Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Dear readers, I wish for each of you a New Year filled with happiness, success and joy.Welcome 2014 with prayers and hope for a better world - with chldren fed, sheltered, clothed and at school...with women treated honorably and given the freedom to work for good...with men who choose peace and friendship over war and hatred. Tomorrow I'll make my 2014 predictions, and see how I did in 2013. May the blessing of God shine on all of us and lead us to work for peace and the good of all humanity in 2014.
Monday, December 30, 2013
Dear readers, this analysis of the September 11, 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, appeared in the New York Times on Saturday. Here is the web cite to the full article. ~~~~~ http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/benghazi/?from=global.home ~~~~~ But two of the US House of Representtive’s top terrorism experts rejected the NYT conclusion that al-Qaida did not carry out the attack that left US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens dead, along with Foreign Service officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. The Times report, based on numerous interviews with Islamists in Benghazi, concludes that there is no evidence that al-Qaida or any other international terrorist group had any role in the attack. Instead, the Times reports that the attack was a spontaneous reaction caused by anger at an American-made anti-Islamic video, as the Obama administration first claimed. The Times says the attackers were entirely locally based Islamist militias with few if any contacts outside Libya. But Republican Representative Peter King, a member and former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told Fox News that the story’s premise that other anti-American militias led the attack is at best academic. “It’s misleading,” King said. He specifically challenged the notion in the Times piece that the Libya-based terror group Ansar al-Shariah was not part of the al-Qaida Islamist network. “They are saying that Ansar al-Shariah is involved, but al-Shariah is a part of the al-Qaida umbrella, the al-Qaida network,” King said, challenging the Times’ conclusion that al-Shariah “had no known affiliations with terrorist groups.” “Al-Shariah is a pro- al-Qaida terrorist organization,” King said, adding that the video had little to do with the attack, which he said was highly organized. "This was a well-coordinated attack,...not a ragtag group.” And GOP Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News Sunday that the attack was clearly an “al-Qaida-led event.” Rogers said his panel has gone through 4,000 classified cables, talked to people on the ground and done a postmortem on the event and he doubts whether the newspaper conducted such an exhaustive investigation. "So what did they get wrong?" Fox host Chris Wallace asked."That al-Qaida was not involved in this," Rogers said. "There was some level of pre-planning. We know that. There was aspiration to conduct an attack by al-Qaida and their affiliates in Libya. We know that. The individuals on the ground talked about a planned tactical movement on the compound even....That tells me they [The Times] didn't talk to people on the ground who were doing the fighting, shooting and the intelligence-gathering." Fellow committee member Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat, agreed with Rogers that intelligence shows that al-Qaida was involved in the attack. But other groups were involved, too, Schiff said. He called the Benghazi attack a "complex picture." He said : "There was some pre-planning, but it was not extensive, and people joined in the attack for multiple reasons, including because of an anti-Moslem video produced by a man in the United States." Rogers also disagreed with the NYT conclusion that al-Shariah was key to the attack. The intelligence shows otherwise, he told Wallace. "Now, do they have differences of opinion with al-Qaida core? Yes. Do they have affiliations with al-Qaida core? Definitely," he said. Rogers said he doesn’t know whether the Times story was politically motivated to clear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before an expected presidential run in 2016. But he said he is suspicious of the timing, especially with former UN Ambassador Susan Rice talking about the subject on 60 Minutes last week. "I don't want to speculate on why they might do it," Rogers said, adding that what is being presented in The Times and on 60 Minutes has been shown by committee testimony not to be accurate. The Times’ conclusion also conflicts with other evidence, including the testimony of Greg Hicks, Stevens' deputy, according to Fox News. Hicks testified that the video was "a non-event in Libya" at the time of the attack and so not a significant trigger. A separate report by a leading social media firm corroborated Hicks' testimony, finding that the first reference to the anti-Islam film initially blamed for causing the attack was not detected on social media until a day later. On NBC's Meet the Press, GOP Representative Darrell Issa also defended his conclusion that a group affiliated with al-Qaida was involved. "It was accurate," Issa said. "There was a group that was involved that claims an affiliation with al-Qaida." Issa said that Times reporter David Kirkpatrick did "very good work" but that he has seen no evidence that the video was the attack's leading cause, a claim also made by then-UN ambassador Susan Rice in the week after the attack. "The Obama administration should come clean about misstatements about the causes of the attack, even if those claims were made to protect the CIA outpost in Benghazi," Issa said. "They went out on five stations and told the story that was at best a coverup for the CIA or at worst something that cast away this idea that there was a real terrorist operation in Benghazi," Issa insisted. Times journalist Kirkpatrick, who also appeared on the show, said that Republicans like Issa, King and Rogers mix local Islamic militant groups with international al-Qaida. "If you're using the term al-Qaida to describe even a local group of Islamist militants who dislike democracy or have a grudge against the United States, If you're going to call anybody like that 'al-Qaida,' then, okay," he said. A senior Obama administration official told NBC News on Saturday that the White House does not dispute the New York Times report. ~~~~~ Dear readers, I found gaping holes in the NYT explanation of the awful history of what happened in Benghazi the night Ambassador Stevens was assassinated. (1). Where was Washington - the White House and the State Department, especially - during the 12-hour two-phase attack in Benghazi? The security forces and CIA were left on a sawed-off limb. If the NYT time line is even close to accurate, the White House had enough time to save at least the Annex. Instead, according to then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's testimony, President Obama signed off to Panetta and went to bed. (2). Why would staying in the good graces of an almost non-functional Libyan government take precedence over saving Americans on the ground. Only rank amateurs, or a US government with another more sinister agenda, could have believed this was a valid argument for doing nothing. (3). The descriptions of al-Shariah as a "charity-based" local group are false. The group also exists, and was formed, in the southern desert that links Libya with French West Africa and is reported to be active in FWA. Why was there no mention of this, or at least an attempt to deny such published reports. (4). Further, the "charity" description of al-Shariah is exactly what one could write of the Taliban whenever they first enter an area. Why did the NYT not even mention this similarity. (5). Why did The Times assume that the stories told to their reporter by various Libyan militia leaders should be believed when the article itself shows them lying, covering for each other and behaving as if they were leading during the attack and are still in charge in Libya. (6). Equally important, there was no NYT reaction to the authentic "leaked intel" report that there is proof of four mortar shells landing squarely in the building that night. Every mortar expert asked has said that such precision takes experience, practice, and actual distance information from the firing point to the building and that it can't be done from the back of a small pick-up truck as is commonly used by terrorists. (7). And, while not relevant to al-Qaida's participation, why did The Times not even mention that the four Americans' bodies were carried through the area after they were killed. BRIEFLY, the Times report adds nothing to the Benghazi puzzle except for the few facts confirmed by US "officials." Who authorized these officials to talk to The Times. This is the real story. WHY did Obama and Clinton let Stevens and the others die? Why did they tell US security and the CIA to stand down? Why to this day do they refuse to let people who might answer these questions testify before Congress? WHY??? AND - why has The Times decided right now to back a false account of what the White House did and/or did not do that night. What has the White House promised The Times in exchange for its support of Obama's unsupportable position about Benghazi? Is The Times article just another effort to cover up the truth?
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely is hardly the kind of person anyone would call a wild-eyed loose cannon who sees conspiracies to destroy America behind every door. Vallely's Biography on the official USARPAC (United States Army Pacific Conmand) website is impressive. He is a 1961 West Point graduate who retired as Deputy Commanding General for the US Army Pacific in 1991. Vallely is a veteran of two combat tours in Vietnam, and a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and of the Army War College. Throughout his 32-year military career, General Vallely's significant assignment experience is unique because of his background in Civil Affairs. He was nominated to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations under President Reagan and commanded the 351st Civil Affairs Command from 1982 to 1986, including all Special Forces, Psychological Warfare, and Civil Military units in the Western US and Hawaii. He developed and designed the Host Nation Support Program in the Pacific for the Department of Defense and the State Department. He served overseas in both the European and Pacific theaters. He has served on US security assistance missions on civilian-military relations for Europe, Japan, Korea, Thailand Indonesia and Central America, with in-country experience in Indonesia, Columbia, El Salvador, Panama, Honduras and Guatemala. He has served as a consultant to the Commanding General of the Special Operations Command, as well as the DOD Anti-Drug and Counter -Terrorist Task Forces. He also designed and developed the Host-Nation Support Program in the Pacific for DOD and the State Department. He has in-country security assistance–experience in Israel, Iraq, Kuwait, El Salvador, Columbia and Indonesia in the development of civil-military relations interfacing with senior level military and civilian leadership. Since his retirement from the military, General Vallely has served as a military analyst for FOX News and is a guest on many nationally syndicated radio talk shows. With retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, General Vallely is the co-author of Endgame : Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror (2004). Vallely currently serves as the Military Committee Chairman for the Center for Security Policy and supports the organization Veteran Defenders of America, which assists American military veterans to recognize and report radical jihadist infiltration in the United States. ~~~~~ But it is as the 2005 founder and chairman of Stand Up America US, a conservative political organization, that Paul Vallely is now speaking out on US national political issues. SUA promotes : First amendment rights; Second amendment rights; strong national defense and secure borders; national sovereignty; support of the armed forces, individual liberties and personal responsibility; and fiscally responsible, limited government. SUA endorses the views of Glenn Beck, and publishes fiction and non-fiction books to promote its message. Recently, General Vallely called for the “forced resignations” of President Obama and congressional leaders in response to multiple grievances, including the alleged political purge of hundreds of senior military officers. Vallely is now being joined by Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Jones, in an eight-point paper titled “The Americans Project” sponsored by Stand Up America. Vallely told WND that he sees The Americans Project as a “citizens’ commission” of prominent Americans to provide advice to legislative and executive branches of government. The goal is to scrutinize Obama administration actions on national security and economic issues. “America’s Provisional Leadership Council” will look at major concerns and America’s leaders will be “held to high standards of performance to solve the nation’s problems of governing. We wil scrutinize and provide guidance to federally elected officials on behalf of the citizens.” The Americans Project, Vallely added, is a “movement, not a new party necessarily. We want candidates to run as Americans first before being a Democrat, Republican or Independent.” ~~~~~ This week, General Vallely took a deliberate step forward when speaking with WND : "America is imploding and we are at a critical crossroads. It is now obvious; from the Obamacare debacle, to the myriad scandals, to our ever burgeoning debt, to the neutering of our world power status, to the rise of our enemies, and the demise of our allies’ trust in America; implosion is imminent. Obama has taken the seeds of our demise, planted by progressives for over a century now, and amplified their growth at an astonishing rate. We are in a death spiral in terms of whom and what America is, was, and will become. Our ‘exceptionalism’ is the first casualty; we are imploding from within as past Soviet leaders predicted would be the only way we could be vanquished. How, or better yet, can America recover from its economic, political, and cultura death spiral?" General Vallely is calling for a massive public demonstration of discontent. While the General calls it the "Egyptian Model," there is no need to look further than the Constitution's First Amendment : "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The right of Americans to petition for change when they are dissatisfied with the federal government is as old as the Constitution. What General Vallely is emphasizing is the urgency of the situation today : "Millions of Americans need to “stand up” to Washington “within the next 12 months.”...doing nothing is not an option, because Washington won’t fix itself and “hope is not a strategy.” “We need something … a no confidence vote,”...And perhaps legislation that could create a national recall process. “We need to get off our derrieres, march at the state capitol, march in Washington,....when there are those who are “conducting treason… violating the Constitution, violating our laws,....When you have a president and his team who don’t care about the Constitution, they will do anything they can to win,” Vallely said. And he has been immensely popular among conservatives, especially tea partiers seeking a way to restore the rule of law to Washington. Among other things, they cite the Obamacare law, and the 15 or more times Obama has changed the law – without consulting Congress. In a statement to WND, Vallely said a vote of no confidence could be used : “Clearly America has lost confidence and no longer trusts those in power at a most critical time in our history,....It is true that not all who ply the halls of power fit under that broad brush, but most of them are guilty of many egregious acts and we say it is time to hold a vote of no confidence. It’s time for a ‘recall.’ ” Vallely believes the “credibility of our current leadership is gone....we listen to their excuses, finger-pointing, lies and all manner of chicanery." While General Vallely agrees that there is no legal authority in a vote of no confidence, he argues that it will “take back the power of discourse....What else is our nation to do now that the ‘rule-of-law’ has effectively been thrown out the window by the Obama administration? How are we to trust our government anymore, now that lying and fraud are acceptable practices?” Vallely believes impeachment likely wouldn’t lead to conviction and wouldn’t solve the problem, anyway. “Harry Reid still controls the Senate, so like in Clinton’s day, forget about a finding of guilty,” Vallely wrote. “Incidentally, if Obama was found guilty and removed from office, Joe Biden would step in, Valerie Jarrett still wields all the power at the White House, and likely we get more of the same " ~~~~~ Dear readers, I for one have never heard a retired US military general speak out so pointedly - with such determination to change the leadership in Washington. America's military traditionally stay out of politics. That a general officer of Paul Vallely's stature is willing to "go public" with his fears and aggressive solutions speaks volumes about the trouble America faces -- citizens disgusted with Obama's disregard for constitutional government and Obama determined to disregard both the Constitution and the rebuke of his fellow citizens in his rush to take America down a leftist non-constitutional path that Americans totally reject. It is a recipe for disaster unless someone can get in front and lead. Is Paul Vallely that person? We will find out as 2014 unfolds.
Friday, December 27, 2013
The heated debate over whether the National Security Agency's bulk collection of millions of Americans' telephone records is unconstitutional became even hotter Friday, when a federal judge in Manhattan upheld the legality of the program and cited its need in the fight against terrorism after another federal judge recently concluded it was likely not constitutional. US District Judge William H. Pauley III disagreed with the view expressed earlier this month by US District Judge Richard Leon in Washington D.C. Their deffering conclusions set the stage for federal appeals courts to consider the delicate balance developed when the need to protect national security clashes with civil rights established in the Constitution. Pauley concluded the NSA megadata collection program was a necessary extension of steps taken after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He said the program allows the government to connect fragmented and fleeting communications and "represents the government's counter-punch" to al-Qaida's terror network use of technology to operate in a decentralized mode while plotting international terrorist attacks remotely. Pauley's decision contrasts with Leon's grant of a preliminary injunction against the collecting of phone records of two men who had challenged the program. The Washington, D.C. jurist said the program likely violates the US Constitution's ban on unreasonable search. The judge has since stayed the effect of his ruling, pending a government appeal. Both cases will now move to the next level of appeals courts and most legal observers believe the question will eventually be settled by the Supreme Court, very probably on a "fast track" that will permit a speedy Supreme Court decision. Pauley said the mass collection of phone data "significantly increases the NSA's capability to detect the faintest patterns left behind by individuals affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations. Armed with all the metadata, NSA can draw connections it might otherwise never be able to find." He added : "As the September 11 attacks demonstrate, the cost of missing such a threat can be horrific." Pauley said the attacks "revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is. While Americans depended on technology for the conveniences of modernity, al-Qaida plotted in a seventh-century milieu to use that technology against us. It was a bold jujitsu. And it succeeded because conventional intelligence gathering could not detect diffuse filaments connecting al-Qaida." Judge Pauley gave the example of the US intelligence interception of seven calls made by a hijacker in San Diego prior to the Trade Tower attacks, but mistakenly concluded that he was overseas because it lacked the kind of information it can now collect. However, Pauley wrote, these government anti-terrorist surveillance acts left unchecked, "imperils the civil liberties of every citizen" and he noted the lively debate about the subject across the nation, in Congress and at the White House. Pauley said the question before the court was whether the NSA metadata collection program is lawful. "This court finds it is. But the question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of government to decide," he said, so that the program has sufficient oversight and transparency. Citing the events of September 11, the judge said the US government adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world. It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program - a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data," he said. Pauley thus dismissed a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which promised to appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan. An American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, Brett Max Kaufman, assigned to the NSA case project, said ACLU was very disappointed in Judge Pauley's decision. "This mass call tracking program constitutes a serious threat to Americans' privacy and we think Judge Pauley is wrong in concluding otherwise." NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines declined to comment. Last month in arguments before Judge Pauley, an ACLU lawyer argued that the federal government's interpretation of the Patriots Act is so broad that it could justify "the mass collection of financial, health and even library records of innocent Americans without their knowledge, including whether they had used a telephone sex hotline, contemplated suicide, been addicted to gambling or drugs or supported political causes." A government lawyer had answered that counterterrorism investigators wouldn't find most personal information useful. Pauley said there were safeguards in place, including the fact the NSA cannot query the phone database it collects without legal justification and is limited in how much it can learn. He also noted "the government repudiates any notion that it conducts the type of data mining the ACLU warns about in its parade of horribles....The NSA-run programs pick up millions of telephone and Internet records that are routed through American networks each day." Pauley said the fact that the ACLU would never have known that metadata related to its telephone numbers was collected but for Edward Snowden's disclosures added "another level of absurdity in this case....It cannot possibly be that lawbreaking conduct by a government contractor that reveals state secrets - including the means and methods of intelligence gathering - could frustrate Congress's intent. To hold otherwise would spawn mischief," he wrote. Pauley also rejected the ACLU's argument that the phone data collection program is too broad and contains too much irrelevant information. Because without all the data points, the government cannot be certain it connected the pertinent ones," he said. "Here, there is no way for the government to know which particle of telephony metadata will lead to useful counterterrorism information. When that is the case, courts routinely authorize large-scale collections of information, even if most of it will not directly bear on the investigation." ~~~~~ Dear readers, in the NSA case now working its way through US federal courts, there will be no easy or completely satisfactory decisions. The need to protect Americans and America from al-Qaida based terrorist attacks inevitably means that a confrontation with the constitutional right to personal privacy will occur. We must now follow the facts of the case as they become clearer and then study how the federal courts and finally the Supreme Court apply them to that constitutional right. The outcome will be one in which no one is totally happy. We can only hope that personal liberties can survive in the world in which we find ourselves.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Every Christmas Day, there is a re-enactment of the Continental Army's crossing of the Delaware River, during the night of December 25-26, 1776, going from Pennsylvania to a spot near Trenton, New Jersey to make a surprise attack on a British stronghold there. General George Washington led the troops across the Delaware River, with boats ferrying 2,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 18 cannons through a sleet and snow storm and high winds. The troops then marched 8 miles downriver before battling Hessian mercenaries, working for the British Army. Washington reported the patriot victory to the Continental Congress, saying, "In justice to the Officers and Men, I must add, that their Behaviour upon this Occasion, reflects the highest honor upon them. The difficulty of passing the River in a very severe Night, and their march thro' a violent Storm of Snow and Hail, did not in the least abate their Ardour. But when they came to the Charge, each seemed to vie with the other in pressing forward, and were I to give a preference to any particular Corps, I should do great injustice to the others." Trenton was the first great victory of the Revolutionary War, and Washington framed it in military terms, but like all the Founders, Washington was deeply Christian, holding the Christian faith to be intertwined with patriot acts : "While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian." The US Constitution enshrines these Christian principles because Americans were not only Christian but wanted their nation to reflect the principles of Christianity - personal liberties and economic self-sufficiency, but also a people concerned for the welfare of others and eager to help when trouble strikes. The Constitution's key is the enlightened self-government that is based on education for all and the principle of human equality. President Obama, in his 2013 Christmas message to America perhaps put too much emphasis on cookies, basketball and military service. But he also called on Americans to embrace the ethos of service to others, saying : "So many people all across the country are helping out at soup kitchens, buying gifts for children in need, or organizing food or clothing drives for their neighbors. For families like ours, that service is a chance to celebrate the birth of Christ and live out what He taught us – to love our neighbors as we would ourselves; to feed the hungry and look after the sick; to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper. And for all of us as Americans, regardless of our faith, those are values that can drive us to be better parents and friends, better neighbors and better citizens." ~~~~~ In Dakar, the capital of Senegal, every night, 13-year-old Cheikhou and his younger brother Bamba would make their way to a wooden shack they shared with dozens of other barefoot child beggars, sleeping the floor. One night a candle toppled over and the shack went up in flames. Neighbors doused the fire with plastic buckets of water, struggling in vain to put it out. Cheikhou survived but his 10-year-old brother and three younger cousins perished. The tragedy again focused attention on the living conditions of the tens of thousands of Senegalese "talibes," Islamic religious pupils, who are forced to double as street beggars. In this West African country, Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 50,000 boys are forced to beg while spending years in boarding schools called daaras. The government says it tries to ban the practice - even though there were no arrests after the fatal fire in Dakar - and the daara system remains deeply embedded in Senegal, where many poor parents view it as the only way to provide an education for their sons - sons who beg on the streets from dawn for eight hours and then spend the afternoon and evening reading the Quran and copying it in arabic script. The "marabouts" who are their teachers pocket all the money from begging, about $500 per month - more than civil servants make in Senegal. For the boys of the doomed Dakar daara, recreation meant occasionally watching soccer matches on a neighbor's TV. Although their marabout insists he was humane and generous, neighbors say the boys often went barefoot, wearing men's filthy hand-me-downs and scrounging leftovers at a nearby restaurant. "I cannot imagine a mother letting a tiny child live like that," the restaurant owner's wife told AP. No one knows just how many children lived in the doomed shack shared by boarder students of three different marabouts. The government says it recorded 41 survivors and nine dead. The Marabout Mountakha Diallo, says eight children died, including four nephews of his. Cheikhou, now back in Ndame near his parents, but going to a daara school nearby, where he must sleep according to the rules, only says, "Dakar is not a good place." Cheikhou's sole surviving brother, now 8, is still a talibe at another daara. His parents plan to keep him there, despite all they have lost. "It is the will of God," says his father. Set this against the Five Pillars of Islam - five basic acts in Islam, considered mandatory by believers and the foundation of Moslem life. They are summarized in the famous hadith of Gabriel, which contains the important teachings of Muhammed. The Five Pillars include prayer, concern for the needy, self purification and the pilgrimage. ~~~~~ Dear readers, these are two very different stories - one of America's 18th century Revolution and the other of today's misery and ignorance among Senegalese Moslem children. My message is not that George Washington was "better." My message is not that Islam is "heartless." My message is that there are values in every religion. Christian values. Islamic values. And these values always include love of our fellow human beings. Children. Women. Soldiers. All are human and deserve our love. The problem in Senegal is that parents, who are not themselves educated, see the value of education and are trying to educate their sons. The Senegal state does not help. Is it lack of funds or indifference? I can't answer. But, I do know that educated children are not as likely to be mistreated or become adults who are left as paupers because others exploit them. And I do know that many of the world's gravest religious and political disputes could be resolved if people of good faith of all religions simply practiced the tenets of their own religion. We are proving that military power can hold off enemies. But it cannot prevent hatred among adults or exploitation of children. It is time to take our future out of the hands of governments whose goal are domination of its people and destruction of "created" imaginary enemies. We must build our future ourselves. Dialogue. Education. Economic Development. Mutual respect for each other based on a self-respect that refuses to be mistreated or exploited - that refuses to accept hatred and killing in the name of religion - that refuses to ignore its religion's call to love and help our fellow human beings. Hatred cannot save us. Truly practicing our religions just might. It's worth a try.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Dear readers, I wish for each of you a blessed and peaceful holiday season. And for and from those of us who are Christians, I send you wishes for a Merry Christmas full of the joys of family and love and faith in the merciful God Who sent us his Son. ~~~~~ My favorite recounting of the birth of Jesus is in St. Luke's Gospel, verses 8-14. I offer it to you here, along with the French version for our French readers. And at the end, you can listen to Silent Night in its original German, Stille Nacht, sung by the Vienna Boys Choir. May God's love be with all of us of every faith at this holy season. ~~~~~ Luke 2:8-14. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people 11 for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. ~~~~~ Luc 2:8-14. 8 Il y avait, dans cette même contrée, des bergers qui passaient dans les champs les veilles de la nuit pour garder leurs troupeaux. 9 Et voici, un ange du Seigneur leur apparut, et la gloire du Seigneur resplendit autour d'eux. Ils furent saisis d'une grande frayeur. 10 Mais l'ange leur dit: Ne craignez point; car je vous annonce une bonne nouvelle qui sera pour tout le peuple le sujet d'une grande joie: 11 c'est qu'aujourd'hui, dans la ville de David, il vous est né un Sauveur, qui est le Christ, le Seigneur. 12 Et voici à quel signe vous le reconnaîtrez: vous trouverez un enfant emmailloté et couché dans une crèche. 13 Et soudain il se joignit à l'ange une multitude de l'armée céleste, louant Dieu et disant: 14 Gloire à Dieu dans les lieux très hauts, Et paix sur la terre parmi les hommes qu'il agrée. ~~~~~~~~~~ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9JXATSbywc&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Monday, December 23, 2013
Vladimir Putin continues his amnesty program. Two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were granted amnesty and released from prison Monday under the recently passed amnesty law that both described as a Kremlin public relations stunt ahead of the Winter Olympics. Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were released last week in a move largely viewed as the Kremlin's attempt to soothe criticism of Russia's human rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February. The women were jailed after being convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred in their impromptu performance at Moscow's main cathedral in March 2012. The group says it was protesting what seems to them to be increasingly close ties between the state and the church. The Russian parliament passed the amnesty bill last week, allowing the release of thousands of inmates. Alekhina and Tolokonnikova, due for release in March, received amnesty because they have small children. The international community has been critical of Russia's human rights record, including the passage of a law earlier this year that bans so-called homosexual propaganda among minors, which gay groups in Russia and abroad say feeds the existing enmity toward gay people in the country. The women's release came just days after President Vladimir Putin pardoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and once Russia's richest man, who spent a decade in prison after challenging Putin's power. Khodorkovsky flew to Germany after release and said he will stay out of politics. He pledged, however, to fight for the release of political prisoners in Russia. ~~~~~ Dear readers, if you can find a replay of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour, watch it. It is a unique insight into Russian power politics. Mr. Putin was certainly not simply feeling the Christmas spirit in releasing "political" prisoners this past week. According to AP, Russia's Supreme Court earlier this month ordered a review of the Pussy Riot case, saying that a lower court did not fully prove their guilt and did not take their family circumstances into consideration when reaching the verdict. And the European Court of Human Rights said it will review a complaint filed by band members over their treatment while on trial in Moscow in 2012. BUT, for whatever reason, the young women are free, and, like Khodorkovsky, they say they will work to free other political prisoners, who they say still number in the thousands. As for Vladimir Putin - he is a new type of Russian dictator, "elected" but determined to stay in power, although constrained by the internet and worldwide access to news on TV and through blogs and social networks. Today's would-be tyrants must at least pay lip service to protesters and international criticism. Putin is no exception. He has PR and image advisors. He skillfully uses the media to enhance his image. But, we would be wise to remember that there is a huge difference between sounding like a democratic leader on TV and actually seeking to be a democratic leader who allows open protest, unrigged voting and popular decision-making. Vladimir Putin is not Santa Claus.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
President Obama's job approval rating has sunk to the lowest levels of his presidency. It is a dramatic reversal of his large lead over Republicans just after his re-election victory a year ago. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted December 12-15 shows that approval rates of both parties in Congress continue to be worse than the president's, but Obama's approval numbers have plummeted sharply as the public increasingly blames him for the country's policy setbacks, including the catastrophic rollout of Obamacare. Forty-three percent of the 1,005 adults surveyed approve of the job Obama is doing, but 55% disapprove. At this time last year, the numbers were reversed with 54% giving the President a positive job approval rating compared to 42% who disapproved. Obama's collapse "is all the more striking when compared with his standing a year ago, as he was preparing for his second inauguration after a solid re-election victory," the Post said."That high note proved fleeting as the president faced a series of setbacks, culminating in the botched rollout of his Affordable Care Act two months ago." In similar polls, every other two-term president since World War II had an approval rating of at least 50% in their fifth year, with the exception of Richard Nixon who was embroiled in the Watergate scandal, the Post said. Obama's plummeting figures are already triggering alarm among Democrats who fear the party's fortunes will suffer in the 2014 mid-term elections. They worry they could lose control of the Senate and fail to pick up seats in the House. Obama and Republicans are now tied on who is seen as better able to handle the country's problems at 41%. One year ago, the president held a 15-point advantage on that question. Obama's lead has also eroded on who Americans believe is more capable to handle the economy, with 45% saying it's congressional Republicans compared to 41% who believe it's the president. "Preference for the GOP approach over Obama’s in handling budget cuts vs. maintaining needed programs has risen since the shutdown by 18 points among independents and also by 18 points among adults younger than age 30, customarily a strong Obama group but one in which he lost ground sharply last month," ABC said in its report of the poll. On the question of who is better placed to protect the middle class, Obama's lead has dropped by 20 points, from 26% to a shockingly low 6%. The findings hold true across all the key groups who were instrumental in the President's electoral successes, including women, liberals and the under-30s. Meanwhile, approval of the job congressional lawmakers are doing continues to remain at near historic lows at just 16%. The poll also found that voters are evenly divided on which party they would support in the 2014 races for the House. The eight-point advantage Democrats held in the wake of October's government shutdown has eroded to just two points, standing at 47%, compared to 45% who say they would back the GOP. By comparison, Democrats also had a two point lead just before the 2010 midterm elections which saw an influx of Republicans elected to the House. Disapproval of Obama's handling of the implementation of his signature healthcare law stands at 62% while disapproval of his handling of the economy is at 55%. Both figures are largely unchanged from a poll last month. The poll also found that almost half of all Americans think Obamacare will result in an overall worse standard of healthcare in the country, and six in 10 believe it will mean higher overall costs. Still, roughly six in 10 say they expect the quality and coverage of their own care will likely be about the same as before the new law. ~~~~~ Dear readers, I have a Santa Claus Wish List : (1). President Obama admits defeat and asks Congress to repeal Obamacare so that a bipartisan congressional committee, aided by experts, can repair the damage done by Obamacare and offer a program to provide health care to the 15% of Ameticans who do not have coverage now. (2). President Obama asks Paul Ryan to head a bipartisan taskforce to recommend and steer through Congress a package of tax code changes that will finally enable American business to get a real US economic recovery underway, instead of the current Federal Reserve fake recovery. (3). President Obama will direct the Secretary of the Treasury to work with the chairmen of the House Ways and Means and Budget Committees and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to propose both a balanced budget act and a formal plan to systematically reduce America's external debt owed to China and other countries. ~~~~~ Now if I can just convince Santa Claus to whisper in the President's ear -- wouldn't that be the best 2013 Christmas present America and the world could possibly receive?
Friday, December 20, 2013
It's Friday. Let's play a game called "What if." (1). What if the drivers in small towns in Pennsylvania and in Texas were forced off a street and into a parking lot so a federal contractor - aided by local police - could quiz them about their road habits and ask for a cheek swab containing his or her DNA because the US federal government is using the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which was hired by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, as a trial run leading to collecting data on every American for a central data bank that would make it impossible for US citizens ever again to be protected by their constitutional right to personal liberty and freedom from governmental intrusion in their lives. (2). What if all the Obamacare website catastrophes and resulting disturbances and confusion in the American health care industry were really intended to force a collapse of the US private health insurance industry so that the federal government could take over the entire sector, forcing all Americans to buy health insurance from the federal government, giving it total control over the American health care system. (3). What if the federal assault on the Second Amendment right to bear arms and the Department of Homeland Security purchase of large amounts of ammunition, as well as the firing of a large number of US military general officers, are all related and the goal is to disarm Americans and cripple the military so that their constitutional right to protest and revolt would be missing when a federal dismantling of the Constitution and a takeover of dictatorial power occurred. (4). What if the absence of a clear and forceful US foreign policy and the nonsensically swift withdrawal of US military forces from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as the mismanaged nuclear negotiations with Iran, were not simple incompetence but a plan aimed at undermining America as a world power so that other forces could fill the power vacuum with their own non-democratic non-western regimes. (5). What if the collapse of American financial institutions and the following Great Recession were not bubbles caused by American greed and innovative but dangerous financial products and practices but were a concerted effort to gut the American financial industry in order to devalue the US Dollar into irrelevance and make it possible for a non-American financial system to replace it. ~~~~~ In short, dear readers, one might wonder if the political, financial and diplomatic turmoil in Washington is really a plan to weaken America and strengthen its enemies. I can't find any period in the history of the United States that had a more potent mix of major negative events and circumstances burst upon the country at one time. Why? That is the unanswered question. Some blame George Soros. Some blame President Obama. But could it be that they are as much victims as Americans are. Could the real culprits be agents of America's enemies? Agents imbedded in American institutions, whose goal is to defeat America from within. Why? That seems easier to answer. Every enemy or philosophical critic of America would be interested in such a plan. But would they need a domestic American ally? Perhaps not - if their agents were already well-placed. And could it be that with the election of a completely inept US President who prefers isolated White House cronyism to real leadership, they saw their chance and took it. Putin? China? Iran and its radical Islam? Separately or together, they have the motives and the resources. Could they be playing on the naive leadership of Barack Obama while their imbedded agents continue to wound America? I hasten to say that I have no inside information or sources. But it is hard to believe that today's America got itself into such a mess all by itself.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Regardless of the motives behind Russian President Vladimir Putin's action, the world can feel a little more free today. Jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky will be pardoned, as President Putin announced Thursday in a surprise decision that will let his number one foe and Russia's once richest man out of prison after more than a decade. Putin also pardoned the two jailed members of the Pussy Riot punk band and the 30-member crew of a Greenpeace protest ship. The move seems designed to calm international criticism of Russia's human rights record leading into February's Winter Olympics in Sochi. Putin chose not to make the announcement during his marathon four-hour annual press conference. Instead, he waited until just afterward, dropping the biggest news after journalists had already bombarded him with questions, including one about Khodorkovsky. Putin said Khodorkovsky, who was set to be released next August, had submitted an appeal for pardon, something he had refused to do before because asking for a pardon is tantamount to admitting guilt, which Khodorkovsky has never done. "He has spent ten years behind bars. It's a tough punishment," Putin said. "He's citing humanitarian aspects - his mother is ill. A decree to pardon him will be signed shortly." The jailed head of the Free Russia party said he expects to celebrate Christmas at home with his family. Khodorkovsky's son, Pavel, tweeted : "Very happy news. Waiting to speak with my father to learn more." Putin's announcement "came as a big surprise for me, totally out of the blue," Khodorkovsky's mother told RT television. During Putin's first term as president, Khodorkovsky angered the Kremlin by funding opposition political candidates and parties. His actions defied an unwritten agreement between Putin and a narrow circle of billionaire tycoons, called the "oligarchs," under which the government ignored the details of questionable privatization deals that made the oligarchs enormously rich in the years after the Soviet collapse, on condition that they didn't meddle in politics. After Khodorkovsky broke the pact, masked commandos stormed into Khodorkovsky's jet on the tarmac of a Siberian airport on October 2003 and arrested him at gunpoint. He was convicted of tax evasion in 2005 and of embezzlement in a second case in 2010. During Putin's first term as president, the tycoon also was believed to harbor personal political ambitions. In the past, when asked if he could pardon Khodorkovsky, Putin always answered that the inmate needs to plea for the pardon. Khodorkovsky's lawyers, however, have insisted that Russian law doesn't require a convict to do so. And the pardon does not seem to extend to Khodorkovsky's business partner, Platon Lebedev, who was convicted and sentenced in the same trials. Putin on Thursday didn't say a word about the fate of Lebedev. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Lebedev didn't asked for pardon. During the press conference, when Putin was asked whether Khodorkovsky could face yet another criminal case that would keep him in prison longer, he gave a vague answer, saying he doesn't see grounds for that but that prosecutors must investigate alleged offenses. At the time of his arrest, Khodorkovsky was estmated to be worth $15 billion, but it's not clear what is left of it. Khodorkovsky's oil company, Yukos, once Russia's biggest, was dismantled after his arrest, with its most lucrative assets ending up in the hands of the state-owned company Rosneft. Russia's deputy minister of economic development, Andrei Klepach, voiced hope that Khodorkovsky's release would help improve Russia's image among investors. ~~~~~ Dear readers, two things seem clear : (1) Vladimir Putin does not want his Sochi Winter Olympics marred by protests over the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and (2) foreign investors were spooked by the "show trial" treatment of Khodorkovsky and it led to the reduction of much-needed foreign investment in Russia. Putin's pardon of Khodorkovsky is seen as a way to solve both problems with one stroke. Will Khodorkovsky now stay out of politics? No one knows, but we do know that Khodorkovsky has probably realized that he has no power while in prison. He did not fill out an official form requesting a pardon. He wrote a letter to Putin asking to be pardoned, apparently based on wanting to be with his mother, who is in poor health. The important thing is that a person who never should have been sent to prison in the first place is soon going to be a free man.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
The US Federal Reserve has announced that it will begin to reduce its stimulus for the US economy, citing the job market, which has shown steady improvement. The Fed policy change could lead to higher long-term borrowing rates for individuals and businesses. The Fed is reducing its monthly quantitative easing (QE3) bond purchases from $85 billion a month to $75 billion starting in January. In its statement, the Fed says it will reduce its purchases of mortgage-bonds and Treasury bonds each by $5 billion. Beginning in January, it will buy $35 billion in mortgage bonds each month and $40 billion in Treasurys. The goal continues to be to hold long-term interest rates low to stimulate borrowing and spending. At his final news conference today, Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is retiring as Federal Reserve chairman in January, said the Fed expects to make "similar moderate" reductions in its monthly bond purchases throughout 2014 if economic improvements continue. At the same time, the Fed restated its commitment to record-low short-term interest rates. It said it plans to hold its key short-term rate near zero "well past" the time when unemployment falls below 6.5%. Unemployment is now 7%, still high by normal US standards but the lowest it has been in 5 years. The Fed's bond purchases were meant to drive down the price of bonds by increasing demand for them. The idea has been to induce people and businesses to borrow, spend and accelerate economic growth. A lower pace of purchases could mean higher rates, although the $10 billion reduction announced today is very small as a percentage of the continuing QE3 stimulus program. Nevertheless, investors were pleased with the Fed's finding that the economy has steadily strengthened, by its firm commitment to low short-term rates and by the slight amount by which it is cutting back on its bond purchases. The tapering had been expected to drive stock markets down, but the minimal tapering combined with the Fed's positive economic forecast for the US caused the Dow Jones to close at a new all-time high, up almost 300 points, or 1.8%. Bond prices also rose and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note dipped from 2.88 percent to 2.84 percent. Bernanke said that the Fed's new economic forecasts predict thzt unemployment will fall more over the next two years than it thought in September -- to 6.3% in 2014 and 5.8% in 2015. The Fed's preferred inflation measure won't reach its target of 2% until the end of 2015 at the earliest, according to Bernanke. The Fed worries about too low inflation because it can lead both individuals and businesses to delay purchases. Extremely low inflation also makes it cost more to repay loans. The Fed vote to begin tapering of QE3 was 9-1. Only Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, disagreed. He called the move premature because unemployment remains high and inflation extremely low. But, the new Fed forecasts say that hiring has been robust for four straight months, unemployment is at a five-year low of 7%, factory output is up, consumers are spending more at retailers and auto sales haven't been better since the recession ended 4½ years ago. Furthermore, the stock market has been near all-time highs. And the House has passed a budget plan that seems likely to avert another government shutdown next year. The Senate followed suit this evening. The biggest worry for Fed members is inflation, which remains historically low. The Fed's optimal rate is 2%. For the 12 months ending in October, consumer inflation as measured by the Fed's preferred index is just 0.7%, well below its target. But the Fed sees inflation slowly moving toward its target, based on its new economic foracasts. The Fed projects inflation would range between 1.4% and 1.6% in 2014 and could reach the Fed's target in 2015 at the earliest. Fed officials still project economic growth of roughly 3% next year. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the long march out of the Great Recession has begun in earnest. While the US recession ended 4 1/2 years ago, the recovery has been sluggish, with unemployment stubbornly staying above 7%. In his last act as Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke has chosen the rather bold move of announcing the beginning of the end of QE3. The Wall Street common wisdom had been that a tapering announcement would drive stock markets down hard and fast. But Bernanke outfoxed the pundits. His very cautious, slow tapering decision, based on a continuing fall in unemployment and an economic forecast predicting that the US recovery is gaining in strength and velocity, reassured the stock markets. The markets chose to play the recovery card and took off at Bernanke's announcement. As Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke has been accused of being too timid in 2005-2007 when the various bubbles were preparing to burst into the Great Recession. Today, Bernanke took his usual measured step toward removing the markets from his Federal Reserve life support. Time will tell if his decision and timing were right. If they were, his crisis management from 2008 to 2013 will be hailed as groundbreaking economic management that saved America and the world from a catastrophic depression. But as Bernanke said today, the US economy is still weak and QE3 will continue for as long as it is needed to keep the recovery on track. Because if he withdrew life support too soon, the recovery will stall and die. Bernanke's final reputation will not be known for sometime.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
According to an AP analysis, Republican leaders and several right wing groups are displaying "the classic signs of a political divorce." The conservative groups attack mainstream Republicans, causing the mainstreamers to question the motivation of those organizations. The groups accuse House Speaker John Boehner of having a hidden motive, thinking that he may want to move past their budget issues so he can tackle immigration legislation early next year, before the first round of 2014 primaries. The Senate Conservative lFund and Club for Growth often threaten to challenge mainstream Republicans in the primaries with conservative purists, often tea partiers who are already lining up primary opposition to GOP senior congressional leaders whose roles are often key in opposing left-leaning Democrat legislation and finding compromises that are more conservative. So, this is an extremely bad time for a "philosophical" fight inside the GOP family because there are several major federal issues that clearly favor Republicans in the lead-up to the 2014 elections. Instead of infighting over the nuances of Republicanism, all Republicans should be working together to preserve and increase their House majority and to take over the Senate. What are the major issues? ~~~~~ (1). All Republicans and conservatives must rejoice in the constitutional victory provided by US District Court Judge Richard Leon, a G. W. Bush appointee, who ruled yesterday that the NSA meta-sweep collection of internet traffic data is a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches. Judge Leon stayed his order pending appeals. Leon concluded that the government didn't cite a single instance in which the program "actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack." He said : "I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism." His order bars the government from collecting "any telephony metadata associated with their personal Verizon [the plaintiffs have Verison accounts] accounts" and requiring the government to "destroy any such metadata in its possession." Leon reasoned : "The Fourth Amendment typically requires 'a neutral and detached authority be interposed between the police and the public,' and it is offended by 'general warrants' and laws that allow searches to be conducted 'indiscriminately and without regard to their connections with a crime....I cannot imagine a more indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Indeed I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware 'the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power, would be aghast." Leon went on to call the program "almost-Orwellian technology." The Obama administration has defended the program as a crucial tool against terrorism. ~~~~~ (2). Meanwhile, the Republican Party has a gigantic workhorse of an issue for the 2014 elections -- Americans who already have health insurance, that is 85% of Americans, blame President Obama's health care overhaul for their rising premiums and deductibles. And, a huge 75% say the rollout of coverage for the uninsured has gone poorly. This 85% of Americans, who were happy with their health insurance prior to Obamacare and who had their coverage disturbed by Obama's law, see their coverage being reduced while costs and deductibles are rising, and they say Obamacare is to blame. Nearly 4 in 5 (77%) blame the changes on Obamacare. Sixty-nine percent say their premiums will be going up, and 59% say annual deductibles or copayments are increasing. Fourteen percent said coverage for spouses is being restricted or eliminated, and 11% said their plan is being discontinued. Most Americans with employer-provided insurance looking at next year are really worried about what is going to happen," Robert Blendon told AP. Blendon is a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, who tracks public opinion on health care issues. Predictably, political leanings somewhat affect perceptions of eroding coverage, with larger majorities of Republicans and independents saying their coverage will be affected, but even a majority of these Democrats see Obamacare as a threat to their health care costs and options. Also, the dysfunctional website has become a talisman for Republicans, allowing the GOP to attack Obama's infamous promise : "you can keep the coverage you have if you like it." Disapproval of Obama's handling of health care topped 60% in the poll. Only about one-fourth ofl who tried the website have managed to enroll. Half said they were not able to buy insurance, and the remaining quarter said they weren't sure what happened when they used the website. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Republicans are in an excellent position to come out on top in the 2014 congressional elections. Democrats are already having to defend themselves against GOP TV ad attacks showing them voting for and defending Obamacare. And the NSA appeals are going to put President Obama in the negative position of defending an obviously unconstitutional search of hundreds of millions of Americans who are simply using their personal phones and email. The last thing the Republican Party should do now is succumb to internal pressures and media baiting that will lead to the infighting that the media will then use to portray the GOP as being in disarray. That must not happen. The 2014 elections will save Ametica from Obama's leftist policies and no internal GOP squabbles should be allowed to interfere with this critically important goal for America.
Monday, December 16, 2013
I don't need to defend Pope Francis, because he is more than capable of defending himself. He is a Jesuit, after all, that community of priests who are considered the intellectual elite and the frontline soldiers of Roman Catholic Christianity. And Pope Francis has already responded to conservative criticism that his economic and social ideas 'smack of communism.' What Pope Francis wrote in a long document last month, which is considered as the agenda for his papacy, is that unfettered capitalism is "a new tyranny" and that an "economy of exclusion and inequality" has proven to be deadly for many people around the world. Francis said in an interview in the Italian newspaper La Stampa on Sunday that he is not a Marxist but that even Marxists can be good people. He also denied reports that he would name a woman cardinal, saying he wants to empower women, not 'clergify' them. He went on to say there was good progress in cleaning up Vatican finances and confirmed that he would visit Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2014. ~~~~~ Marxist? Last month, American radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, the darling of the extreme right who has a huge following in the United States, railed against the Pope's economic comments. Limbaugh, who is not Catholic, said that parts of the document were "pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope" and suggested that someone else had written the papal document for him. He also accused the Pope of going "beyond Catholicism" and being "purely political." Asked about the accusations, which sparked a debate in the media last month, Francis said, "Marxist ideology is wrong. But in my life I have known many Marxists who are good people, so I don't feel offended." He has also been criticized by other conservatives, but Francis said he was not speaking "as a technician but according to the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and this does not mean being Marxist." He said he was just trying to present a "snapshot of what is happening" in the world today. “The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the ‘trickle-down theories’ which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger and nothing ever comes out for the poor,” he said. In another document last week, Francis said huge salaries and bonuses are a symptoms of an economy based on greed. On Sunday, the Pope also reaffirmed his commitment to aid the poor and the starving in the world. The outspoken, may I add brutishly uncouth, US rightwinger Rush Limbaugh, a radio talk show host, attacked the Pope for his statement that it would be impossible to overcome global poverty until the structural causes of inequality and financial speculation were resolved. "Unfettered capitalism? That doesn't exist anywhere," Limbaugh said. This week Glenn Beck, another conservative American media commentator, rejected Time magazine's decision to name Pope Francis 'Person of the Year' because of his concern about what he described as the pontiff's "Marxist tendencies." ~~~~~ Dear readers, let me talk directly to Rush Limbaugh. ~~~~~ Dear Mr. Limbaugh, you are a college dropout and self-declared drug abuser who has been married four times, once to a college student ten years younger than you, although this did not keep you from recently calling another college student "a slut" because she chose to testify before Congress about her pro-contraceptive position. You say you are a Methodist but you never go to church and apparently don't believe that doing so is necessary. As best I can calculate from public records, you make close to $100 million a year, and have denied a media report that you paid a famous singer $1 million to sing at your fourth wedding. Your charities give about $1 million per year to good causes, but not to the poor. That is 1% of your income - not even close to the 10% tithing that your conservative Christian creed recommends. AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT, MR. LIMBAUGH? Pope Francis has already forgiven you and would ask you to try to connect with God - and he is praying for you. The Pope would undoubtedly also ask you to lower your rhetoric - to abandon your racist, anti-female, politically and socially bigoted ravings and try to connect with humanity a little, too. I cannot help but think, Mr. Limbaugh, that you are so filled with hate that you cannot see the saintly character of the holy man you are attacking. Pope Francis has dedicated his life to helping people, especially the poor, and to spreading the love of God among all people - but even Francis may have his work cut out for him in bringing you around to becoming a real human being. And unlike your sheltered life story, Francis, as a priest, lived through the most viciously anti-Christian anti-human regime since Hitler's. And like Hitler, the Argentina junta was not Marxist. It was fascist. You may recognize yourself in that term. Fascism refers to an extreme rightist political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition, a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control and brutality (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Francis survived and even helped others to survive the fascist junta. ~~~~~ So, Mr. Limbaugh, I suggest that you stick to attacking those who are weak or who have no means of defending themselves. That will suit you better, as it would any bullying fascist. But from now on, you will have to live with the fact that a saintly Pope is praying for your soul. I hope you feel the pinch. And just like Francis, we are praying for you, too, and would honestly like to welcome you into the human community, as unlikely as that may be.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Karl Rove reminded us this week in the Wall Street Journal that it was 100% Democrat votes that passed the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - in 2010. Not one Republican voted for Obamacare. And now, the Democrats are going to find Obamacare very hard to defend in the congressional elections of 2014. When he was asked last week how much of a political liability Obamacare will be for Senate Democrats n the midterms, Senate Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid told one of his home state Nevada reporters, "I think it's going to be good for them." Reid puts a brave face on it. But Obamacare remains very unpopular, and the intensity of feeling of its critics is mounting. A Decembr 8 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that "50% thought the health law was a bad idea - 43% strongly so (7% not strongly)." The survey also reported that "34% thought that Obamacare is a good idea, but only 27% felt so strongly (7% not strongly)." Congressional Democrats seem to defend voting for Obamacare by saying either everything will turn out to be okay eventually (the White House position) or they attack its many website failures while ignoring the real problems of cost, loss of coverage and general degradation of America's private health care system. THE PROBLEM is that either Democratscdidn't know the law would raise premiums, increase deductibles, cancel coverage for millions of families, reduce hours for part-time workers and greatly reduce job creation for small business - all defects that experts and GOP critics often warned about - or they simply didn't care that they were destroying the lives of many millions of Americans. Four Democrat senators running for re-election in 2014 in states where Romney beat. Obama in 2012, and who voted for Obamacare and defended it, are good examples of the Democrat predicament, according to Karl Rove, who cites Alaska Senator Mark Begich, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan and Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor as incumbent Democrat Senators who will have trouble being re-elected. They all used to say things like, "If you've got an insurance plan now, you like it, you keep it." Now they say that Obamacare needs to be "fixed." And, says Rove, it's not just Democratic Senate seats in states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012 that are in danger because of Obamacare : "In 2010, four of the six Senate seats Republicans picked up were in states carried by Mr. Obama in 2008. Mr. Obama will be less popular in such states in 2014 than he was last November - and so will Democrats who have been passive, reliable votes for him." These are Democrat Senators like New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Colorado Senator Mark Udall, Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor and Virginia Senator Mark Warner, who may regret having pledged : "I'm not going to support a health-care reform plan that's going to take away the health care you've got right now." Karl Rove notes that Obamacare will also hurt Democratic congressmen attempting to become Senators. Examples are Iowa's Bruce Braley, who asserted that Obamacare would "allow Americans to maintain their choice of health insurance" and Michigan's Gary Peters, who said "If you're covered and you like your insurance you can keep it." A December 8 Democratic Public Policy Polling survey found that 48% of Michigan voters disapproved of Obamacare while only 34% approved, and 63% thought its implementation unsuccessful. Peters is behind his GOP opponent, 40% to 42%. ~~~~~ Dear readers, these "Obama-Reid-Pelosi lockstep Democrats" are now proclaiming their independence from Obamacare. But when it truly mattered, they never questioned either the President or their Democrat House and Senate leaders. The law exists because congressional Democrats voted for it. Period. The Obamacare vote is over, but the political trouble for Democrats has just begun. As South Carolina's GOP Senator Lindsey Graham likes to say, Obamacare is a gift to the GOP from the Democrats and "it is a gift that just keeps on giving." Watch these Democrat Senators and House members as they rev-up their 2014 re-election campaigns because these are the incumbents whose loss will make Congress Republican leading up to rhe 2016 presidential campaign. Even more important, their losses will give America a protective firewall against the dangerously naive and deliberately socialist/ anti-American efforts of Barack Obama and his White House.
Friday, December 13, 2013
Is Kim Jong Un Purging Leaders because He Is Firmly in Power or because He's Afraid of Being Purged Himself
Jang Song Thaek rose slowly in the North Korean political hierarchy, a tightly controlled family-led ruling rlite based on bloodlines enanating from Kim Il Sumg, the founder of the modern-era North Korea. Jang was Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission and a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party. He rose from a municipal bureaucrat to become North Korea's No. 2 official - behind only leader Kim Jong Un. But his ties had to be more than political : he was married to the leader's aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, a daughter of Kim Il Sung. Jang's trial and execution, reportedly by machine gun, on Friday, marked an unprecedented fall from grace of one of the most powerful figures in the country, as well as its most serious political upheaval in decades. Jang was the mentor charged by Kim Jong Il to lead his son, Kim Jong Un, to power, a task Jang carried out after the death of Kim Jong Il in December 2011. In late 2008, Jang was assumed to be serving in a regency role while the young Kim Jong Un was being groomed. Jang often accompanied Kim Jong Un on guidance trips and stood at his elbow at public events. He had a well-developed network both inside North Korea and with China, partnering North Korea with its neighbor and ally. Rumors of Jang's dismissal began earlier this month. Four days after his dramatic public arrest, Jang was tried for treason by a special military tribunal and executed, state media reported. He was accused and reportedly confessed to many serious crimes, the worst being plotting against the leadership, according to Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency. According to AP, for the outside world, the official 2,700-word treatise ripping Jang's reputation to shreds provided an intriguing and revealing glimpse into the murky, feudalistic world of politics in the secretive country. For North Koreans, the shocking public pillorying of a man seen as a father figure to Kim Jong Un was designed to send a clear message about the intolerance of opposition in a totalitarian state that demands absolute loyalty to the leader. Jang was born in the northern border city of Chongjin and had humble roots but was clever enough to gain entry to prestigious Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. He started as instructor for the Pyongyang City Committee of the Workers' Party, and he rose post by post until reaching the top ranks. He was purged and sent to a labor camp for two years in the mid-2000s, according to Kim Young-soo, a North Korea expert at Sogang University in Seoul. That purge was widely seen as a move to clip his wings. It was in 2008, as Kim Jong Un was being groomed to succeed his father that Jang began his meteoric rise to the inner circle, an ascension that gained speed after Kim Jong Il's death from a heart attack in December 2011. Jang was not a military officer but he was made a four-star general. He also became Administration Officer in the party's Central Committee, a position that gave him power over security agencies as well as the judiciary. He then helped engineer a campaign to bring the once-powerful military into the party's fold. Jang was instrumental in shaping North Korea's new economic policy, forming international joint ventures, particularly with China. Under Kim Jong Un, the government has made improving the economy one of two main party objectives, along with building nuclear weapons. Jang was also named head of the country's sports programs, one of Kim Jong Un's pet projects. Until his dismissal Sunday, he last was seen publicly in early November meeting a sports delegation from Japan. Jang's arrest was preceded by the reported executions last month of his two closest confidants. Official media confirmed one ally's purge Wednesday, calling Ri Ryong Ha a "flatterer" and stooge who with Jang was building an anti-Kim faction within the party. Kim Kyong Hui, Jang's wife of 30 years and the aunt of Kim Jong Un, being his father's sister, reportedly aided in the arrest and trial of her husband, according to South Korean experts. Kim Kyong Hui has never played a key role in a leadership structure that stakes its claim to legitimacy on blood relations to her father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. Frail and said to be in bad health, Kim Kyong Hui has not been seen in video and photographs of this week's proceedings. South Korean media reported that the couple's only child, a daughter, committed suicide in 2006 at age 29 while studying in Paris. The official North Korea news agency has said that the purges will continue. That woyld call into question the futures of Jang's family. His brother-in-law who is the ambassador to Cuba, and his nephew, the ambassador to Malaysia, were recalled to Pyongyang, according to South Korean officials. Hang's nephew, the minister of tourism, canceled a trip to attend a tourism conference in Taiwan this week, Taiwanese officials told the island's state news agency, CNA. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the news from North Korea is being interpreted in one of two ways : either Kim is very solid in his leadership position and feels no restraint in eliminating any remotely possible rival - or his position is weak, with turmoil in the upper ranks of his circle, and he feels the need to act boldly to prevent a coup. Whivhever it is, and we can only guess, the future will be even more uncertain as the world tries to deal with North Korea and its young and unpredictable leader. Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University says that Jang had been seen as the leading supporter of Chinese-style economic reforms and an important link between Pyongyang and Beijing. China has called Jang's execution a domestic issue, refusing to make further public comment. North Korea has recently turned to attempts at diplomacy with South Korea and the United States. But tensions have remained high since Pyongyang's threats in March and April, which included warnings that it would restart nuclear bomb fuel production. The world will have to wait for signals from the extremely secretive country, hoping that somehow it will become more predictable as the purges end and a stable leadership emerges, whether or not that includes Kim Jong Un.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
The world learned yesterday that Time Magazine has selected Pope Francis as its Person of the Year, saying the Catholic Church's new leader has changed the perception of the 2,000-year-old institution in an extraordinary way in a short time. The Pope beat NSA leaker Edward Snowden in being honored by the news magazine award, which has been given each year since 1927. Besides Snowden, Time had narrowed its finalists down to gay rights activist Edith Windsor, US Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Time polled readers for their choice, and the winner was Egyptian General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the leader of the thrust to eliminate the Moslem Brotherhood in its drive to transform Egypt into a radical islamist country. El-Sissi didn't make the top 10 of Time's final list. ~~~~~ Jorge Bergoglio was elected on March 13 as the first Pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit. Since being elected Pope, Francis has told the Catholic Church not to be obsessed with "small-minded rules" and to emphasize compassion over condemnation in dealing with touchy topics like abortion, gays and contraception. Time wrote : "And behind his self-effacing facade, he is a very canny operator. He makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office. He is photographed washing the feet of female convicts, posing for selfies with young visitors to the Vatican, embracing a man with a deformed face. He is quoted saying of women who consider abortion because of poverty or rape, “Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” Of gay people: “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.” To divorced and remarried Catholics who are, by rule, forbidden from taking Communion, he says that this crucial rite “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak." ~~~~~ In all he does, it seems that Pope Francis brings hope and mercy back to people weary of the endless dissecting of sexual ethics and the infighting over church lines of authority when all people are seeking is to be healed, to find peace and confort within their hearts and as members of the human community. Time believes that Francis may have found a way out of the world's current culture-based wars, "which have left the church moribund in much of Western Europe and on the defensive from Dublin to Los Angeles." But, with deference to Time, it is not with media photo-ops and pre-scripted appearances that Francis touches people. It is because he is so real, so full of love for everyone, without becoming a Vatican version of Mary Poppins, that he has so quickly won over peopke everywhere. Pope Francis has made a good start on turning the church away from subtle doctrinal differences that are the joy of theologians and back to the touch-and-help message that the church's Founder preached to the masses who followed Him everywhere he went 2,000 years ago in Galilee. Francis has condemned the world's "idolatry of money" and decried the "global scandal" that nearly 1 billion people today go hungry. He has charmed everyone with his simple style and wry sense of humor. His appearances draw tens of thousands of people and his @Pontifex Twitter account recently topped 10 million followers. Francis has changed "the perception and the focus of one of the world's largest institutions in an extraordinary way," said Nancy Gibbs, the magazine's managing editor. ~~~~~ As for the official Vatican reaction to the news : The Vatican said the honor wasn't surprising given the resonance in the general public that Francis has had, but it nevertheless said the choice was a "positive" recognition of spiritual values in the international media. The Holy Father does not aim to become famous or to receive honors," said the Vatican spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi. "But if the choice of Person of Year helps spread the message of the Gospel - a message of God's love for everyone - he will certainly be happy about that." A reaction from closer to the ground that Francis has already walked came from Padre Toto, one of the "slum priests" supported by Francis when he was Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Toto praised Time magazine's selection, "because Pope Francis embodies one of the values of a church that's more missionary, closer to the people, more austere, more in keeping with the gospel," Toto said. "He had the genius of knowing how to express this sense of the church and hopefully his way of being will catch on with other political leaders, business executives, sports figures. His leadership is inspiring." ~~~~~ And although it is always difficult to get news about what is going on behind the scene in the Vatican, here is a typical Pope Francis story told by Time that goes to te heart of his vision of the papacy : "He has turned the once obscure Vatican Almoner, an agency that has been around for about 800 years and is often reserved for an aging Catholic diplomat, over to the dynamic 50-year-old Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski and told him to make it the Holy See’s new front porch. “You can sell your desk,” Francis told Krajewski. “You don’t need it. You need to get out of the Vatican. Don’t wait for people to come ringing. You need to go out and look for the poor.” The Archbishop hands out small amounts to the needy, including a recent gift of 1,600 phone cards to immigrant survivors of a capsized boat so they could call family back in Eritrea. Francis often gives Krajewski stacks of letters with his instructions to help the people who have written to him and asked for aid. In what sounds like a necessary precaution, the Vatican recently issued a denial after Krajewsk hinted that Francis himself sometimes slips out of the Vatican dressed as an ordinary priest to hand out alms." ~~~~~ When Jesus was preaching and baptizing and healing in Galilee and around Jerusalrm, the religious leaders often went up to Him to try to embarrass or trick Him into speaking a heresy. Everyone wanted to know if He was the Messiah, most of all John the Baptist who had devoted his life to "preparing the way" for the Anointed One. But when John's disciples were went to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah, instead of responding with a show of power and pomp, Jesus told them, "Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard--the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me." And when John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft clothing? Behold those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings' courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes." ~~~~~ Dear readers, is this not Pope Francis? A man sent to the world - not just to the Church or the West but to all people - to remind us that we are all God's children. All. And we are, indeed, our brothers' and sisters' keepers. Reach out. Help. As John Paul II famously said, "Don't be afraid." And as Francis puts it so realistically, "The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials."
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Acknowledging that serious problems remain behind the catastrophic rollout of the health care website, President Obama's top health official has called for an investigation into management and contracting decisions. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius posted a blog early Wednesday to say that she's asking the HHS inspector general to investigate the contracting process, management, performance and payment issues that may have contributed to the flawed launch of the Obamacare website. The website had major technical problems that turned it into a frustrating bottleneck for millions of consumers. It's working better now, but still not as it should, after two months of repairs. Sebelius went to Capitol Hill for another round of questioning Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Lawmakers have dozens of questions about the website's design, workability - and security, which has been called seriously below internet standards by Representative Mike Rogers, House Intelligence Committee chairman and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that has held numerous hearings to investigate issues surrounding Obamacare. Rogers says the website should be shut down until it is made secure for consumers. Congress also wants to know why Sebelius and other top officials repeatedly assured them everything was on track. Some Republicans have called for Sebelius to resign. Democrats have urged Obama to fire those responsible. The White House has instead brought in outside experts to help Sebelius and her department. The secretary's unusual pre-dawn announcement of an inspector general probe indicates that she realizes she's still on the hot seat. "I believe strongly in the need for accountability, and in the importance of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars," Sebelius said in her announcement. She didn't add that the website has cost taxpayers more than $600 million so far, according to the congressional Government Accountability Office. Sebelius has also ordered the hiring of a new "chief risk officer" at the Medicare agency that oversees new programs created to expand health insurance coverage under Obamacare. That official will focus on making sure technology programs work as advertised. ~~~~~ While Sebelius was touting the improvements in the Obamacare website, the latest Obama administration monthly enrollment report showed a total of 137,204 people enrolled in the states served by the federal website by the end of November, up from 26,794 in October, but far below the 1.2 million that had been predicted by the end of November. California, running its own market, led the nation, with more than 107,000 signups. Oregon, also running its own market, had the lowest total, with just 44 people enrolled. Florida was the leader among states with federally run markets, with nearly 18,000 signups. Nationally, an additional 803,077 people have been determined to be eligible for Medicaid, the safety-net program that appears to be the health overhaul's early success story. That's about double the number for October. Nonetheless, state Medicaid directors are reporting accuracy problems with information on prospective enrollees that the federal government is sending them. ~~~~~ Two Americans signing up for Obamacare in November were Senate Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham, long a critic of Obama's healthcare plan, said, "I don’t think members of Congress should get a special deal. Obamacare is being pushed on the American people and we should live under it just like everyone else.” Graham could have taken advantage of a taxpayer subsidy that would have paid for about 75% of his insurance premium. "My insurance costs are going up about $400 a month, more than 200%, under Obamacare. In addition, my health care coverage will be a fraction of what it used to be," he said in a press release. "Sadly, I’m not the only one who will feel the negative effects of Obamacare....The worst is yet to come, but I will continue my fight to repeal, replace, defund and allow Americans to opt-out of this horrible government program,” he said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reported : "Under Obamacare, my insurance costs me about $4,500 more than it did before....because it is age-related and it wasn't like that before." Reid, noting that 150 million families get insurance through their employers, said "so should all federal employees." Reid's comments came as he denied a CNN story claiming he is the only top congressional leader to exempt some of his staff from having to buy coverage through the Obamacare exchanges. "I followed the Affordable Care Act,” Reid said. “It is the law. The law says that if you have committee staff, leadership staff, they stay where they are. If you have other staff, which is most everyone, they go to the exchanges." Reid is worth $2.8 to $6.2 million, according to an OpenSecrets.org report, so he would not qualify for subsidies that would lower his costs. But his rate hike is an eye-opener after promises made by people like House Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who told Meet the Press last year that "everybody would have lower rates" under Obamacare. She denied to The Weekly Standard that she'd made the statement, saying she doesn't "remember saying that everybody in the country would have a lower premium." But, as reported by Forbes, a study earlier this year by two members of the American Academy of Actuaries found that tens of millions will see higher insurance costs, with or without the subsidies. ~~~~~ That's right. Even with the federal tax breaks and subsidies promised through Obamacare, many consumers will find their out-of-pocket costs much higher than expected, according to a Forbes analysis of the healthcare law's problems. Consumers can benefit from two different subsidies, according to Forbes contributor and physician Scott Gottlieb, who also serves as a Republican appointee on a federal health policy committee. "Premium tax credits, based on family income, are designed to offset the overall costs of health insurance plans, while cost-sharing subsidies help pay for out-of-pocket expenses and help lower costs when catastrophic limits kick in. But so far, technical glitches on the website have caused miscalculations of cost estimates for uninsured individuals and families trying to sign up, leading to confusion and fears that the costs may end up not being as affordable as promised," Gottlieb noted. Part of the problem, according to Gottlieb, stems from the fact that the website cannot communicate correctly with other federal and state agencies to share the data needed to help calculate costs. Because the system is defective, data sharing with other agencies has led to errors in cost calculations on enrollment applications that have gone through. In many cases, the system simply crashed on some applicants as they tried to calculate costs. The Obama administration calculates that subsidies over the next 10 years could cost about $149 billion - a cost for taxpayers, that is, a fact not mentioned by Obama. But if the subsidies are cut, under the law insurance plans could be forced to absorb the shortfalls. Not a good idea, said Gottlieb, given the fact that many insurance companies have already been burned by the bungled rollout of the federal healthcare program. "Given the failed launch of Obamacare, many insurers will be looking at far lower enrollment numbers, and losses on their new exchange health plans....Expect Wall Street analysts to cut their earnings projections on the major health plans in the coming weeks. If that happens, many health plans will likely be pulled from the marketplace, and Obamacare could fail fast unless the administration lobbies Congress to stop sequester cuts from hitting cost-sharing subsidies. For all of these reasons, the Obama administration should approach its failed rollout with much more humility and candor," Gottlieb said. "These website woes aren’t merely 'glitches.'" ~~~~~ Dear readers, the website catastrophe is just the start of the Obamacare disasters. There will be insufficient enrollments and most will require subsidies. This will make the already high - almost double - premium costs rise even more. The deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are already much higher. And for these extremely high costs, Obamacare will offer less choice of doctors and hospitals and poorer quality care as many high quality doctors and hospitals, such the Mayo Clinic and Cedars-Sinai, are dropped by Obamacare insurance providers to save costs. And perhaps 100 million Americans will have their private health insurance cancelled because it doesn't match the freakish Obamacare requirements. Welcome to the socialized medicine that will ruin the best private health care system in the world. Thank you, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid - and President Obama, for lying to Americans while you dismantled their health care system.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
When people vote with their feet these days, it's no longer necessary to leave their country. It's more likely to happen in a large street gathering with mobile phones at the ready - as Ukraine's embattled President Viktor Yanukovych is finding out. On Tuesday he promised that some demonstrators arrested in the massive protests sweeping the capital, Kiev, will be released, in his bid to defuse a political stand-off that is threatening his leadership. The street protests have continued for three weeks, the largest and most sustained since 2004's pro-democracy Orange Revolution, some drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Kiev's streets and Independence Square. In 2004, Yanukovych was driven from his newly proclaimed presidential election by the Orange Revolution protesters labelling the election rigged, led by Yulia Timoshenko, the iconic woman with braided blond hair. Yanukovych was finally elected president in 2010, narrowly beating Timoshenko, who was subsequently imprisoned on corruption charges, which her supporters say were trumped up. In his effort to stop the current massive protests against his decision to align economically with Russia instead of the European Union, Yanukovych has now also vowed to renew talks with the EU on concluding the much-awaited popular trade and political agreement, after his refusal to sign the deal last month prompted Ukrainians to pour out into the streets in the hundreds of thousands. Yanukovych indicated he was still ready to sign the deal at a summit next Spring, but only if the EU can offer better financial terms. He was speaking in a televised meeting with his three predecessors, meant to find a solution to the standoff. "If we find understanding and if such compromises are reached, the signature will be put" on paper. The three weeks of protests against Russia have grown larger and more vehement after police twice violently dispersed demonstrators. Tensions escalated even further Monday when armed law enforcement troops stormed the office of the top opposition party, breaking glasses, smashing doors and confiscating computers. The opposition is demanding three things : the release of the dozen protesters who remain in jail, the prosecution of the police who beat protesters, and the replacement of the government by one committed to European integration. It is unclear whether Yanukovych's counter-offers can bring the sides closer together. Yanukovych said he has told the prosecutor-general to ensure the release of some of the protesters - those who haven't committed grave crimes and who have children or families, he said. Investigations of those freed would continue. But Yanukovych appeared unreceptive to the criticism voiced by Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's first president after the country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, who said that beating protesters is unacceptable. "Law enforcement must know that it is forbidden to beat people. And there can be no justification for anyone" who does so, a stern Kravchuk said, sitting beside Yanukovych and two other former leaders at a table decorated with blue and yellow flowers - the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Kravchuk, and his successor, Leonid Kuchma, hinted that the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov would help defuse the crisis. Yanukovych did not comment on that. Ukraine's economy has been in recession for more than a year, and the government is in desperate need of foreign funding to avoid a default. Moscow has worked aggressively to derail the deal with the EU and lure Kiev into its own economic group by offering price discounts and loans, but also imposing painful trade restrictions that could affect Ukraine's export-leading steel and mining industries. However, Ukraine is dependent on Russia for its gas and petroleum supplies. Yanukovych said he would renew talks with the International Monetary Fund about getting a bailout loan. But some analysts were skeptical that Yanukovych's pro-EU talk was genuine, believing that in light of his sudden turn-around before a summit in Lithuania last month to sign the deal that he was still playing off Russia against the EU. And the raid on opposition party headquarters Tuesday could hardly be expected to help protesters believe in his willingness to meet political conditions required by the EU. That may be the real problem : the protesting opposition want the democratic rules that the EU pact would require, while Yanukovych and his circle prefer a Russian-style oligarchy that curtails democratic rights. Experts point out that Yanukovych is neither pro-Russian nor pro-European. "He is pro-Yanukovych," according to Taras Kuzio, a research associate at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. "He's going to do anything he can to try and stay in power." Eugene Chausovsky, a Russia analyst for the global intelligence firm Stratfor, says that had Yanukovych opted for the EU association agreement rather than the Russian custom union, "we would have probably also seen protests, except from a completely different segment of society. It shows the difficulty of ruling Ukraine. It's a split country." Ukraine, with 46 million people, that used to be called the "breadbasket" of Russia because of its large grain production, has long held a contentious place in European politics. For several hundred years, it was part of the Russian empire. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine became independent and began to cultivate greater economic ties with the European Union, angering Russia. ~~~~~ In a speech to the European Parliament, the EU's enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, said the EU was ready to help Ukraine financially "including through topping up IMF loans with macro-financial assistance [and] stepping up the European Union's financial assistance programmes," but it was not clear whether this was an increase over previous offers. Yanukovych has complained of the cost of upgrading Ukraine's economy to EU standards, saying €20 billion ($27.4 billion) a year would be needed, while the EU offered only a fraction of that sum. Meanwhile, two top western diplomats arrived in Kiev on Tuesday to try to help reduce the tensions, but dozens of pro-Yanukovych activists picketed the office of the EU commission in Kiev before the arrival of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who met for several hours with Yanukovych. The picket lasted several hours. Also arriving in Kiev on Tuesday, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met with opposition leaders, including Vitaly Klitschko, the heavyweight world boxing champion who leads the Udar (Punch) party, Arseniy Yatsenyuk of Timoshenko's Fatherland party, and Oleh Tyahnybok of the far-right Svoboda party. Nuland was also scheduled to meet with Yanukovych. ~~~~~ Dear readers, because of the media space devoted to reporting events in the Middle East, especially the Iran nuclear deal and the war in Syria, it is easy to forget about other significant world situations. Ukraine is one of them. President Obama effectively abandoned the Urkaine when he announced that the missile defense network shields planned for Poland would be placed in Alaska instead, thought to be done as an Obama gesture toward Russia's concerns for its Ukraine border. The EU has picked up the Ukraine question, trying to pull it toward the West and democracy through trade agreements. A non-Russian Ukraine is key for the future safety of Europe, and if Obama refuses to engage Russia, the EU must. Russia feels threatened because it considers Urkaine to be an integral part of its territory, despite Ukraine's post-Soviet independence - and many Ukrainians agree. This is the key problem in today's street-led battle. To succeed as a country, it is clear that Urkaine needs economic assistance and trading partners. Russia proposes to take on that role, but many (most?) Ukrainians want to be part of Europe, not Russia. They want democratic institutions and a free market economy - goals they know will not be met if their president aligns them with Russia. The European Union and the United States should support the Ukraine democrats with funding and trade offers, and with diplomatic pressure on both Yanukovych and Russia to accept economic and political freedom for Urkaine, while assuring Russia of the security of its Ukraine borders. For Vladimir Putin, the last thing he wants is a democratic Ukraine spreading its ideas into the Russian region next door - from St. Petersburg to Moscow - where such ideas would find fertile ground. That will inevitably come with or without a democratic Ukraine, but for now, Russia needs to hear the right words to re-assure it, while the EU and America help the people of the Ukraine to break with the Yanukovych oligarchy.