsibility in the face of violence by photographing violent death instead of trying to prevent it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Turkey's Strategic Importance

NATO today approved the deployment of Patriot anti-missile systems near Turkey's southern border to strengthen defenses against the threat of attacks from Syria. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was present at the meeting and agreed with the decision to deploy the missiles, even though it brings the United States and NATO closer to Syria's civil war. The Patriot missiles will be provided by Germany, The Netherlands and America. Their use will be limited solely to the defensive purpose of warding off mortar rounds and shells from Syria that have already killed five Turks. But the announcement also seemed to be a message to Syrian President Bashar al- Assad's regime concerning yesterday's news that Syria may be readying its chemical weapons stockpiles for possible use. The US-built, NATO-operated Patriot missile system can be used against cruise missiles and medium- and short-range ballistic missiles. Patriot missiles have a range of about 160 kilometers (100 miles) and can reach altitudes of 80,000 feet. Syria has a variety of artillery rockets plus intermediate-range missiles, including Soviet-built SS-21 Scarabs and Scud-B missiles. The Scuds are capable of carrying chemical warheads. Secretary Clinton, speaking after the decision, said it does not bring America or NATO closer to military intervention in Syria. NATO partners later issued a statement stressing that the Patriots "will in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation." Clinton noted that Washington and Moscow still have major differences on the political transition needed in Syria, but the NATO foreign ministers met with Russian foreign minister Lavrov before agreeing to deploy Patriot missiles in Turkey. Lavrov said Russia is opposed to the use of chemical weapons in Syria and has no objection to the deployment of the Patriot missile systems. It would appear, dear readers, that NATO and the US are walking a fine line. Protecting Turkey from Syrian missile incursions by deploying Patriot missiles seems to be something of an overkill because very few Syrian incursions have occurred. But, the new threat of a Syrian use of chemical weapons and the possibility that al-Assad might aim chemicals at Turkey would better explain the NATO decision just one day after the world learned of the new chemical movements in Syria. NATO Supreme Allied Commander Fogh Rasmussen's comment supports this view : "To anyone who would want to attack Turkey, we say, 'Don't even think about it!'" And all of these actions point to another conclusion - like it or not, Europe needs Turkey's buffer against the Middle East. NATO understands this and long ago made Turkey a NATO member. But, the European Union continues to rebuff Turkey's request to begin the process that would lead to EU membership. If the EU can justify membership for Bulgaria and Romania...two countries that bring only unwanted immigrants and a need for financial support to the EU...surely the EU can accept the fundamental fact of Turkey's strategic importance to Europe and admit Turkey to the EU as soon as possible.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Israel Positions Itself vis-a-vis Palestine

The world didn't have to wait long to get Israel's response to the United Nations vote to grant de-facto statehood to Palestine. Israel responded on Friday by authorizing 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. An unnamed official said the government has also decided to expedite planning work for more homes in a sensitive area close to Jerusalem that critics say would kill off Palestinian hopes of a viable state. The decision was made on Thursday when it became clear that the UN General Assembly would vote to upgrade the Palestinians' status in the world body, making them a "non-member state", as opposed to an "entity", the first time any world body has applied the title "state" to Palestine, enhancing their diplomatic clout and status. The UN motion - supported by 138 nations, opposed by nine, with 41 members abstaining - was a resounding defeat for US diplomacy that exposed Israel's growing diplomatic isolation. An Israeli official conceded this and warned there would be consequences, which were swift in coming. Building new settler homes has always been likely, but the prospect of building in the area known as E-1, which is near Jerusalem and bisects much of the West Bank, is seen by some as a potential game changer. "E-1 will signal the end of the two state-solution," said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli expert on settlements quoted by Associated Press. He added that statutory planning would take six to nine months to complete, indicating that building in the E-1 zone is not a foregone conclusion. About 500,000 Israelis already live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war, in territory the Palestinians claim for their independent state. The United States, one of the eight countries to vote with Israel at the UN General Assembly, in yet another iteration if the Obama administration's policy to distance the US from Israel, said the latest expansion plan was counterproductive to the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Ahead of the UN vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had argued that the unilateral Palestinian move breached their previous accords and accused the 193-member world body of failing in its responsibilities. "The General Assembly can resemble the theatre of the absurd, which once a year automatically approves ludicrous, anti-Israeli resolutions," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. "Sometimes these are supported by Europe, sometimes they are not," he added, alluding to the fact that only one European state, the Czech Republic, had voted against the Palestinians. Nevertheless, analysts said the vote exposed the gulf that has opened between Europe and Netanyahu over his handling of the Western-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and denoted the depth of EU opposition to settlement expansion. Israel was caught off guard. The West has supported the Abbas administration with billions in aid over the years to bolster a partner for Middle East peace and felt they had to rally to support Abbas in New York. Before the Gaza conflict, the Palestinians said they would win 115 'yes' votes at the United Nations. They ended up with 138. By itself, the UN upgrade will make little practical difference, except that the new status, if accepted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, will enable Abbas to seek membership. This could be troublesome for Israel because the Geneva Convention forbids occupying powers from moving "parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." This leaves Israeli officials potentially vulnerable to an ICC challenge. Israel says its settlements are legal, citing historical and Biblical ties to the West Bank and Jerusalem. The Palestinians say they are in no rush to go to the ICC, but the threat is there, putting pressure on Israel to offer solutions to overcome the peace-talks impasse, which the Jewish state blames on Abbas. "This UN vote is a very strong signal to the Israelis that they can't shove this matter under the carpet for any longer," said Alon Liel, former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "This is a red light for Israel." But Netanyahu is likely to win the January 22 Israeli parliamentary election, meaning that Israel's position on settlements is unlikely to change. Netanyahu's right-wing coalition is not likely to make any land-for-peace compromise with the Palestinians. However, Netanyahu's opponents seized on the UN vote, with ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni, aspiring to become Israel's second female prime minister. Israeli officials say the Palestinians themselves must show they are ready to make the concessions needed to secure an accord - such as renouncing any right to return to modern-day Israel for 1940s Palestine refugees and their descendants. However, analysts say that once the elections are over, the new government will have a period of calm to try once more to end their decades-old conflict with the Palestinians, with a probable strategy of active engagement in upgrading the powers and responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority toward statehood, and eventually recognizing the Palestinian Authority as a state. But, if E-1 building goes ahead, the chances of talks resuming will be close to non-existent, which means, dear readers, that in all likelihood that Israel will hold tbe new E-1settlement plan in abeyance as a sword over the head of Abbas and the Palestinian Aithority in order to get from them the compromuses that will enable talks to begin. It is sometimes said that adversity is the mother of invention. Perhaps the UN adversity will force Israel to rethink its strategy vis-a-vis Abbas and try in earnest to do business with him while time is still on Israel's side.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Support Boehner and McConnell against Obama

President Obama is "campaigning" in heartland America to try to garner support for his $1.2 Trillion tax increase and spending bill. Lest we forget, just a month ago, the same President was promising a balanced mix of tax cuts and spending curbs and saying he'd work with Republican Congress members to make it happen. But that was pre-election and in only three weeks - a speed which may be an all-time record for abandoning campaign promises - the re-elected Obama has scuttled all his promises and insists that the American electorate gave him an overwhelming mandate to enact a massive tax increase void of offsetting spending reductions and another mandate to increase entitlement spending. To remind you, dear readers, Obama won by approximately 4 million votes...not even near Ronald Reagan's real mandate. While Obama wanders in the wilderness as if phantom votes could materialize and save him, the GOP House is asking where is his detailed proposal...or where he himself is, for that matter. Many financial leaders and analysts are asking the same question : why is the President pretending this is an election campaign when he ought to be in Congress leading the negotiation to 'save' America from the fiscal cliff that looms on 1 January 2013 if no tax cut decision and spending package is enacted before. The answer is rather simple. President. Obama does not, nor did he ever have, the intention to reduce taxes or cut entitlement spending. His campaign rhetoric was a fantasy of lies told to the American people for the sole purpose of getting their votes. And he refuses to lead negotiations now because he believes that finally the GOP congressional leadership, namely Mitch McConnell-Senate minority leader, and John Boehner-House Speaker, will cave in to the popular pressure Obama is trying to generate. His game is both contrary to the American political ethic and lacking in understanding about what Americans really want. America wants no tax increases without offsetting spending cuts. America wants a balanced budget. America wants a real program of national debt reduction. Obama believes he can lie to and hide from the American electorate long enough to do as he pleases, with not so much as an apology for the deceitful campaign he led or the dangerously ill-conceived and unpopular program outline he is now proposing. ~~~~~~~~~~ Only John Boehner and Mitch McConnell stand in the way of the Obama propaganda machine. I urge all Americans of every political persuasion to contact Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell to voice support for their program. They understand what America wants and needs -- no tax increases without matching budget cuts, a balanced budget plan that starts now, and a program to reduce the national debt that starts now. Help them. Please. Now.