Thursday, July 25, 2013

Casey-pops Is Taking a Vacation

Dear readers, tomorrow...July 26, Casey-pops is taking a week off to visit Italy with friends. I will post as many blogs as I can, but that will depend on access to WiFi. In any event, my blogs will begin again next weekend on August 3rd. In the meantine, check in to see what I can manage to post...and enjoy some of your favorite older posts. Be well and safe. See you in a week, Casey-pops.

Government Surveillance and Personal Liberties

Thomas Jefferson believed that government is the greatest, if not the only, threat to individual iberty. He wrote : “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. This is so because those who gain positions of power tend always to extend the bounds of it. Power must always be constrained or limited else it will increase to the level that it will be despotic." Jefferson wrote : “It should be remembered, as an axiom of eternal truth in politics, that whatever power in any government is independent, is absolute also...” With this principle in mind, Jefferson declared “that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse...." This week the US House of Representatives took up a bill intimately tied to personal liberties and the Bill of Rights. The result was a victory for the Obama administration as the House voted 217-205 to save funding for the National Security Agency's program to collect hundreds of millions of Americans' phone records. Unbowed and determined, the unusual coalition of left and right - libertarian-leaning conservatives, tea partiers and liberal Democrats - who led the fight against the bill said they will try to undo the NSA programs they label an unconstitutional intrusion on civil liberties. Representative Justin Amash, a 33-year-old Michigan Republican, made his intentions clear on Twitter: "We came close (205-217). If just 7 Reps had switched their votes, we would have succeeded. Thank YOU for making a difference. We fight on." And, John Conyers, the 84-year-old veteran Michigan Democrat, said the narrow margin of victory ensures that vigorous debate on the NSA programs will continue. Many members in the House take the position that "it's OK to collect all records you want just as long as you make sure you don't let it go anywhere else,'" said Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. "That is the beginning of the wrong direction in a democratic society." The breakout of tbe House vote shows how the issue cuts across party lines. Backing the NSA program were 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats. GOP House Speaker John Boehner, who typically does not vote, voted for the bill, as did House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Rejecting Obama's last-minute appeals to save the surveillance operation were 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats. Boehner said he voted for the bill because these programs have kept America safe, but he added that Congress needed to have the debate. ~~~~~ But, dear readers, the House vote is extremely unlikely to be the final word on the worldwide debate over the US government "snooping" to defend the nation versus the privacy of Americans and many others worldwide. Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican who was a 2012 presidential candidate and who is an Intelligence Committee member, said Congress needs to deal in realities that are keeping America safe. But GOP Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who helped write the USA Patriot Act, insisted "the time has come" to stop the collection of phone records that goes far beyond what he envisioned. There is congressional anger at National Intelligence Director James Clapper for making misleading statements to Congress on how much the US spies snooped on Americans. Clapper apologized to lawmakers this month after saying in March that the US does not gather data on citizens - something that has been revealed as false by the Snowden release of stolen documents showing that the NSA collects millions of phone records. Lawmakers have said they were shocked by the scope of the two programs - one to collect records of hundreds of millions of calls and the other allowing NSA to sweep up Internet usage data from around the world that goes through nine major US-based providers. Proponents argue that the surveillance operations have been successful in thwarting at least 50 terror plots across 20 countries, including 10 to 12 directed at the United States. ~~~~~ The issue of any government spying on its citizens, and those of other sovereign nations, in operations that are in reality a vast scooping up and storing of everything that passes through US-based electronic communications media is a clear violation of constitutionally guaranteed personal liberties unless shown to be reasonably related to terrorist activities. All-invasive Big Brother government is at our doorstep. We will be unable to roll it back and close the door after it has entered the house. Terrorism must be confronted and defeated...but not at the expense of the very same personal liberties we are fighting to preserve and the terrorists are fighting to take away from us. If this continues, we may see the day when those who love liberty will need to oppose not only terrorists but the governments that will have come to resemble them.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pope Francis Puts His Loving Arms Around Brazil

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” These words so resonate with the touch of a 21st century communications expert, that it's hard to imagine that St. Francis of Assisi wrote them nearly 800 years ago. Today, his namesake, Pope Francis, celebrated his first public Mass in Brazil by urging Catholics to resist the "ephemeral idols" of money, power and pleasure. It was also Francis' first international Mass of his first foreign journey as pontiff. During an emotional visit to one of the most important shrines in Latin America, Francis stood in silent prayer in front of the 15-inch-tall image of the Virgin of Aparecida, the "Black Mary," his eyes tearing up as he breathed heavily. It was a deeply personal moment for this pope, who, like John Paul II, has entrusted his papacy to the Virgin Mary and, like many Catholics in Latin America, places great importance in devotion to Mary. After the Mass, Francis blessed the tens of thousands outside the basilica and announced that he would return to Aparecida in 2017, the year that marks the 300th anniversary of a fisherman finding the Black Mary statue in a nearby river. And it was no coincidence that Francis chose Aparecida for his first Brazilian public Mass, for it was in Aparecida in 2007 that Latin American bishops, under the guidance of then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, drafted a mission statement on how to reinvigorate the faith on the continent. Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, during his homily, urged people to keep their values of faith, generosity and fraternity - a theme Francis intends to repeat often on his visit. Francis said people feel attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure,...often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols." And it is true that material wealth has an alluring attraction in a poverty-wracked continent. Francis' top priority as pope has been to reach out to the world's poor and inspire Catholic leaders to go to slums and other peripheries to preach. It is in these slums that evangelicals offer the very poor something new and exciting, "... and the Catholic Church was seen as kind of old and stuffy," said Marcia Cecilia de Souza, the 52-year-old owner of a private school in the southern state of Santa Catarina, as she searched for newspaper to stuff into her soaked leather boots. She had been standing all night in an unsually cold rain to see Pope Francis. "Francis is such an inspiration, so humble and giving I think he's going to bring people back into the fold." Unlike the scenes of chaos that greeted Francis on Monday when he arrived in Rio and a mob of faithful swarmed his motorcade, security was controlled in Aparecida, but not everyone was pleased with it, AP Newswire reported. Joao Franklin, a 51-year-old from Minas Gerais state said, "I felt really excluded by all these barriers and don't see the need for them. We're all here to show our love for him and we just want to get close to show him that love." Nacilda de Oliveira Silva, a 61-year-old maid, perched at the front of the crowd though she was barely tall enough to see over the metal barrier. She explained, "...most of that time on my feet and in the rain and the cold. But I don't feel any pain. I feel bathed in God's glory, and that's because of the pope. For me, it's the same thing as seeing Jesus pass by. That's how moved I feel." AP also reported on Lena Halfeld, a 65-year-old housewife, who paused to deposit in a prayer box an embossed invitation to her niece's December wedding, which she was praying for the Virgin to bless. "I have real faith in the powers of the Virgin of Aparecida," said Halfeld, adding she had made the hours-long trip to the church once a week for a year during her husband's recent illness. "Now he's cured, so I owe it all to her. I can't think of a more wonderful setting to see the new pope." Francis is in Brazil for World Youth Day, a church event that brings together young Catholics from around the world roughly every three years. Approximately 350,000 young pilgrims signed up to officially take part in the Youth Day events. A high school student from Sao Paulo state said the cold rain she endured to get to the basilica was a "test of faith....This is my first time seeing a pope and this was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I wasn't about to let it go because of a little rain." Back in Rio de Janeiro later today, Francis will head straight to the Saint Francis hospital to visit drug addicts being treated there. Francis is expected to deliver a speech while at the hospital and he'll likely repeat the theme of faith and sacrifice that he spoke about in his homily during Mass in Aparecida. ~~~~~Dear readers, I have a very personal devotion to John Paul II and, in great error, I thought that Francis would be a new John Paul. But he is not...and we don't need another John Paul. He made his contribution for peace, the elimination of Soviet connunism and the rapprochement with the Jewish faith - he answered the call in his own unique way. Francis is different. He is not a "rock star" pope. He is a humble man who loves people close-up. He understood his mission and proved it by choosing the name Francis. He teaches love and trust in God just by living each day. As St. Francis said, “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” Our Pope Francis is a peacemaker. And if this poor old world ever needed a peacemaker, it is now.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Negotiations, Israel Faces Palestine + Obama

Amid contradictory positioning statements by the principals, a spokesperson for the State Department confirmed that Palestinian and Israeli envoys will meet for formal negotiations in Washington. “We have been clear there is an agreement between parties to resume final status negotiations,” Jen Psaki said yesterday. Two Palestinian Authority spokesmen had claimed that the talks were only a preliminary meeting, but Psaki brushed that aside, saying, “there are only a limited number of parties who know the true details of what was agreed.” Palestinian political leader Hanan Ashrawi told CNN'S Christiane Amanpour today that Palestine is waiting for Israel to give "assurances" on the bases for negotiations, including starting from the pre-1967 borders and discussing the "right of return" or compensation for Palestinian refugees, but Ashrawi believes the talks will go forward. Amanpour pointed out that Israel says it will not accept "pre-conditions." Yet, yesterday, Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator, told Amanpour that she believes the preliminaries will be settled and talks will begin. So, it is unclear whether the Palestinians still insist that Israel recognise pre-1967 borders for a Palestinian state, subject to negotiation, before talks commence, a demand that would be opposed by right-wing members of Netanyahu's coalition. There is also the issue of settlement-building, halted during the last direct talks between Israel and Palestine on 2010, that is related to the border question. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has made it clear that any future peace deal will be put to a referendum to "prevent a rift among the people." 'All options open' Mr. Netanyahu told reporters in the Knesset, announcing that he was fast-tracking legislation that would allow him to hold the referendum. "Any agreement that is not approved by the people is not worthy of being signed," he said, but added that "achieving peace is a crucial goal for Israel." He has reportedly said he will also seek the approval of his cabinet before going ahead with the talks, but some cabinet members oppose any negotiations that involve giving land to the Palestinians, while Justice Minister Tzipi Livni opposes a referendum. But, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agrees with Netanyahu on the referendim idea, affirming that he, too, would put any peace deal to a referendum. Mr Abbas also said "all options are open" if the latest talks fail, suggesting he would pursue a renewed push for UN recognition, which is opposed by Israel. ~~~~~ And while negotiation details remain in flux, the Jerusalem Post, an English-language daily paper, reported that Netanyahu tried unsuccessfully to convince American officials to release Jonathan Pollard, an American-Israeli who passed classified information to Israel in the 1980s while working as an American civilian intelligence analyst. The case is complex but Pollard apparently acted after failing to convince the US government to provide Israel with classified information about unfriendly Middle East states' chemical and atomic weapons. He pleaded guilty and received a life sentence in 1987. The Jerusalem Post said Netanyahu told the Americans that if President Obama commuted Pollard’s life sentence to the nearly 28 years he has already served, it would help him persuade his cabinet to approve the release of 82 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons. But America rejected Netanyahu’s request and sources close to Netanyahu would only say: “We routinely raise the issue with American officials.” The Committee for Pollard’s Freedom issued a statement saying that he should be released regardless of developments with the Palestinians. “Dozens of top American officials have called for Pollard’s immediate release due to the values of justice and mercy,” a committee spokesman said. “Jonathan did not murder anyone. His 28 years, including seven in solitary confinement, is an unprecedented sentence for the crime, so he should be released immediately without conditioning it on anything else.” Knesset members of all political persuasions called on Obama to release Pollard as a way to help the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. “This is the best time in the world to call upon the Americans to release Pollard as a gesture for the beginning of negotiations," said Labor Knesset member Nachman Shai, who is the new co-chairman of the Knesset’s Free Pollard Caucus. “Pollard should be the American gift to Israelis,...It’s a window of opportunity for goodwill to Israelis, who are not going through an easy time,” Shai said. Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel said he found it incredible that America continues to hold Pollard and did not even let him attend his father’s funeral while US officials demand that Israel release unrepentant murderers. “What is going on in the minds of Americans when they insist on keeping Jonathan Pollard in prison and demand that Israel free terrorists?” Ariel asked on Israel Radio. “It really is amazing.” Likud MK Moshe called America’s behavior "shameful." ~~~~~ Dear readers, here we see in stark contrast the attitude of President Obama toward Palestine and Israel. Obama allows Palestine to demand that Israel agree to pre-conditions before beginning negotiations and he agrees to Palestine's demand that Israel release terrorist prisoners as part of Israel's payment for Palestine's appearance at the negotiations. Further, Obama expects Israel to follow its requests without concern for Israel's own interests and without granting Israel the right to try to avoid repeats of negative experiences in prior negotiations with Palestine. And yet, giving Israel the friendly gesture of releasing Jonathan Pollard three years before he is eligible for parole is not possible for President Obama.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Reader "1776forever" Hits a Home Rum

Dear readers, this is a first for Casey-pops, but one of the comments to last Saturday's blog about the need for an American Middle East policy is so true, sad and comic in a deathwatch way that I want to reprint it here so no one will miss it. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Casey Pops you are certainly right - the US needs a Unified Strategic Middle East Policy. What a God send that would be. And while we are creating our Christmas wish list how about, a Domestic policy, a Jobs Creation policy, an Economic Recovery Policy that is not based on the Fed's intervention,maybe an Immigration Policy, how about a policy that keeps the Federal Government out of our private affairs, a NO Spying Policy, etc. A Return to America Standards Policy. That would simplify it. The Middle East is a good place to start but it is far from the end of the wish list. An America Standards Policy. That would simplify it. The Middle East is a good place to start but it is far from the end of the wish list." ~~~~~~~ Thank you for taking time to remind us just how thoroughly dysfunctional the US government has become.

Phil Mickelson's British Open Win - One for the Good Guys

Anyone who was at Muirfield on Sunday - or who watched the final round of golf's 2013 British Open on TV - will never forget it because they were part of a rare day in the history of golf. Phil Mickelson came from 5 behind the leader, Lee Westwood, to win the Open in a fashion never before seen. He played flawless golf, ending the front nine at 1 under par. And he did it while Muirfield was demanding heavy bogey tribute from the entire rest of the leader board. In fact, Mickelson was such a longshot as a possible winner that the TV cameras didn't even follow him on his front nine. They were busy recording the bogeys of Woods and Westwood while Phil was quietly holding his own against the mythic Muirfield course. But when he was "suddenly" only two behind the faltering leaders early in his back nine, the cameras took notice. And make no mistake, Phil Mickelson did not slide into the victory because others were playing mediocre golf. He attacked the back nine, relentlessly but intelligently, using three-woods on 17 to make his third birdie heading home. He actually birdied 4 of the last 6 holes, an almost impossible task on one of the toughest links courses in the UK. His caddie cried as he birdied 18 just to prove to himself he could. None of the four players still on the course could catch him after Westwood put his ball into the tall grass on 17. And so -- the young man whom fate had marked to follow in the shadow of one of golf's greats, Tiger Woods, who was often said to be too nice to win a major, who was called the bridesmaid and the winningest golfer who never would win a major, although he finally broke through at the Masters and has now won three green jackets plus a PGA title -- Phil Mickelson has won the Claret Cup that goes to the victor of the British Open. Many experts in Britain are calling his Sunday round possibly the best round ever played in the entire 174-year history of the British Open. ~~~~~ It just proves, dear readers, that good guys do sometimes finish first.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

America Needs a Unified Strategic Middle East Policy

America's top military officers, hoping to be confirmed for second terms as members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a US Senate Armed Services Committee panel Thursday that the Obama administration is considering whether to use military power in Syria. The Syrian civil war is in its third year and has killed almost 100,000 people, causing an increasing demand by the Syrian rebel leadership for active US involvement. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared during congressional testimony that he has provided President Obama with options for the use of force. But Dempsey declined to talk about those choices, saying : "it would be inappropriate for me to try to influence the decision with me rendering an opinion in public about what kind of force we should use." The remarks by Dempsey came after Republican Senator John McCain asked him which approach in Syria would carry a greater risk - continued limited action by Washington or more significant actions, such as the establishment of a no-fly zone and arming the rebel forces with the weapons they need to stem the advance of al-Assad's forces. "Senator, I am in favor of building a moderate opposition and supporting it," Dempsey said. "The question whether to support it with direct kinetic strikes ... is a decision for our elected officials, not for the senior military leader of the nation." The use of kinetic strikes, a military term that refers to missiles and bombs, "is under deliberation inside of our agencies of government," Dempsey said. Navy Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said, "There are a whole range of options that are out there....We are ready to act if we're called on to act." McCain later told a group of reporters he plans to block Dempsey's confirmation saying he was dissatisfied with the answers to the questions Dempsey was asked about Syria. Dempsey acknowledged in response to a question from GOP Senator Lindsey Graham that al-Assad's forces have the upper hand in Syria. "Currently the tide seems to have shifted in his favor," the general said. The Armed Services Committee is considering Dempsey's and Winnefeld's nominations for a second term and the Democratic-led committee is all but certain to approve the reappointments. Leading senators including Democrat Carl Levin, committee chairman, and GOP minority ranking member McCain, have been pressing Obama to take a more forceful approach to defeat al-Assad. While the administration has authorized lethal aid to rebel forces, it has so far refused to enforce a no-fly zone in which Syria's combat aircraft would be barred from flying, or to otherwise intervene militarily to halt the war. To avoid being drawn deeper into Syria's civil war, administration officials have pointed to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 as an example of what can go wrong when America's military becomes involved in Middle East conflicts. "We've rushed to war in this region in the past. We're not going to do it here," Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said recently on CBS' "Face the Nation." During his exchange with McCain, Dempsey said, "situations can be made worse by the introduction of military force" without first understanding how the country would continue to govern and ensuring that government institutions don't fail. Dempsey's first term as chairman has been a turbulent one with the military drawing down from long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, he has dealt with billions of dollars in budget cuts that the military leadership says could threaten military readiness, as well as an epidemic of sexual assaults in the ranks, the crisis in Syria, and unrest in Egypt. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it seems certain that Dempsey and Winnefeld will be confirmed. What is less certain is whether and in what time frame and to what extent they will prevail on a reluctant President Obama who seems to have turned his attention and that of his Secretary of State to the Israel-Palestine peace process, to intervene militarily in Syria. The American military leadership should be stressing the interwoven essence of all that exists and occurs in the Middle East. Israel's and Palestine's futures are inextricably tied to the future of Syria and her neighbors - Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Only a unified and coordinated American policy and tactics will have the desired long-term effect in the Middle East.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Israel Should Beware of Wolves in Obama Clothing

US Secretary of State John Kerry has made at least a dozen visits to various Middle East countries since taking over from Hillary Clinton. And in the past few days, after last-minute talks with Palestinian officials, Kerry has seemingly made a step toward relaunching the long-stalled Mideast peace process. He announced Friday that Israel and the Palestinians have agreed on the basis for returning to negotiations. The two sides are to meet soon to work out final details on resuming negotiations on the toughest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and security arrangements. Up to the last minute, the Palestinians had been reluctant to sign on to Kerry's formula for returning to the table with the Israelis. As late as yesterday, the Palestinian leadership said it was demanding that any negotiations on final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state be based on the cease-fire line that existed from 1949 until the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Israel has consistently rejected preconditions on the talks. But Kerry held talks Friday morning with top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Amman, Jordan, and then spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Kerry then helicoptered to the West Bank to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Back in Amman, Kerry told reporters, "We have reached an agreement that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis." He added, "This is a significant and welcome step forward." Israeli and Palestinian chief negotiators - Tzipi Livni and Erekat - will hold initial talks in Washington "within the next week or so," Kerry added. He would not give further details. "The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private," he said. "We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful." Kerry has been in the region since Monday, meeting in person with Abbas three times this week. By contrast, he did not see Netanyahu in person at all, but spoke to him numerous times by phone. Netanyahu's office said it would not comment on Kerry's announcement. President Barack Obama asked Netanyahu to work with Kerry "to resume negotiations with Palestinians as soon as possible," according to a statement released by the White House late Thursday. And Thursday night, the Palestinian leadership did not repeat its demand for a settlement freeze, but officials said they wanted guarantees the 1967 lines would be the basis for talks, saying that if Israel accepts that point, most of the settlements would become illegitimate. Kerry's announcement suggested that the issue had been resolved. ~~~~~ Dear readers, previous Israeli governments have twice negotiated on the basis of the 1967 lines, with talks on land exchanges. But besides disagreeing over how much land to trade and where, the two sides could not agree on other key issues, such as dividing Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Netanyahu has been reserved in his endorsement of the idea of a Palestinian state but has not explained his view concerning boundaries. He has also demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Palestinians reject that, concerned that it would undermine their claims that millions of refugees and their descendants have the right to return to their original homes, lost in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation. And Israel has rejected that claim outright. Palestinian president Abbas has said that Kerry would endorse the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations and assured the Palestinians that Israel would also free some 350 prisoners gradually in the coming months. The prisoners would include some 100 men that Israel convicted of crimes committed before interim peace accords were signed in 1993. Israel has balked at freeing these prisoners in the past because many were convicted of deadly attacks. ~~~~~ There are mountains to climb by both Palestine and Israel before a final peace deal can be reached. While the whole world wants these new negotiations to succeed, I fear that the American Secretary of State is representing Palestine and Obama's search for some sort of meaningful legacy, rather than being the "honest broker" who understands and represents the desires and needs of both Israel and Palestine. President Obama has already tossed Iraq and Afghanistan to the wolves. He has abandoned Syrian citizens to the tender mercies of the Iranian Ayatollahs. He has found no reason to intervene in the troubled waters of South American political turmoil aimed at destroying America's influence on the continent. People of good faith everywhere should watch carefully what happens in the next few months as Israel tries to comply with Obama's wishes while maintaining its territorial integrity and its hope for a peaceful future. Nothing Mr. Obama has said or done so far gives me any comfort that he really cares about either of these esential Israeli goals.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Alexei Navalny - Another Putin Political Victim

"Oh, well. Don't get bored without me. And, importantly, don't be idle ...." With that admonition, Alexei Navalny, 37 and a lawyer, one of Russia's leading opposition figures, who had just been convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison, made clear to his followers that there remains work to be done and that they should not wait for him to do it. Navalny and his supporters claimed the embezzlement case was politically driven to try to shut down the vehement Kremlin critic and intimidate his supporters. On the day, Navalny was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled 16 million rubles' ($500,000) worth of timber from state-owned company Kirovles in 2009 while he worked as an unpaid adviser to the provincial governor in Kirov, 760 kilometers (470 miles) east of Moscow. Kirovies president Vyacheslav Opalev was given a suspended sentence in December after pleading guilty to conspiring with Navalny. Navalny insists Opalev framed him out of revenge : Navalny had recommended that Opalev be fired and that officials investigate potential corruption in his company, which had incurred 200 million rubles ($6 million) in losses by the time Navalny arrived in the region. But, the judge in Navalny's trial. said he found the testimony of Opalev, the key prosecution witness to be "trustworthy and consistent." Other prosecution witnesses disagreed with the basic arguments of the indictment that claimed Navalny's work in Kirov led to the embezzlement. None of the managers at Kirovles who appeared in court, except for Opalev, was able to confirm that Navalny defrauded the company. After sentencing, Navalny handed the cell phone and his watch to his wife, Yulia, before bailiffs took custody of him and co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov, who was given a four-year sentence. "We are deeply disappointed in the convictions...and the apparent the political motivations in this trial," US Ambassador Michael McFaul said. Navalny, a 2010 Yale University fellow, first became known for his aggressive blogs about corruption in the Russian government, focusing on Vladimir Putin, and became a leader of the massive protest rallies in late 2011 after a national parliamentary election marked by allegations of widespread fraud. Before today's sentencing, Navalny's supporters had said they would rally in Moscow if he were sent to prison - which may provoke a confrontation with police, who routinely crack down on any unsanctioned rallies. Russian news reports said Navalny would be taken to a detention facility in Kirov before being sent to a prison. Navalny's wife appeared calm after seeing her husband led away in handcuffs, saying, "If someone hopes that Alexei's investigations will cease, that's wrong." The Moscow stock market, always sensitive to politically charged issues, sank at the news of the verdict, with the main MICEX index dropping 1.4 % before partly recovering. Navalny has often said he expected to be convicted, and in a final blog post before leaving Moscow for Kirov, he downplayed his personal importance to the wider opposition, telling his group to find the strength to continue, shaking off laziness. ~~~~~ Dear readers, I greatly admire Alexei Navalny's final words of encouragement : "...And, importantly, don't be idle ..." They remind me of a hymn my great grandmother used to sing : "Work for the night is coming..." She was an active evangelist and preacher who also often quoted John 9:4 - "I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work." Both for her were calls to Christian witness, to preach the good news, the gospel, while she had the strength to do it. But the idea that people must work if they wish to succeed as human beings - to be better than they would be without working for the great causes they believe in, and to leave the world a better place because of their work - is also widely found in political writings. The mind turns immediately to Edmund Burke. His famous admonition to be active, "...for the sole thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Or to Churchill : "I have norhing to offer but blood, sweat and tears." The great 19th century American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson used a few more words : "Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice. Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble. “ For me, Navalny's call to action is Emerson's. Don't hesitate to go into the rough and tumble of ideas and political goals -- don't be afraid to go into the streets, into the crowds, to test your ideas against others, to find the cause worthy of a life's dedication. Not just in Russia, but everywhere. And Burke once more has the last word : “Never despair, but if you do, work on in despair." Keep Alexei Navalny in your hearts...and do not be idle.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sorry for Yesterday's Absense

There was a power failure and my equipment was not functioning. Sorry, dear readers. Casey-Pops

Obamacare Is at a Critical Crossroads

Some things were just never meant to be -- Rome forever resisting the teutonic tribes, Napoleon taking Moscow, Germany winning World War II, Obamacare succeeding. ~~~~~ Today, the US House of Representatives' Republican majority decided to move ahead to a vote on delaying key components of President Barack Obama's signature health care law. The House GOP was encouraged by the administration's concession that requiring companies to provide coverage for their workers next year may be too complicated. Republicans took control of the House in January 2011 in the midst of public anger and skepticism over the law adopted in 2010 by a Congress controlled - both House and Senate - by the Democrats. The House knows that its bill will die in the Democratic-controlled Senate and the administration is emphatic that the President would veto any such bill presented to him. But Obama's abrupt decision earlier this month to delay for one year, until after the 2014 elections, the requirement that businesses with 50 or more employees provide health coverage for their workers or pay a penalty has led Republicans to insist that the President cannot unilaterally decide to enforce only portions of Obamacare. They plan votes on one bill that would essentially codify the administration's plan, as well as a second bill that provides a similar grace period for individual Americans, because the GOP says that if imposing Obamacare is too much for the employer community, basic fairness for American families and individuals means that Obamacare be dayed for them, too, according to remarks made by House Speaker John Boehner at a news conference. Democrats insist it is all political theater and another attempt by the GOP to undermine the law. Joe Crowley, a Democrat House member, said Republicans weren't simply trying to delay the requirements. "It is their intention to destroy the Affordable Care Act ... to do away with it, to annihilate it entirely," Crowley said. In a surprise move earlier this month, the Obama administration announced a one-year delay in the employer mandate, citing a need for more time to implement the requirement effectively. Republicans saw that decision as new evidence that Obamacare is unworkable and should be repealed. The GOP also accused a Democratic President of favoring businesses over average Americans, who will still be required to carry health insurance starting next January 1, or risk fines. The House is considering a set of two bills - one to implement the president's one-year delay in the employer mandate, and another to delay the individual mandate. Commenting on the two House bills, the White House, in a statement vowing a veto, that : "it's time for the Congress to stop fighting old political battles and join the president" in boosting the economy and helping the middle class. National Republican Congressional releases answered the President by calling on Democratic incumbents to vote for a delay in the individual mandate, posing the question "Big business got a break from Obamacare, but what about families?" In other Obamacare-related actions : (1). The Obama administration has eliminated the provision requiring individuals to prove to the IRS that they qualify for assistance in paying for their Obamacare costs. Instead, individuals will simply certify that they qualify for assistance. (2). Labor unions, big financial supporters of President Obama who worked actively to get Congress to pass Obamacare, are beginning to see a difficult road ahead in trying to implement Obamacare's mandated health care provisions. (3). The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on the administration's delay of the employer mandate, questioning J. Mark Iwry, a Treasury Department official and top adviser on health policy. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Obamacare was enacted by a Democratic Congress that had insufficient time to read its 2,000 pages. It faced administrative delays because of the impossible task of coordinatibg its complex overall scheme. It has consistently been rejected by half the American public. The GOP House has refused funding for some aspects of its implementation. In the face of all these problems, Obama pushed on instead of seeking compromise. The result is a creeping collapse of Obamacare. It is time to address the real issue - the search for cost-effective health care for uninsured Americans. It is time to let the health care system work for the 80% of Americans who already have health care coverage that they find good and functional. It is time for the President and Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to come to the negotiating table and prove that they care more about health care for Americans who need it than they care about beating Republicans into submission.

Monday, July 15, 2013

We Need a New Black-White Dialogue in America

The renowned defense lawyer and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz is calling for a federal investigation into civil rights violations arising from the George Zimmerman case — but he says the probe should focus on prosecutorial misconduct rather than on allegations of racial profiling and bias on the part of Zimmerman. Dershowitz is perhaps the most famous lawyer in America - and generally known for his support of civil rights causes in the follow-on from the 1960s federal push against the massive inequalities faced by Black Americans. Speaking to Newsmax, Dershowitz said the jury’s finding that Zimmerman was not guilty of either second-degree murder or manslaughter was “the right verdict.” He added, “There was reasonable doubt all over the place.” Immediately after the verdict was announced, however, the NAACP and outspoken activist Al Sharpton called on the Justice Department to launch a federal civil-rights probe, charging that the case had been racially tainted. Dershowitz is also calling for a civil-rights probe. But he contends the person whose rights were violated is Zimmerman. “I think there were violations of civil rights and civil liberties — by the prosecutor,” said the criminal-law expert. “The prosecutor sent this case to a judge, and willfully, deliberately, and in my view criminally withheld exculpatory evidence.” He added: “They denied the judge the right to see pictures that showed Zimmerman with his nose broken and his head bashed in. The prosecution should be investigated for civil rights violations, and civil liberty violations.” Dershowitz said the "flimsy" evidence against Zimmerman did not warrant a case being brought against him. He also does not believe the prosecution's case was sufficient to have been submitted to a jury for deliberation. “If the judge had any courage in applying the law, she never would have allowed the case to go to the jury,” Dershowitz told Newsmax. “She should have entered a verdict based on reasonable doubt.” Dershowitz described the prosecution’s attempt late in the case to add a third-degree murder charge by asserting the shooting constituted child abuse “so professionally irresponsible as to warrant sanctions and investigations.” He added it could warrant a federal investigation as well. “I think people’s rights have been violated,” Dershowitz told Newsmax, “but it was the rights of the defendant and the defense team, by utterly unprofessional, irresponsible, and in my view criminal actions by the prosecutor.” Although Zimmerman was cleared of all charges, the Florida special prosecutor who brought the charges against him told the media: “This case was about boundaries and George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries." ~~~~~ Dear readers, the Zimmerman case threatens to once again divide America along openly racial fault lines. I lived through the 1960-70s civil rights crusades. I participated - as a college professor teaching reading skills to inner city Black young adults so that they could get meaning out of the college educations suddenly available to them - as a lawyer serving as the chair of a Community Equal Rights Commission helping Black citizens receive better housing and job opportunities - as a human being determined that no American's skin color would be the reason to deny him civil or legal equality. Like most white Americans, I saw the cancer of racial inequality and I set out in good faith to help eradicate it. ~~~~~ But, the management by the prosecution, media and political leaders of the Zimmerman case, the clear Black-white lines drawn by erstwhile "thought leaders," and the reactions to the clearly correct verdict are frighteningly like something that might have happened in America in 1965. What I see are Black Americans convinced that the system does not work for them, as one Black middle-aged Florida resident put it calmly on TV yesterday. What I see are Black political leaders such as Congressman Al Sharpton almost rabble-rousing and a Black President commenting on the racial bias of the US legal system they have sworn to uphold. What I see are liberal media reporters almost accusing the defense and jury of ignoring the "facts." What I see are conservative media reporters who lack the flexibility to understand the age-old fears of racism in a Black community where a Black teenager had been killed while walking home by a non-Black community watch member. IN BRIEF - what I see is an America whose Black-white communications lines are broken - an America where race defines the debate instead of common sense, good faith and the search for constitutional and civil equality and brotherhood as Americans. It took 20 years of hard work and soul-searching to break through the racism barriers built up prior to the 1960s. It took serious commitment by political, business, religious and academic leaders to make the effort succeed then. It is time for America to launch a second civil rights crusade. But, in the 1960s civil rights movement, there was goodwill in both the Black and white communities. I don't sense that goodwill today. America needs a core group of respected and dignified Black and white leaders in 2013 to call for dialogue - tough talk and tough love about the state of race relations in America today - and the stature to push the agreed changes through to completion. President Obama ought to see that this is his first priority. Without racial dialogue, peace and cooperation, America cannot succeed. Perhaps Americans knew this instinctively when they elected you, MNr. President -- do not fail America and yourself.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

It's Bastille Day...Vive la France!

Tomorrow is Bastille Day, the name given in English-speaking countries to the French National Day, which is celebrated on 14 July each year. In France, it is formally called National Celebration and familiarly Le quatorze juillet (the Fourteenth of July). While the date is the same as that of the storming of the Bastille, July 14 was actually chosen to commemorate the 1790 Fête de la Fédération. It symbolizes the beginning of the modern nation and the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy which preceded the First Republic during the French Revolution. Celebrations are held all over France and the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on the morning of 14 July on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, French officials and foreign guests. The Bastille Day Military Parade opens with cadets from the École polytechnique, Saint-Cyr and École Navale, followed by other infantry troops, including the Foreign Legion. Then come the motorized troops and motorcycle gendarmes while aircraft of the Patrouille de France aerobatics team fly above and military parachute teams drop down in front of the presidential viewing stand. In recent times, it has become customary to invite units from France's allies to the parade. The celebration highlights the Storming of the Bastille, as everyone calls it. On May 19, 1789, Louis XVI convened the Estates-General to hear their grievances. The deputies of the Third Estate representing the common people (the two others were the Catholic Church and nobility) decided to break away and form a Nationa Assembly. On June 20 the deputies of the Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath, swearing not to separate until a constitution had been established. They were gradually joined by delegates of the other estates; swearing not to separate until a constitution had been established. Louis XVI started to recognize their validity on 27 June. The assembly renamed itself the National Constituent Assembly on 9 July, and began to function as a legislature and to draft a constitution. In the wake of the July 11th dismissal of Jacques Necker (Louis XVI's finance minister who worked with the citizens of Paris to try to grant their wishes for constitutional government), the people of Paris, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal military, and seeking to gain ammunition and gunpowder for the general populace, stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris which had often held people jailed on the basis of lettres de cachet, arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed. Besides holding a large cache of ammunition and gunpowder, the Bastille had been known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, at the time of the siege in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance. When the crowd - eventually reinforced by mutinous gardes françaises - proved a fair match for the fort's defenders, Governor de Launay, the commander of the Bastille, capitulated and opened the gates to avoid a mutual massacre. However, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed. Ninety-eight attackers and just one defender died in the actual fighting, but in the aftermath, de Launay and seven other defenders were killed, as was the 'prévôt des marchands' (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles. Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on 4 August feudalism was abolished and on 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was proclaimed. At this point, most French thought the revolution had succeeded and there would be a constitutional monarchy. (Little did they realize that the Terror was waiting for them, with its citizen courts and beheadings, including Louis XVI and his entire family.) The Fête de la Fédération on the 14 July 1790 was a huge, official feast meant to celebrate what people considered the happy conclusion of the French Revolution. The event took place on the Champ de Mars, which was at the time far outside Paris. The place had been transformed on a voluntary basis by the population of Paris itself, in what was recalled as the Journée des brouettes ("Wheelbarrow Day"). A mass was celebrated by Talleyrand, bishop of Autun. The popular General Lafayette, as captain of the National Guard of Paris and confidant of the king, took his oath to the constitution, followed by King Louis XVI. After the official celebration, the day ended in a huge four-day popular feast and people celebrated with fireworks as well as fine wine and running naked through the streets in order to display their great freedom. Much later, on 21 May 1880, Benjamin Raspail proposed a law to have "the Republic choose the 14 July as a yearly national holiday". The law was made official on 6 July 1880, and the Ministry of the Interior recommended to Prefects (the legal officer in each French Department, like American state attorneys general) that the day should be "celebrated with all the brilliance that the local resources allow." The celebrations of the new holiday in 1880 were particularly magnificent. ~~~~~ So, dear readers, remember the French tomorrow, and recall that France, like America, lived through a bloody time before coming to life as a constitutional democratic republic.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Moderate Syrian Rebel Leader Killed by Jihadist Rebels

It is not a subject often discussed in the media, but the spectre of internal moderate-islamist power struggles in the Syrian rebel camp is growing. Al-Qaida-linked gunmen killed a rebel commander aligned with western-backed militias fighting against the al-Assad regime. Thursday's casualty is the highest-profile example of growing tensions between moderate and jihadist islamist fighters among rebel forces. Loay AlMikdad, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, said Friday that members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - a group reportedly made up of al-Qaida branches in Iraq and Syria - were behind the killing of Kamal Hamami. Hamami, known as Abu Basir, served on the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, a group headed by a secular moderate that has the support of western powers. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said gunmen shot Hamami Thursday after militants tried to remove a checkpoint he set up in the Jabal al-Turkoman mountain in the coastal province of Latakia. The observatory said two of his men were seriously wounded in the shooting. Hamami "was assassinated at the hands of the forces of evil and crime at one of the checkpoints." He added that the group that killed Hamami "should hand over those who carried out this act to stand trial." Reports of occasional clashes between rebel groups and Islamic militants active in rebel-held areas have surfaced, especially in the north where the opposition controls most of the region. There also has been infighting between Kurdish and Arab groups over control of territory captured from the Syrian government along the border with Turkey in the past year. These fights ended with a cease-fire agreement early this year. Hamami's killing marks the first time a commander from the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army has been targeted by rebel jihadists. His death marks a growing power struggle between moderate and extremist groups fighting in the Syrian civil war. Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Britain-based observatory, said that most of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant members are foreigners from Arab countries, as well as former Soviet republics such as Chechnya. Abdul-Rahman said members of the group also killed a local rebel commander in the village of Dana in the central province of Hama. Over the past year, the conflict has become increasingly sectarian, with mostly-Sunni rebels assisted by foreign fighters fighting mostly-Shiite government forces bolstered by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. ~~~~~ Dear readers, these incidents between moderate and islamist rebels are just one more reason that the west must secure a permanent ceasefire and political solution to the Syrian civil war. A step in this direction could be provided by the temporary ceasefire during the Moslem holy month of Ramadan being called for jointly by Turkey, which supports the rebels, and Iran, which supports al-Assad. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also called for all non-Syrians involved in the conflict - including Iranian-backed fighters from the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah - to leave Syria.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pope Francis Is Flexing His Muscles

God works in mysterious ways. We have all heard that truism. Well, dear readers, it appears that Pope Francis may be taking lessons at the Maker's knee. Pope Francis, with no prior hint of any sort, acted to end years of scandals damaging the Catholic Church, by overhauling Vatican law on Thursday to specify sexual violence against children as a crime and impose tough penalties for staff who leak confidential Vatican information. The new kaws were issued as "Motu Proprio", meaning by a decree of his own initiative. Francis also said he would renew the Holy See's commitment to international conventions, particularly the Geneva Conventions, against organized crime, international money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorism. Under the Pope's changes, sexual violence and sexual acts with children, child prostitution and child pornography are cited in a broader definition of crimes against minors, made punishable by up to 12 years in prison, according to Vatican documents. Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict XVI in March, inherited a Church struggling to restore credibility after a spate of scandals, including the sexual abuse of children by priests in a number of countries and an investigation into suspected money-laundering at the Vatican's bank. The legal changes apply only within the Vatican City State but are meant to demonstrate that Francis is taking the various scandals seriously and will align Church policy with international legal standards. The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests(SNAP) was unimpressed, saying his initiative might improve the Vatican's image but "in the real world this changes virtually nothing (as it affects only) the 0.2 square miles of Vatican property." SNAP urged the Church hierarchy to focus instead on having its personnel abide by long-established secular laws on sexual abuse and rooting out bishops who failed to protect children. The Vatican was also shaken last year by the theft and leaking to the media of personal papal papers by Benedict's butler, who was convicted and later pardoned by Benedict after being jailed. Before abdicating in February, Benedict left Francis a top-secret report about leaks of the internal documents that alleged corruption, mismanagement and infighting in the Vatican administration. Francis's decree includes stricter rules governing the disclosure of secret information or documents and sets out a punishment of up to eight years in prison if they concern the "fundamental interests" of the Holy See, or Church government. All these changes are meant to update the Vatican City State's penal system, based on Italian penal codes from 1889 and 1913, to make them relevant to modern criminal activities. In June Francis set up a special commission of inquiry to reform the Vatican's bank, seeking to bring the bank under stricter control. The group held its first meeting on Thursday with the Pope attending, according to the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano. ~~~~~ And on a lighter note, Pope Francis was clearly not impressed with a lifesize statue of him that had been placed in the Buenos Aires cathedral garden and was attracting many visitors. The Holy Father called the new archbishop and is quoted as telling him : "Get that thing out of there immediately." Go Get 'Em, Pope Francis!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Nelson Mandela Fights On

"The Robben Island Bible" is actually a book of William Shakesoeare's works. It was kept by the group of men who were imprisoned with Nelson Mandela during the apartheid era. The friends chose passages whose messages held particular meaning for them and signed their names beside the passages. Facing death without fear must have given immense strength to Nelson Mandela, who selected a passage from "Julius Caesar" to sign. The lines are reminiscent of Mandela's forceful declaration in a 1960 South African apartheid courtroom that he was prepared to die for his beliefs. ~~~~~~ "Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard. It seems to me most strange that men should fear; Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come when it will come." ~~~~~~ Julius Caesar was replying to his wife Calpurnia's plea not to go the Senate for fear he would be killed. The words echo the determination of the younger Mandela to oppose South Africa's racist government at whatever personal cost, a brave decision that makes it more difficult for some admirers to realize that their idol is on a slow decline in old age. ~~~~~ As the 94-year-old former president lies gravely ill in a hospital, it is comforting to me, dear readers, to understand that the group of anti-apartheid pioneers who found their leader in Nelson Mandela, and who fought one of the modern world's great moral battles against bigotry and racism took courage and guidance from the world's greatest writer, across centuries, continents and cultures, from history's great dramatist, who explored human frailty and strength, and the power, conflict and triumph in human relationships. Today, we may wonder whether Nelson Mandela is near the end of his life, and we may worry about the quality of the life he now endures. Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, has said her husband is sometimes uncomfortable but seldom in pain. A grandson, Ndaba Mandela, said Tuesday that his grandfather was "very much alive," the South African Press Association reported. Even though Mandela retired from public life years ago, the prospect of his death has troubled compatriots who see him as a unifying force in a country struggling with poverty and other problems. When president, Mandela once said : "When we were on Robben Island, enemies of democracy concocted stories that I once had died and, at another time, was 'busy dying.'" Nelson Mandela's vision of his exit from this world reminds me of one of Shakespeare's sonnets : ~~~~~~ Sonnet LXXIII That time of year thou mayst in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. In me thou seest the twilight of such day As after sunset fadeth in the west, Which by and by black night doth take away, Death's second self, that seals up all in rest. ~~~ We may be sure that Nelson Mandela has fought the good fight that St. Paul praises as the precursor to having a place in Heaven. He will go head held high and smiling at the new world he is about to conquer.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Lebanon - A Wake-up Call for the West

A car bomb rocked a stronghold of the Shiite militant Hezbollah group in an area south of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, today, wounding at least 53 people in the most serious spill-over sectarian effect from Syria's civil war on its smaller neighbor since the crisis began. Residents said the bomb went off in a parking lot near the Islamic Coop, a supermarket usually full of shoppers, and a gas station. Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said most of the injuries were light, and that many of them were caused by breaking glass. The car bomb hit a busy commercial and residential neighborhood just at the time when many Lebanese Shiites began observing the Moslem holy month of Ramadan. It was the worst explosion to hit Beirut's southern suburbs in years. There has been growing fear in Lebanon that Hezbollah could face retaliation for its now overt role fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's troops inside Syria, including participting in the retaking of Qusair and now in the embattled city of Homs, both near the Lebanese border. The bombing also is likely to heighten growing tensions inside Lebanon itself, where deadly clashes between Shiites (who support al-Assad) and Sunnis (who support the Syrian rebels) have grown increasingly common as the Syrian civil war has taken on more sectarian overtones. Some Sunnis in Lebanon have expressed growing resentment over what they see as Hezbollah's unchecked power in the country. The bomb exploded near the Hezbollah offices in an area inown as 'security square.' Many party officials live and have offices nearby. "We will not bow," said Ziad Waked, a municipal official speaking on Hezbollah's Al-Manar television. Hezbollah operatives fired in the air to disperse people who attacked the interior minister with stones after he inspected the scene of the blast, trapping him for 45 minutes in a building before he was escorted through a backdoor. Some Shiites see the interior minister as a supporter of the hardline Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir, who was agitating against Hezbollah for months and is now in hiding. The bombing was the first in the capital's southern suburbs since the end Lebanon's 15-year civil war in 1990, and a major breach of a tightly controlled, high security area. President Michel Suleiman said "such acts are a reminder of darker days, which the Lebanese would like to erase from their memories." Syrian rebels have vowed to target Hezbollah areas in Lebanon in retaliation for the group's role in the Syria conflict. An Islamist brigade affiliated with the Syrian rebels claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack on its Facebook page, but the Syrian National Coalition, the main Syrian rebel group supported by the West, condemned the bombing, saying that attacks on innocent civilians are not acceptable. Hezbollah operatives in civilian clothes, some of them carrying Kalashnikov rifles, cordoned off the site of the explosion with yellow ribbons. They and Lebanese security officials barred journalists from approaching the site itself. In May, two rockets hit a Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut, wounding four people. The rockets struck hours after Hezbollah leader Nasrallah vowed in a speech to help al-Assad win Syria's civil war. In June, a rocket slammed into the same area, causing no casualties. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it is increasingly clear that the Syrian civil war, if not ended through negotiation brokered by the West and Russia, will undoubtedly become the fuse for a generalized regional war between Sunnis and Shiites. But, the possible consequences of this could become more profound now that Egypt has re-ignited into turmoil as it searches for a stable political model to replace generations of dictatorships. This would perhaps not be so crucial regionally, even though Egypt is the lynchpin of the Arab world, except for the fact that the Moslem Brotherhood has been disgraced and ousted from its position of Egyptian political leadership. The Brotherhood will certainly seek to redress its humiliation and what better way to do this than to join the sectarian fight and thereby re-impose itself as the leader of radical Islam in the Arab world. Instead of arguing about whether to cut off military aid to the Egyptian military, the United States should be supporting Egypt's military and interim government, while leading a coalition of world powers to resolve the Syrian crisis before the region goes up in flames.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Egypt : What Does "Democratically Elected" Mean?

In the current turmoil in Egypt, one phrase is often repeated in the media -- Mohammed Morsi is constantly referred to as Egypt's "first democratically elected president." The truth of that statement has not been analyzed or questioned, either by journalists or by their expert guests. ~~~~~ So, dear readers, let's put some facts around the assertion that Morsi was the first democratically elected Egyptian president. (1). The presidential election was held in Egypt on 23 and 24 May 2012. The runoff election was held on 16 and 17 June. The Moslem Brotherhood declared early on 18 June 2012 that its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, had won the election, which the Brotherhood characterized as the first victory of an Islamist as head of state in the Arab world. The 2012 election was the second presidential election in Egypt's history with more than one candidate, following the 2005 election, and the first presidential election after the 2011 Egyptian revolution during the Arab Spring. A few days after the Brotherhood's announcement, on 24 June 2012, Egypt's election commission certified that Moslem Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi had won Egypt's presidential runoff. Morsi won by a narrow margin over Ahmed Shafik, the final prime minister under deposed President Hosni Mubarak, the only other candidate left after most had been disqualified or had withdrawn under duress. The commission said Morsi took 51.7% of the vote versus 48.3% for Shafik. The total valid vote was 23,265,516 out of the 25,577,511 ballots cast. Turnout was 46.42% of registered voters. Abstentions were 27,324,510 or 53.58% of the 50,324,510 registered voters. FIRST CONCLUSION - while the election may have been democratic, more than half of Egypt's registered voters chose not to vote, meaning that Morsi actually received 24.9% of the possible votes available. To put it differently, 75% of Egyptians either did not vote for Morsi or abstained from voting at all. ~~~~~ (2). Following Morsi's election, the newly elected parliament set out to write a new constitution. The Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt was signed into law by President Morsi on 26 December 2012, after it was approved by the Constituent Assembly on 30 November 2012 and passed in a referendum held 15–22 December 2012 with 64% support in a turnout of 33% of eligible voters. It replaced the 2011 Provisional Constitution of Egypt, adopted in 2011 following the Egyptian revolution. The new constitution and the manner in which it was adopted were one focus of the violent 2012 Egyptian protests. Zaghoul el-Balshi, the general secretary of the commission overseeing the planned constitutional referendum, resigned in the wake of the protests. The constitution was written by an Islamist-dominated assembly that pushed through a draft over the objections of its liberal, secular, and Christian members, many of whom resigned from parliament in protest. The new constitution favored the goals of Morsi’s Moslem Brotherhood, which seeks to impose its Islamist ideology on moderate Moslems, secularists, and non-Moslem minorities. The constitution also protected the interests of the army by allowing it to retain control of its own budget and extensive business empire - favorable treatment that Morsi and the Brotherhood must have thought sufficient to co-opt the military, a tactic proven wrong by the military's support of the popular majority in the last week. Under the new constitution, women and religious minorities were the big losers. Article 2 stipulated that “the principles of Islamic Sharia” are the main source of legislation. This eroded the rights of women and non-Moslems, whom Sharia law treats as second-class citizens. More than 100,000 Coptic Christians have fled Egypt in the recent nine-month period due to rising sectarian attacks whipped up by Salafist Moslem fundamentalists. Egypt’s Christian minority, one of the largest in the Arab world, has been one of the big losers of the so-called “Arab Spring.” Egyptian Christians have been attacked and persecuted by Islamist extremists. SECOND CONCLUSION - President Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood have overtly favored an Islamist political agenda that has discriminated against women and minorities. The new constitution also made peaceful political change impossible so that street protests were the only method available for political changes favored by the 70% of Egyptians who either voted against the new constitution or boycotted the constitutional ratification vote altogether. Indeed, after Morsi temporarily granted himself unlimited powers to "protect" the nation in late November 2012, and the power to legislate without judicial oversight or review of his acts, hundreds of thousands of protesters began demonstrating against him in the 2012 Egyptian protests. On 8 December 2012, Morsi annulled his decree which had expanded his presidential authority and removed judicial review of his decrees, an Islamist official said, but added that the effects of that declaration would stand. George Isaac of the Constitution Party said that Morsi’s declaration did not offer anything new, the National Salvation Front rejected it as an attempt to save face, and the 6 April Movement and Gamal Fahmi of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate said the new declaration failed to address the"fundamental" problem of the nature of the assembly that was tasked with drafting the constitution. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it is not difficult to see that Mohammed Morsi has never had the support of more than 25% of Egyptian voters. Because he and the Moslem Brotherhood pursued a very unpopular agenda and made it impossible for Egyptian citizens to politically counter-attack against that agenda, the rebellion that began on 30 June and led to the military ousting Morsi and suppressing the Brotherhood became inevitable. "Democratically elected" does not refer to the mere act of winning an election - it also requires a democratically elected legislature with sufficient power to balance presidential power. Egypt must achieve this balance before "democratically elected" can have any real meaning.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dear Dalai Lama

Happy 78th Birthday, Dalai Lama! ~~~~~ On his birthday on Saturday, 6 July, the beloved Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader spoke to a crowd of 40,000 Tibetans, saying he was counting on young people to create a "happier" century. The Dalai Lama celebrated his birthday at Bylakuppe, 250 kilometres (150 miles) from Karnataka state capital Bangalore, where the largest camp of Tibetan exiles was set up in India in the early 1960s. They migrated from Tibet and settled in India after the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule. The currenr Dalai Lama is known for his infectious guffaw, oversized spectacles and teachings about peace. Saturday he said : "For those of us from the 20th century, there is nothing we can do now....The present-day generation can create better conditions and build a world where everyone can live in harmony and in a spirit of coexistence." In an hour-long speech, he urged people to "practice compassion" and not just think of themselves, adding that education only has value "when you are compassionate towards others." The Dalai Lama set up his headquarters in Dharamshala, the mist- shrouded northern Indian hill station after escaping Chinese rule. But some 18,000 Tibetans, including 9,000 monks and nuns reside in Bylakuppe, the largest Tibetan resettlement camp in India that houses two monasteries, temples, schools, hospitals, houses and shops. Karnataka has the largest Tibetan population in India. Out of the total 120,000 refugees in India, 40,000 live in the three main camps of Karnataka, while the rest are scattered across northern India, according to official figures. Two years ago, the Dalai Lama announced he was retiring from political duties and upgraded the role of prime minister of the Tibetan exile community. He devolved power in an attempt to lessen his own totemic status and secure the movement's future after his death. But he is still the most powerful rallying point for Tibetans, both in exile and in their homeland, and remains the universally recognised face of the movement. Despite his age, the Dalai Lama keeps up a globe-trotting schedule that would normally tire anyone half his age, aides say. The close-cropped balding monk, who eats a healthy, mainly vegetarian diet and exercises regularly, supports "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet within China rather than outright independence. But China, which says Tibetans are better off now because of Chinese investment in the Himalayan region, accuses the Dala Lama of covertly campaigning for Tibet's independence and calls him a "splittist." ~~~~~ If you are like me, dear readers, there is a lot you don't know about the Dalai Lama and his significance for Tibet and Buddhism. So, let's fill in a few holes with some facts. (1). THE HISTORY OF THE DALAI LAMAS. The Dalai Lama is a high lama in the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Tsongkhapa (1357–1419). The name is a combination of words meaning "ocean" and "guru, teacher." According to Tibetan Buddhist doctrine, the Dalai Lama is the rebirth in a line of tulkus who are metaphorically considered to be manifestations of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteśvara. The line of Dalai Lamas began as a lineage of spiritual teachers; the 5th Dalai Lama assumed political authority over Tibet. For certain periods between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lamas sometimes directed the Tibetan government, which administered portions of Tibet from Lhasa. The current 14th Dalai Lama remained the head of state for the Central Tibetan Administration ("Tibetan government in exile") until his retirement on March 14, 2011. He has indicated that the institution of the Dalai Lama may be abolished in the future, and also that the next Dalai Lama may be found outside Tibet and may be female. The Chinese government rejected this and asserted that only it has the authority to select the next Dalai Lama. (2). THE REINCARNATION OF THE DALAI LAMA. In Himalayan tradition, 'phowa' is the discipline that transfers the mindstream to the intended body. Upon the death of the Dalai Lama and consultation with the Nechung Oracle, a search for the Lama's yangsi, or reincarnation, is conducted. Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of the High Lamas of the Gelugpa tradition and the Tibetan government to find his reincarnation. It can take two or three years to identify the Dalai Lama. Historically, the search for the Dalai Lama has usually been limited to Tibet. The current Dakai Lama, however, has stated that he wil not be reborn in the People's Republic of China, though he has also suggested he may not be reborn at all, suggesting the function of the Dalai Lama may be outdated. The High Lamas use several ways to increase their chances of finding the reincarnation. High Lamas often visit Lhamo La-tso, a lake in central Tibet, and watch for a sign from the lake itself. This may be a vision or another indication of the direction in which to search. It is said that Palden Lhamo, the female guardian spirit of the sacred lake Lhamo La-tso promised Gendun Drup, the 1st Dalai Lama, in one of his visions "that she would protect the reincarnation lineage of the Dalai Lamas." Ever since the time of the 2nd Dalai Lama, who formalised the system, the Regents and other monks have gone to the lake to seek guidance on choosing the next reincarnation through visions while meditating there. It was here that in 1935, the Regent Reting Rinpoche received a clear vision of three Tibetan letters and of a monastery with a jade-green and gold roof, and a house with turquoise roof tiles, which led to the discovery of the current 14th Dalai Lama. High Lamas may also have a vision by a dream or if the Dalai Lama was cremated, they will often monitor the direction of the smoke as an indication of the direction of the rebirth. Once the High Lamas have found the home and the boy they believe to be the reincarnation, the boy undergoes a series of tests to affirm the rebirth. They present a number of artifacts, only some of which belonged to the previous Dalai Lama, and if the boy chooses the items which belonged to the previous Dalai Lama, this is seen as a sign, in conjunction with all of the other indications, that the boy is the reincarnation. If there is only one boy found, the High Lamas will invite Living Buddhas of the three great monasteries, together with secular clergy and monk officials, to confirm their findings and then report to the Central Government. Later, a group consisting of the three major servants of Dalai Lama, eminent officials, and troops will collect the boy and his family and travel to Lhasa, where the boy would be taken, usually to Drepung Monastery, to study the Buddhist holy books in preparation for assuming the role of spiritual leader of Tibet. If there are several possible reincarnations, however, regents, eminent officials, monks at the Jokhang in Lhasa have historically decided on the individual by putting the boys' names inside an urn and drawing one name in public. ~~~~~ The world has been blessed with your gentle wisdom and love of peace, dear Dalai Lama, and we wish you a very Happy Birthday and a long and fulfilling life.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Egypt - Doing Nothing Is not an Option

The streets of Cairo and Alexandria and other major Egyptian cities are not quiet tonight, as pro- and anti-Morsi supporters have taken to the streets, often clashing with each other. Tens of thousands of President Mohammed Morsi's supporters marched in Cairo on Friday, demanding his reinstatement and attacking his opponents. Night time clashes with stone-throwing, firecrackers and gunfire near Tahrir Square led to military armored vehicles racing across a Nile River bridge near the Square in a counter-assault on Morsi supporters. Unrest across the nation has left at least 17 people dead and 210 wounded as Morsi supporters stormed government buildings, vowing to reverse the military's removal of the country's first freely elected president. The supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badir, defiantly vowed the president would return. "God make Morsi victorious and bring him back to the palace," Mohammed Badie proclaimed before a crowd of cheering supporters at a Cairo mosque. "We are his soldiers, we defend him with our lives." Badie commented on the military, saying it is a matter of honor for it to abide by its pledge of loyalty to the president, in what appeared to be an attempt to pull ordinary soldiers away from their leadership that removed Morsi. "Your leader is Morsi ... Return to the people of Egypt," he told the army. "Your bullets are not to be fired on your sons and your own people." After Badie's Brotherhood speech, pro-Morsi marchers headed toward Tahrir Square where anti-Morsi groups had been massed all day. Battles broke out near the neighboring state TV building with gunfire and stone throwing and burning car barricades at an exit ramp. Army troops deployed on a Nile bridge leading into Tahrir, sealing it off with barbed wire and armored vehicles. Later, seven armored personnel carriers moved across the bridge, chasing away Morsi supporters. Young civilians jumped onto the roofs of the APCs, shouting insults at the Islamists and chanting, "The people and army are one hand." Clashes broke out all over Egypt, with pro-Morsi Brotherhood members battling police and Morsi opponents. Anti-Morsi groups, including the National Salvation Front and youth groups, called on the public to take to the streets immediately "to defend popular legitimacy" against what they called a "malicious plot" by the Brotherhood. They said in a statement the Islamists were trying "to portray a false image" to the world that they have popular backing and to spark foreign intervention. ~~~~~ It seems, dear readers, that Egypt will undergo turmoil somewhat like that which accompanied the popular movement that ousted Mubarak. The silence and inaction of democratic nations in 2011 certainly contributed to the successful takeover of Egypt's political apparatus by the Moslem Brotherhood and its leader, Mohammed Morsi. This time, the Arab neighbors of Egypt have been quick to offer support to the Egyptian military. One could see this as simply a cynical effort to protect their own conservative regimes. But, there is more than cynicism at work. Egypt is the largest Arab nation...the largest nation in the Middle East...the gatekeeper of the Suez Canal that links Asia to the Mediterranean and Europe...the oldest Arab repository of Moslem brief, the lynchpin of the Arab world. It is vitally important to the Middle East and to the Arab world and to Israel and to the larger world that Egypt functions politically. It is equally vital that Egypt is not forced into a repressive radical Islamist form of society, such as Morsi and the Brotherhood desire. Egypt must be a source of moderation reflecting modern Islam in order to prevent the radicalization of the entire Arab world. This is what makes it essential for the United States to lead world support for the Egyptian military while exerting private diplomatic efforts to help guide the military successfully through this extremely difficult period. There are times when doing nothing is not a choice. This is one of those times.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July, America...Best of Luck, Egypt

The Egyptian military has responded to the clear desires of at least half the Egyptian people by ousting President Mohammed Morsi and his Moslem Brotherhood supporters in a swift series of actions that cut through Cairo political centers. Morsi is now under the control of the Republican Guard, arrest warrants have been issued for 300 Brotherhood leaders, the president of the constitutional court has been named interim president, a plan for rewriting the new and detested constitution is being formulated, and new presidential elections will be held when the constitution is ready. One would have thought that the United States would be happy to have been given a second chance to come down quickly on the side of the Egyptian people in their quest for self-government. But no. In a firmly worded statement, US President Barack Obama called on the Egyptian military to relinquish power to a democratically elected civilian government and to resist arresting ousted President Mohammed Morsi and his supporters. He also said the US will review whether Egypt is still eligible for $1.5 billion that Washington gives in economic and military aid annually. In what seemed like an after-thought or a bone tossed to the Egyptian people, Obama added "that, ultimately the future of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people." "It is up to the Egyptian people to ensure that Egypt's transition to democracy succeeds," Obama said. ~~~~~ Dear readers, here are some of my thoughts : *The Moslem Brotherhood are bad guys affiliated with Hamas and they are progressively strangling freedom in Egypt under the aegis of a very weak president who is simply an Islamist. *The president of the respected constitutional court is interim president and opposition leader and spokesman ElBaradei supports him and the military, as do tens of millions of Egyptians. *All else aside, Morsi was driving Egypt to bankruptcy and failed-state status because he is incompetent to lead. *The 2012 "election" was a farce...the courts threw out candidates until it was either a Mubarak cronie or Morsi and for this reason 50% of Egyptians boycotted the election and didn't vote. *The "constitution" is the document forced through by the Brotherhood to secure their hegemony and keep democratic government at bay. *Morsi and the Brotherhood have stonewalled all calls for dialogue or negotiation from any non-Brotherhood non-Islamist group. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." ___The American Declaration of Independrnce. 4 July 1776. ~~~~~ We are with you in your struggle for freedom and self-government, Egypt, and we wish you swift and sure success.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg- the Battle that Saved the Union

Dear readers, it's the 3rd of July - the day before America's Independence Day, but the very day that undoubtedly saved the Union, that is, the United States as we know it today. From the 1st to the 3rd of July 1863, in a quiet little Pennsylvania town just north of the Mason-Dixon Line that traditionally divided North from South, the Battle of Gettysburg decided the outcome of the Civil War, the War of Secession, as it is known to most of the world. The battlefield that is spread out over hundreds of acres has become a beacon for Americans. More than a million visitors annually walk over its sites - where Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac fought over the questions that determined the political future of America. The questions were simple enough - could a State or States simply quit the Union and form a second nation on American soil without approval of Congress? Could some States enforce slavery laws while the majority of States rejected slavery as inimical to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? The cost of the answer at Gettysburg was 50,000 dead and injured in the rolling hills of southcentral Pennsylvania. Had General Robert E. Lee won at Gettysburg - although he had already told his Confederate commander-in-chief Jefferson Davis, president of the secessionist Confederacy, that the South could never deliver a final defeat to the North's superior numbers and supplies - the Confederacy could probably have worn down the already fading support in the North for continued war on "brothers" in the South. A deal would have been brokered, surely over Lincoln's objections, that would have returned America to the failed model of a loose confederation in which the federal glue that holds the United States together would have been lost. That is why President Lincoln stayed in the telegraph room in Washington for three days. He had to have a Northern victory and he had to know as soon as possible that it had been secured. That is why Robert E. Lee, one of the great field generals in history, chose to risk everything on the famous Pickett's Charge of 3 July 1863. He knew that if he lost at Gettysburg, all that was left was retreat and total surrender. Lincoln received his victory telegram. Lee retreated south and his army continued the war for almost two more years before he was forced to offer his unconditional surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on 9 April 1865. Less than a week later, on 14 April 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated - in a real way the last casualty of the war he had tried so hard to avoid and had finally fought with fervor in the realization that winning was the only way to save the Union. ~~~~~ So, dear readers, if you want to see the key points in American history, go to Philadelphia and look at the Liberty Bell. Go to Boston and walk over Bunker Hill where it all started. But, then, go to Gettysburg, for there lies the hallowed ground. Without Gettysburg, America would have become a short-lived failed experiment. Because of Gettysburg, America survived and "government of the people, by the people and for the people" did not perish from the earth. That is what the 3rd of July is all about. ~~~~~ And just to bring Gettysburg down to a personal level - my great grandmother was born on 3 July 1863 and she would have been 150 years old today, the same as the Battle of Gettysburg. Her father was absent when she was born because he was a rather famous Quaker preacher who was at Gettysburg, ministering to soldiers going into battle and praying with the wounded and dying.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

As We Have Long Known...John Paul II Is a Saint

Dear readers, I don't want to ignore the momentous events in Egypt, but today the entire world has received extraordinarily good news. Pope John Paul II has cleared the final hurdle before being made a saint, awaiting only the final approval from Pope Francis and a date for the ceremony that could come as soon as December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, to whom John Paul was profoundly devoted his entire life. The Vatican's news agency reported that a commission of cardinals and bishops met Tuesday to consider John Paul's case and approved it. A Vatican official confirmed that the decision had been taken some time back and that Tuesday's meeting was essentially a formality. The news confirmed reports in La Stampa newspaper that John Paul could be canonized together with Pope John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council but died in 1963 before it was finished. John Paul II has been on a "fast track" for possible sainthood ever since his 2005 death, when hundreds of thousands of people standing vigil in Saint Peter's Square spontaneously shouted "Sainthood now" when his death was announced on 2 April 2005. There remains some concern that the process has been too quick. Some of the Holy See's deep-seated problems - clerical sex abuse, dysfunctional governance and more recently the financial scandals at the Vatican bank - essentially date from shortcomings of his pontificate. Defenders of the fast-track process argue that people are canonized, not pontificates. But the Vatican in the past has sought to balance concerns about papal saints by giving two the honor at the same time. By canonizing John Paul II along with John XXIII, the Vatican could be seeking to assuage concerns about John Paul's fast-track sainthood case by tying it together with the 50-year wait John XXIII has had to endure. Many in Poland have been awaiting the final steps of John Paul's progress, which has been championed by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish pope's longtime private secretary. Reverend Robert Necek told Polish TVN24 television : "This is the next and the last step towards canonization. It will be presented to Pope Francis and the pope will take the appropriate decision." As Pope - the Vicar of Jesus Christ and successor of St. Peter - John Paul revolutionized the modern papacy. He took his mission out of the confines of the Vatican and around the world, pushing back the boundaries - proselytizing, reforming, opening new churches wherever he went in Latin America, the United States, the East and Africa. He wooed and won the media with his personal gifts and variety. He was the skiing pope, the poet pope, the best-selling CD pope, the designer robes pope, the intellectual pope. But he never descended into trivia celebrity. He was the pope who brought down Communism...who worked ceaselessly toward Christian reconciliation with the Jews...who raised his voice against the contemporary culture of death...who brought millions of young people to faith with his often-quoted words : " Do not be afraid." He never consulted pollsters, but marched to a stern, unyielding drummer. So John Paul II was sometimes the infuriating pope, the retrograde pope, the silencing pope, the pope who ignored the revolutionary changes in the status of women. His uncompromising limitations, as well as his extraordinary accomplishments, reflect the vanished world of Poland where Karol Wojtyla came of age in the time when Nazi Germany ravaged his beloved country before his own eyes. This brought him early wisdom, respect for all human life and sensitivity to the suffering of Jews under the Nazis. John Paul was one of the most traveled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries during his pontificate. As part of his special emphasis on the need for holiness, he beatified 1,340 people and canonised 483, a combined total that exceeds that of his predecessors during the preceding five centuries. He named most of the present College of Cardinals, consecrated or co-consecrated a large number of the world's past and current bishops, and ordained many priests. A key goal of his papacy was to transform and reposition the Catholic Church. He wanted "to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Moslems and Christians - a great [religious] armada." John Paul II was proclaimed venerable by his successor Pope Benedict XVI, who beatified him on 1 May 2011. Some key elements of his strategy to "reposition the Catholic Church" were : (1) emphasising the importance of "starting afresh from Christ" : "No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person." (2) defending the dependence of man on God and His Law ("Without the Creator, the creature disappears") and the "dependence of freedom on the truth." He warned of man "giving himself over to an illusory search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself." (3) He described the mutually supporting relationship between faith and reason, and emphasised that theologians should focus on that relationship. (4) He talked about the dignity of women, although he asserted the Church's lack of authority to ordain women to the priesthood, claiming that without such authority ordination could find no support, and he dwelt on the importance of the family for the future of humanity, explicitly re-asserting Catholic moral teachings against euthanasia and abortion ("All human life, from the moments of conception and through all subsequent stages, is sacred") that have been in place for well over a thousand years and urged a more nuanced view of the forms of capital punishment while condemning it generally (calling euthanasia and capital punishment part of the "culture of death" that is pervasive in the modern world). ~~~~~ As Saint Thomas More became the Renaissance Man for All Seasons standing firm against the immoral excesses of Henry VIII, so John Paul II stood firm against the immoral excesses of the 20th-century secular world. He is truly Our Saint - whether we are religious or atheist. The man who suffered the modern world's most evil moments personally, but who kept constant and deep faith with the fundamental goodness of man, recognized that man must be connected to the universal truths of his existence and to the universal God Who represents them. We are all the children of John Paul II and every one of us can follow his precepts and call on him and his wisdom at any moment for help, understanding and guidance.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Military Joins Protesters to Take Egypt Back from the Moslem Brotherhood

The powerful Egyptian military warned on Monday it will intervene if Mohammed Morsi, the Islamist president supported by th Moslem Brotherhood, doesn't "meet the people's demands," giving him and his opponents two days to reach an agreement in what it called a last chance. Hundreds of thousands of protesters massed for a second day calling on Morsi to step down. Military helicopters, some waving Egyptian flags, flew over Cairo's Tahrir Square where many protesters broke into cheers with the army's announcement on state television. The army's statement encouraged the crowds moving into city squares around the country. In Cairo, the protests were peaceful, but deadly violence broke out in several parts of the country, often when marchers came under gunfire, apparently from Islamists, with at least 17 dead and more than 700 injured. The military said it would not take part in party politics or rule," but said it has a responsibility to act because Egypt's national security is facing a "grave danger," adding that the people's demands have to be met. The military is giving all sides 48 hours "as a last chance to shoulder the burden of the historic moment." So far, President Morsi has vowed he will remain in his position, but the opposition and crowds in the street - who numbered in the millions nationwide on Sunday - have made clear they will accept nothing less than his departure and a transition to early presidential elections. Military intervention risks creating a backlash from Morsi's Islamist supporters, who include hard-line former militants. Morsi met Monday with Egypt's military chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, according to the president's Facebook page, without giving further details. Troops on Monday manned checkpoints on roads leading to a pro-Morsi rally of Islamists near his palace. They checked cars for weapons, after repeated reports that some Islamists were arming themselves. Morsi's backers have been infuriated by what they call an opposition move to forcibly overthrow Egypt's first president chosen in a democratic election. Some see the campaign as aimed at defeating the "Islamist project.". The pro-Morsi demonstration near the Ittihadiya palace was large, although it was eclipsed by the opposition rallies. Its participants blew whistles and waved banners with Morsi's picture. Monday's military statement was its second ultimatum. Earlier, el-Sissi gave the two sides a week to reach an agreement. That ultimatum expired on Sunday, with Morsi repeating his longstanding offer for dialogue, which the opposition rejected. Tamarod, the group organizing the opposition protests, issued its own ultimatum earlier on Monday, giving Morsi until Tuesday at 5 p.m. (1300 GMT) to step down or face an escalating campaign with larger marches and "complete civil disobedience." Since Sunday evening the Cairo Moslem Brotherhood headquarters has been under attack by protesters pelting it with stones. Brotherhood members barricaded inside opened fire on them in clashes that went on for hours and left eight dead. In the early hours Monday, protesters breached the walls of the six-story luxury villa and stormed inside. Footage on local TV networks showed smashed windows, blackened walls and smoke billowing out of the fortified villa in the Muqattam district in eastern Cairo. A fire was still raging on one floor hours after the building was stormed. One protester tore down the Muslim Brotherhood sign from the building's front wall, while another hoisted Egypt's red, black and white flag out an upper-story window and waved it in the air in triumph. Morsi's critics view the Brotherhood headquarters as the seat of real power in Egypt, claiming that the Islamist group's spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie and his powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shater, actually call the shots behind Morsi. Morsi and Brotherhood officials have denied this and say they have tried to give opponents a greater voice, only to be spurned. The military has for some time been giving subtle hints that it was not pleased with the policies pursued by Morsi and his Brotherhood. Morsi was clearly scolding el-Sissi when he said in a televised address last Wednesday that the armed forces should focus on improving its capabilities to protect the security and safety of the nation. ~~~~~ Dear readers, while Morsi has said he will not quit, later on Monday, the military essentially gave him an ultimatim, telling him to cooperate and share power or be removed. Events are moving fast in Egypt. News is coming at a rapidfire pace and changes often in detail. But, what seems clear is that the Egyptian military is taking back its power and promising new presidential elections. What is equally clear is that the military and the Egyptian people have had enough of the experiment with Moslem Brotherhood Islamist government. Egypt is critical to the order of the Middle East's Arab world. We should all be wishing the military and Egyptian citizens well and pray for their successful transition to real self-government.