Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Review of Casey-pops Predictions for 2014

Dear readers, here are the Casey-pops musings and predictions I made last New Year's Day for 2014. Let's see how I did. **(1). I predicted that the Novenber mid-term elections would produce a tied US Senate - 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans - making Vice President Joe Biden's tiebreaker vote the key to bipartisan actions, or the lack thereof, by Congress. HALF. The GOP did much better taking a 55 to 45 seay majority in the Senate. So, I'm happy although I was a bit timid with my prediction. **(2). I predicted that Hillary Clinton would see her large lead in the Democrat presidential nomination sweepstakes eroded by congressional actions concerning Benghazi, but she woulf announce her candidacy in December. HALF. Hillary has seen her huge 89% favored-candidate rating sink to 69% - not only because of Benghazi, which is still on the House agenda for 2015, but because of the rise of the populist-left in the Democrat Party led by Senator Elizabeth Warren. This may be why Hillary has chosen to put of announcing her candidacy, hoping the populists on the far left will overplay their anti-business, extreme-socialist hand and collapse as a real force. Don't count on it. This may be a 2016 "George McGovern" Democrat catastrophe on the making. **(3). I predicted the Benghazi investigations in Congress would lead to the House raising articles of impeachment against President Obama for his handling of the Benghazi attack and for violating the Constitution by modifying laws, especially Obamacare, without the agreement of Congress. "There will be no Senate trial unless the GOP becomes the majority party in the Senate, which won't happen." WRONG. And with only two years left in the Obama presidency and lacking the 2/3 vote needed in both houses of Congress, we can forget impeachment. **(4). I predicted that both Congo-Kinshasa and the Central African Republic will once more disintegrate into civil wars, both politically and religiously motivated and UN peacekeepers will be inable to keep the factions apart, leading to massacres. RIGHT. In eastern Congo, massacres, especially of women and children, continue and villages are forming militias because the UN peacekeeping force is not able to protect them. The Central African Republic is in a shaky ceasefire that the UN peacekeeper force is trying to maintain, but sporadic Moslem-Christian attacks continue. **(5). I predicted that the Syrian rebel forces on the ground will be severely challenged by both al-Assad forces and the radical Taliban and al-Qaida affiliated forces in the north, where they will terrorize civilian populations, especially women and girls, as they take over towns and villages. "The shock of the civilian treatment will be so great in America and Europe that the American Congress and military will quietly join directly with Europe to try to solve the problem, because Obama will continue to refuse help to save the rebels." RIGHT. Sadly, that is exactly where we are today - just add ISIS to the terrorist list. **(6). I predicted that the horror unfolding in Syria will encourage Congress to challenge the Obama decision to totally withdraw from Afghanistan, forcing him to find common ground with the new Afghan president elected in the Spring in order to prevent a new Taliban takeover. RIGHT. Although that hasn't stopped Obama from calling his decision to keep more troops in Afghanistan the end of the war. Obamaspeak is alive and well. **(7). I predicted that Israel and Saudi Arabia would form a silent coalition to counter Iran's growing power after the Obama-Iran nuclear deal falls apart and Iran confirms that it has successfully tested a nuclear bomb.RIGHT. Although neither country would ever admit that they are working together. **(8). I also said that the Israel-Saudi initiative would also partly be in response to UN reports that the al-Assad regime in Syria has not destroyed all its chemical weapons stockpiles or fabricating facilities. UNKNOWABLE. So far. **(9). I predicted that the Sochi Winter Olympic Games would be marred by multiple terrorist attacks in the region and by a serious military confrontation when terrorists try to disrupt the Games venues. HALF. The terrorist attacks occurred before the Olympic Games but Putin's saturation of Sochi with Russian forces kept terrorists away during the Games. **(10). Sepp Blatter will finally be forced to resign as FIFA president in the aftermath of the Brazil Football World Cup, which will be disturbed by weak administration, large civilian demonstrations and an inability to protect players and fans from criminal gangs, as well as players' objections to traveling great distances and playing in both summer and winter weather only days apart. HALF. Blatter is under pressure to resign but it is related to the Qatar and Russian games, not Brazil. I also added three less formal predictionss -- Portugal will be in the World Cup Final, proving just how good the much maligned and unappreciated Christian Ronaldo really is. WRONG. Prince Harry will announce his engagement to be married in 2015. WRONG. Kate and William will by year's end be expecting a new baby. RIGHT. ~~~~~ So, 2014 was a middling year for my predoctions. RIGHT 5. HALF 4. WRONG 3. UNKNOWABLE 1. ~~~~~ HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone. Tomorrow we'll take on my predictions for 2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Alexei Navalny Rallies Russians for Anti-Putin Political Reform

Who is Alexei Navalny and why should we care if he is arrested or convicted in Moscow? Alexei Navalny, 38, has quickly developed a reputation as Vladimir Putin's most vocal critic, becoming the most prominent face of Russian opposition to President Putin. Like Mikhail Khodorkovsky before him, Navalny has already spent time in jail for embezzlement, one of the financial charges often levied against Russian opposition reform figures. And now, a Moscow judge has given him a suspended sentence in a new fraud case in which his brother has been imprisoned for three and a half years. The convictions are widely seen as a political vendetta against any opposition to Putin and his government. ~~~~~ Alexei Navalny has been a thorn in President Putin's side for several years, and he says that his never-ending legal troubles are the Kremlin's reprisals for organizing and leading protests. When he described Putin's United Russia party as "the party of crooks and thieves" during the 2011 parliamentary election campaign, the phrase took off in Russia and he became the unofficial leader of a new protest movement that carried over into the presidential campaign in 2012. Ahead of the 2011 election, in which he was not a candidate, Navalny urged his blog readers to vote for any party except United Russia, which he dubbed the "party of crooks and thieves." United Russia won the election, but with a much-reduced majority in a victory tarnished by widespread allegations of vote-rigging that prompted protests in Moscow and other Russian cities. Navalny was jailed for 15 days following his first organized protest on December 5, but he was released and spoke at the biggest post-election rally in Moscow on December 24, attended by an estimated 120,000 people. Putin easily won re-election as president in 2012 and Russia's powerful Investigative Committee then launched criminal investigations into Navalny's past activities, even questioning his credentials as a lawyer. When he was jailed in July 2013 for embezzlement in the city of Kirov, the five-year sentence was widely seen as political. But Navalny was uncustomarily released from prison to campaign for the Moscow mayoralty. Navalny was runner-up with 27% of the vote, behind Putin-ally Sergei Sobyanin. Navalny's showing was seen as such a success - he had no access to state TV, relying on the internet and word of mouth - that many believe his house arrest months later was Putin's punishment for Navalny's bold move. Despite his house arrest, he continued to speak out against the Kremlin, using social media, including his blog. When supporters created a Facebook page calling for protests to mark the latest Navalny trial conviction, thousands signed up and the page was taken down. A new page surfaced, attracting thousands more. ~~~~~ Alexei Navalny cannot match the public profile of former jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, arrested October 25, 2003, convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to eight years in prison. In 2010, he received a second prison term for stealing from his own Yukos oil company - the sentence interpreted by many as an instrument to keep him in jail until Putin won a third presidential term. Then, Putin inexpectedly pardoned Khodorkovsky and he was released from prison on December 20, 2013. But there are parallels between the two reform leaders -- when in 2010 a court convicted Khodorkovsky for a second time, the lengthy prison sentence was announced on 30 December, when most Russians were focused on the new year holiday; compare this with Navalny's second court verdict that had been due on 15 January 2015, but was inexplicably advanced by the court to 30 December. But, unlike Khodorkovsky, now based in Switzerland, Navalny has vowed to fight on in Russia. When he was jailed in 2013, he told the judge that he would fight on with his colleagues "to destroy the feudal state that's being built in Russia, destroy the system of government where 83% of national wealth is owned by a half percent of the population.'' President Putin's system is "sucking the blood out of Russia," Navalny said, tweeting to his supporters : "Don't sit around doing nothing. The toad won't get off the oil pipe by itself." The "toad" was what he called the Russian government in a post on his LiveJournal blog. That reaction and his use of Twitter are characteristic of his political style - reaching out to predominantly young followers on social media in sharp, sound bite language that mocks the establishment loyal to President Putin. Some Navalny critics in the anti-Putin camp say he flirts with Russian nationalism. He has spoken at ultra-nationalist events, causing concern among liberals. But, for their part, the Russian nationalists, too, are wary of his links with the US, after he spent a semester at Yale in 2010. Yet, all this aside, when the opposition elected its own leaders in October 2012, it was Alexei Navalny who won, ahead of veteran Putin critic and former chess champion Garry Kasparov, in a vote turnout of 81,801. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the opposition to Putin has been weakened by Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Opinion polls suggest strong Russian support for Putin's intervention. In March, Alexei Navalny called on the US and EU to target the Kremlin elite with sanctions, specifically Putin allies Gennady Timchenko, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg and Igor Sechin. While those figures have been targeted, others, such as oligarch Roman Abramovich, have not been. The question regularly posed about Navalny is whether he commands any support beyond the population centres of Moscow and other cities. But, Alexei Navalny must be commended for his courage in publicly facing Putin and United Russia in order to give moderate Russians a mechanism to protest and march for more freedom. Alexei Navalny and others like him are Russia's link with personal liberty and the right to speak freely and form political parties. Sadly, under Vladimir Putin, personal liberty and political diversity do not exist. Just today, police detained Alexei Navalny when he broke the terms of his house arrest to attend a protest of several thousand people just outside the Kremlin. Navalny, along with a group of his supporters, was rounded up by police as he approached the site of the protest. So, we should follow Navalny's activities and voice our support for him and for the millions of Russians who want a free Russia. It is, after all, Putin we oppose -- not the Russian people.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Greek Elections : a Reminder that the EU Still Faces Serious Problems

Greece's centrist coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was forced Monday to call early national elections after the Greek parliament failed to elect a new President in the three vote rounds permitted by the constitution. The Samaras coalition had chosen Stavros Dimas, the 73-year-old former European Commissioner, as its only candidate for president. Dimas garnered 168 out of 300 possible votes - short of the 180 needed to win. The conservative Samaras said national elections, the fourth in six agitated years of financial crisis, will be held "at the soonest possible date" - that is, Sunday, January 25. After the third and final round of voting, according to the constitution, the vote's failure meant that parliament has to be dissolved within 10 days. "The country has no time to lose," Samaras said. Greeks must "learn the truth about how easy it is to relapse into the deepest and most dramatic crisis." ~~~~~ The failure of Samaras to hold his coalition together set off financial concerns as investors fear a victory by the main opposition party that wants to renege on the country's bailout deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The Athens stock market closed 3.9% lower, recovering from an early 11.3% dive on news of parliament's failure to elect a new president. Investors fear the left-wing opposition Syriza party, which has a narrow but steady lead in opinion polls, might use popular resentment at six years of government austerity agreed to by the Samaras coalition as a means to seek an overhaul of the international bailout deal. ~~~~~ At the height of the eurozone crisis from 2010 to 2012, Greece's financial turmoil risked breaking up the euro currency union, which would have shaken the global economy. Now, Greek debt is not held by private international investors, but by its bailout creditors, the IMF and other eurozone countries. Also, the EU and European Central Bank now have programs designed to stabilize markets and bolster confidence in eurozone markets. Thus, a Greek default now would be much less of a threat to the eurozone than a few years ago. However, if a new Greek government seeks changes to the bailout deal, Greece's access to credit would be delayed just as its bailout loans are coming to an end. Greece still cannot finance itself independently on bond markets, so it faces the danger of a default that could hurt the finances of fellow European countries. The IMF said today a current review of Greece's bailout program - which will decide if the payment of the next batch of rescue loans will be made - is now on pause and will resume only after the January election. Fortunately, Athens faces no immediate financing needs. The review has been stalled for months due to disagreements on new spending cuts. ~~~~~ Most of us remember the crisis when Greece lost market confidence and nearly went bankrupt in 2010, after years of profligate spending, dodging public sector reforms and hiding the extent of its expanding and failing public finances. The austerity programs forced on Greece by the EU and IMF as tbe price of a bailout beat down incomes and living conditions and sent unemployment to a post-World War II high. Growing public resentment fuelled support for anti-austerity parties, from Syriza - whose pre-crisis support was under 5% - to the neo-nazi Golden Dawn. Samaras and his conservative party forged a coalition with their historic socialist rivals to hammer out further draconian spending cuts that finally balanced the budget and led to a modest economic recovery this year. ~~~~~ Here's what a Greek newspaper is reporting about various Greek political groups' reaction to Samaras' dissolution of parliament and call for elections. THE LEFT. The Syriza party has pledged to roll back some of the reforms Greece implemented to qualify for 240 billion euros in rescue funds. But it has recently softened its rhetoric about unilaterally pulling out of the bailout deal. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said that Monday's vote marked an "historic day for Greek democracy." He added that in a few days, the austerity program enacted under the leadership of Samaras will disappear : "With the will of our people, in a few days, the austerity agreements will also belong to the past." ~~~ Syriza MP Panagiotis Lafazanis argued that the coalition government parties suffered a defeat in parliament today and claimed that it would be “crushed” at the upcoming elections. Lafazanis claimed that his party would receive the parliamentary majority and argued that the bailouts are in play and “the troika’s presence in the country will end." ~~~ The general secretary of the Communist Party, Dimitris Koutsoumpas, said that “we have paid enough for the lies of the EU parties. We have bled enough for the monopolies.” He called for popular support in the upcoming general elections. Communist party MP Thanasis Pafilis urged the people to reject the scaremongering of the coalition. ~~~ The leader of the Democratic Left Fotis Kouvelis told journalists that “the government chose to bring national elections forward with the presidential election. Today will be the start of new developments and that the people should unite to elect a government that will “attain a progressive nature.” ~~~ The leader of The River, Stavros Theodorakis, commented that current politicians “have played their political games guided by partisan stubbornness. Now it is the time of the people” and called the Greek people to defy “blind partisanship,” claiming his party is ready for the major challenges. ~~~ THE CENTER. The president of the Independent Greeks, Panos Kammenos, said the Samaras-Venizelos parenthesis has closed, the duo that surrendered the country’s sovereignty is finally abandoning the government. Kammenos added that his party “will now act as guarantors” while calling for a national consensus. ~~~ Following the conclusion of the vote in Parliament, independent MP Petros Tatsopoulos said the vote resulted in “a very extreme polarization” and added that “it would be good to not cultivate that climate in the election campaign period.” ~~~ THE CONSERVATIVE COALITION. The government Vice President and PASOK leader, Evangelos Venizelos said that the snap elections “were forced” and that the future of the economy is uncertain, while professing that his party will protect the “dramatic sacrifices of the Greek people” and that “PASOK will be the guarantor of orderly developments.” ~~~ The New Democracy MP Yannis Tragakis told journalists that those who forced the early elections “will not be in the next Parliament" and are leading this country to elections in which “the people will punish them.” ~~~ New Democracy’s Dora Bakoyanni claimed that the opposition forced the general elections “against the will of the Greek people” and estimated that the elections would take place under very difficult financial circumstances. ~~~ The Minister of Finances, Gikas Hardouvelis, commented that at present there were no funding problems and that should the need arise, the government can issue treasury bills. Hardouvelis pointed out that he predicted that the Greek State may need to do so in March. ~~~ Conservative Prime Minister Samaras said “Unfortunately a minority of 132 MPs want elections.” Samaras commented that “early elections...entail serious dangers” and claimed that “the great majority” oppose early elections. Samaras added that “a minority of 132 MPs, amongst which Syriza and Golden Dawn, are dragging the country to elections.“ ~~~~~ Dear readers, we often view the ongoing Greek fiscal problems through the filter of the EU and IMF. These comments show that Greek political parties are making their cases to the Greek people in the way any functioning democracy does. But, there is a shadow hovering over Greece. It is the European Union's eurozone club, led by Germany. Greeks blame Germany for the extreme austerity that almost brought down the Greek social fabric. And, current official German comments show that the German position has not softened. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned today that Greece "has no alternative" to the hard reforms it has undertaken, as he commented on Monday's developments in Greece : "New elections change nothing about the agreements that the Greek government has entered into. Any new government must stick to the contractual agreements of its predecessors." It is precisely this attitude of the German political machine of Chancellor Angela Merkel that has alienated Greek voters and given the leftist Syriza party and the neo-nazi New Dawn party the chance to once again destabilize Greece in their attempt to grab power from the more moderate center left and conservatives. And the German rigidity continues to irritate and alienate the French, Italians and Spanish, as well as the frank-speaking British Prime Minister David Cameron. The EU is not out of the survival-or-collapse woods yet.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Obama Out of Step on US Race Relations Status

Downtown Cleveland has been filled with protesters since black teenager Tamir Rice was shot by a white officer last month. While tensions between police and their communities are growing, there's a strong voice getting louder in support of police officers. The "Sea of Blue Rally" on Saturday drew a massive turnout. At last check, the groups Facebook page has almost 5,000 people who have accepted the invitation. Organizers say they're welcoming everyone : "You can't beat this blue line. There's no way you can beat it.Our family and our communities are really one hundred percent behind our officers, and I think the people for police are going to greatly outnumber the people that are against it." ~~~~~ In Philadelpia, in response to criticism of the December 15 killing of an armed black man by police, Philadelphia police union leader John McNesby called out demonstrators during a December 17 news conference at the Fraternal Order of Police hall. His speech followed a department awards ceremony where dozens of officers were honored for valor, bravery and other exceptional actions. “While it appears to enrage professional hate mongers, the fact is that police officers are covered by the same constitutional protections that they are risking their lives to provide everyone else,” McNesby said. “When our officers are confronted by a convicted, violent felon who should not be out of prison in possession of a stolen, loaded firearm, what else do you want us to do? We’re not going to call a timeout. We’re not going to call a news hot­line.” Then, last Friday, 500 people showed up for a peaceful rally in support of police and law enforcement. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey acknowledged that the events in New York had escalated the recent debate over police behavior to a dangerous level. Ramsey is the co-chairman of President Obama’s newly created Task Force on 21st Cenrury Policing. Ramsey told CBS Monday : “Right now, everyone needs to lower the volume a little bit on the rhetoric because we’re just in a very, very volatile environment right now....With some of the people chanting, ‘We want dead cops,’ you just don’t know who that impacts, and now you have two officers dead, leaving behind families,” Ram­sey said. ~~~~~ Like New York, Philadelphia has been a center for demonstrations drawing attention to a perceived pattern of police brutality. Demonstrators have gathered throughout New York City and Philadelphia to conduct so-called “die-in” protests, using the “hands up, don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” slogans. Students at the University of Pennsylvania held an action at the home of the school president during a holiday party. One march began near City Hall on Sunday night and proceeded to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Uniformed poice escorted the peaceful demonstrators, but blocked a group that split from the main march and tried to access the Expressway to stop traffic. ~~~~~ In Queens Borough in NYC, the wife and two sons of one of the two NYC policemen gunned down in a daylight ambush were joined at his wake Friday by hundreds of uniformed officers, saluting as his flag-draped casket was carried into the church. The daylong tribute to Officer Rafael Ramos took place at a Queens church where friends and colleagues eulogized him as selfless, compassionate and heroic - what the NYPD wants its finest officers to be. "He was studying to be a pastor. He had Bible study books in his locker, which is rare for a police officer, but that goes to show you the type of man he was," NYPD Captain Sergio Centa said. Vice President Joe Biden attended Ramos' funeral on Saturday, along with Mayor Bill de Blasio. Police union officials have criticized de Blasio, saying he contributed to a climate of mistrust of police that set the stage for the killings. But de Blasio has stood behind the NYPD since the December 20 slayings of Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu. After the killings, de Blasio called for a temporary halt to demonstrations against police following the failure of grand juries in Missouri and on Staten Island to charge white police officers in the deaths of Brown and Garner. He denounced as "divisive" a demonstration that took place anyway and on Thursday tweeted a thank you to police for arresting a man accused of threatening to kill officers. Pastor Ralph Castillo said Ramos was a beloved member of the church : "Whether he was helping a mom with a carriage or bringing someone to their seats, he did it with so much love and so much vigor and so much joy." In the evening, hundreds of additional mourners were expected to fill the streets outside the church to hear speakers eulogize Ramos and to watch on giant video screens. Ramos was a long-standing, deeply committed member of the church, where he served as an usher, family and friends said. "We feel sorry for the family, and nobody deserves to die like this," said fellow churchgoer Hilda Kiefer as she waited to enter the wake. His compassion was in contrast to the disturbed loner who killed the officers. Investigators say Brinsley, who started his rampage by shooting and wounding an ex-girlfriend in Baltimore, also posted online threats to police and made references to high-profile cases of unarmed black men killed by white officers. Since Ramos and Liu were killed, police in New York say they have arrested seven people accused of threatening officers. Liu's funeral arrangements have yet to be announced because his family in China are awaiting the paperwork needed to travel to New York. Ramos celebrated his 40th birthday this month. He joined the NYPD in 2012 after working as a school security officer. The lifelong Brooklyn resident was married with two sons: one in middle school and one who attends Bowdoin College in Maine. The Silver Shield Foundation, a charity founded by the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, has set aside $40,000 for the education of Ramos' sons. Bowdoin College said it will cover Ramos' older son's education costs as long as he remains a student there. The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a charity created after 9/11, says it will pay off the home mortgages of the two slain officers. Meanwhile, officers at the 84th Precinct where Ramos and Liu worked have been told to be vigilant on patrol. NYPD Captain Centa said : "Things we took for granted maybe a week or two ago we can't take for granted anymore. You may be in your car and see someone walking up the street toward you. You have to be prepared. You never know. It's a scary time for the police department right now." ~~~~~ And in the midst of pro- and anti-police marches and heightened alert status for police in big cities all over America, President Obama says the nation is less racially divided today than it was six years ago. In an excerpt from a 40-minute interview the President gave National Public Radio on December 18, which was made available Friday, Obama stated that low morale about race relations is exaggerated by the reactions across the country to recent racially charged violence, including the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police and the revenge slayings of two New York City Police Department officers. Asked whether there's more racial division now than when he took office in 2009, Obama replied on NPR : "No, I actually think that it's probably, in its day-to-day interactions, less racially divided." he declared. The full interview will be available Monday. ~~~~~ Dear readers, as is so often the case, the President's position contradicts recent polls -- a December Bloomberg poll found that 53% of Americans think race relations have worsened under Obama, compared with 36% who say they have stayed the same and 9% who say they have improved. A more recent survey by CNN/ORC found that 57% of white Americans saying there's little or no prejudice by police against blacks, but only 25% of non-whites holding that view. The President's optimism on race relations came one day after first lady Michelle Obama and the President detailed racial prejudice they'd experienced. Michelle told People magazine : "I think people forget that we've lived in the White House for six years. Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the south side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs." The President added : "There's no black male my age, who's a professional, who hasn't come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn't hand them their car keys." Sometimes it seems like President Obama says what he thinks his audience of the moment wants to hear - and if that disagrees with what his next audience wants to hear, Obama seems to have no trouble, or sense of intellectual self-deception, when he contradicts his earlier remarks. Perhaps this is why he often seems so disconnected from reality. He has not learned that pleasing everybody ends in pleasing no one, probably not even himself.

Friday, December 26, 2014

By Calling Jeb Bush "the Frontrunner," Has Rick Perry Quietly Taken Himself Out of the 2016 Presidential Race?

Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor, announced on December 16 that he will "actively explore" a run for the White House in 2016. Bush said in a Facebook post that he will create a new leadership PAC in January "that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation. The PAC’s purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America." ~~~~~ Jeb Bush would enter the presidential race as a financial powerhouse able to draw on his brother's campaign donors in the conservative and moderate wings of the GOP. Besides his family name, Bush would bring with him a two-term record that is popular with conservative-leaning voters in Florida, as well as expertise on education and strong ties to the Hispanic community. But he would have major weaknesses in what could be a very strong field of Republican presidential candidates. Some grassroots conservatives say they will reject Bush if he runs because of his support of Common Core education standards and comprehensive immigration reform. And Bush made clear early in December that he anticipates friction with the conservative base if he seeks the nomination. Bush explains that he thinks he should be able to lose primaries in order to preserve his more moderate principles, which he believes are needed to "win the general [election]." Bush says that after their November mid-term election victories, Republicans now have the opportunity “to actually show that we can, in an adult-like way...govern, lead.” Allies of Hillary Clinton, the as-yet unannounced front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2016, have been forcefully making the point that they think Bush would be a formidable opponent -- because of his organization, access to donors, record as Florida governor and continuing popularity there in what is a key presidential swing state, and his credibility with the Hispanic community. ~~~~~ Jeb Bush's preliminary moves toward a 2016 presidential run affects certain potential GOP candidates more than others. Senator Marco Rubio, because he is, like Bush, a Florida Republican, has been seen as withdrawing if Bush enters the race. But Senator Rubio, who has Cuban roots because his parents migrated to America to escape the Castro regime, has made a forceful stand against President Obama's opening up of US-Cuba relations, and has recently said that Jeb Bush's presence in the field of GOP presidential hopefuls will not influence his own decision about running in 2016. Rubio said he will stay on course to decide early next year about his own possible run. ~~~~~ The other possible 2016 GOP candidate who would heavily feel the impact of a Jeb Bush candidacy is Texas Governor Rick Perry. Governor Perry has several problems if he decides to run -- his humiliating withdrawal from the 2012 field after a dismal showing in the GOP presidential candidate debates, his inability to compete with a Bush family member for major Texas donors, and his indictment under Texas law for abuse of power in trying to get a Democrat county attorney to resign after a "driving while intoxicated" conviction. But, interestingly, Governor Perry made a comment this week that supports the Jeb Bush candidacy, calling Bush "probably the front-runner" in the 2016 race for the White House, according to the Washington Times. Perry told radio host Hugh Hewitt : “Jeb’s a good man, a good friend. He was a good governor. You know, him getting in the race, I think, helps the field. I would suggest to you he’s probably, since he said what he said, he’s probably the front-runner at this particular point in time.” The two men disagree on some issues, including the federal Common Core educational standards, which Bush has championed and Perry opposes. But, Perry welcomed Bush to the race. Perry also criticized Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic candidate who leads in some early presidential polls, by taking aim at her tenure as Secretary of State. Perry said that Clinton and her boss, President Barack Obama, both did a "miserable" and "feckless" job of managing global affairs, and presided over numerous "foreign policy debacles." Perry said : “She's got a lot of questions about her performance, about the positions she’s had whether it’s Benghazi, or whether it’s allowing the Iranians to head towards a nuclear weapon.” Perry said of Clinton that "there’s a difference between traveling a lot and making good decisions, and I think that’s going to be the real question." ~~~~~ Dear readers, Governor Perry made strong points about Hillary Clinton, but his labeling Jeb Bush as "the frontrunner" certainly weakens his own position. Does Rick Perry think he can overcome Jeb Bush's advantages because of his own greater appeal to the GOP conservative base, or is Perry actually acknowledging that, with or without Jeb Bush as a rival, his position is so weak in a strong field that he knows he has little chance of garnering the 2016 GOP nomination ans so is now going to focus on cabinet level jobs -- in several of which his record as Texas Governor suggests he would be excellent -- Secretary of Energy or of Commerce come to mind.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas 2014

Wishing all my friends and readers a Happy Hanukkah, as it comes to its end for 2014, and a very Merry Christmas. May this season of family and friendship fill you and your loved ones with joy and peace.

Peace on Earth

On this special evening when the world awaits...remembering the Babe of Bethlehem and His message of Peace and Love. "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth Peace, Good will toward men." ___Luke 2:8-14.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Is the US Economy Breaking Out of the Doldrums to Lead World Growth

The US economy grew at a startling 5% annual rate in the third quarter, the fastest since 2003, led by consumer and business spending. The surge, which shocked many Wall Street analysts, seems to confirm that the American economy is steadily improving and doing much better than others around the world -- Europe and Brazil are struggling to avoid recession and return to growth, Japan has slipped into recession, China is struggling to manage its economic slowdown, and Russia has predicted a recession for 2015. The Dow Jones industrial average rose above 18,000 today, for the first time in history. And it could shape the Federal Reserve's decision about when to raise interest rates from record lows. ~~~~~ What were the Wall Street numbers today? The Dow Jones gained 64.73 points to end the day at 18,024.17 and the S&P 500 Index rose 0.2% to a record 2,082.17. Bloomberg reported that its Dollar Spot Index jumped to a five-year high as US oil surged 3.4%. The US economy expanded at an annualized 5% in the third quarter, beating the highest forecast among 75 economists surveyed by Bloomberg, as consumers and businesses spent more than estimated. Bloomberg says "a sustained pickup in US growth may anchor the global economy as Europe flounders and emerging markets, including China, cool." The annualized US growth rate was revised up from a previous estimate of 3.9%, the biggest advance in gross domestic product since the third quarter of 2003. While consumer spending rose more than previously estimated in the 3rd quarter, orders for US durable goods and purchases of new US homes unexpectedly declined in November. ~~~~~ What is driving the surge in the US economy? Much of the 3Q2014 increase came from consumer spending on health care and business spending on structures and software. An 88-straight-day fall in gasoline prices played a big part, freeing up money for Americans to spend on other things like cars, clothes and appliances. The 3rd quarter's economic expansion followed a 4.6% annual rate in the April-June quarter. The government separately reported Tuesday that in November, consumer spending rose at the fastest rate in three months and income at the fastest in five months. Both figures raised hopes for the 2015 economy. Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group told AP : "After four years of anemic recovery, the US economy is now hitting its stride, with a notable acceleration in growth in recent quarters. And growth should remain good next year, with lower gasoline prices a big plus for consumers." The University of Michigan said its index of consumer sentiment found that US consumers were more optimistic about the economy than at any time in the past eight years, but low gasoline prices don't seem to make up for lingering job weakness, a reason why the 3rd quarter housing sector was in negative territory. On another less than optimistic note, the University of Michigan it said factory orders for durable manufactured goods slumped in November. But it seems very likely that the US economy is showing resurgent strength and putting distance between itself and the rest of the world. ~~~~~ What will be the reaction of the US Federal Reserve to the latest US economic data? After its December meeting, the Fed said that it saw some evidence of continuing weakness in the US economy, leading investors to decide that there would be no rate increase before mid-2015, and so they bought stocks, driving them to record highs. But, the unexpectedly strong expansion reported today may make the Federal Reserve change its position and begin to raise rates as early as the 1st quarter of 2015, even though the Fed's key target, inflation, which it tries to manage to stay at 2% as a minimum, remains well below that at 1.2%. A major reason the Fed has held its benchmark short-term rate near zero since 2008 has been to try to raise inflation from excessively low levels, out of concern that deflation could take hold, causing a downward spiral of prices and wages. But, the Fed's artificially low benchmark interest rate has been criticized by experts who say the longer the rate stays near zero, the more destabilizing the recovery to normal interest rates will be for the economy. Most analysts foresee growth around 3% in 2015. That would still be the strongest expansion since the economy grew 3.3% in 2005, two years before the Great Recession began. But many other economists think growth is set to accelerate as more businesses have grown confident about hiring. The country is on track to have its healthiest year for job growth since 1999. In November, employers added 321,000 jobs, the sharpest one-month increase in three years. This would be a strong driver for the US economy, With more people working and with paychecks to spend, solid gains are expected in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of the economy. Third quarter consumer spending grew at a 3.2% rate, the best showing this year and a full 1% above the government's estimate. Business investment spending rose at a 7.2% annual rate, 2.1% above the government's previous estimate. Today's estimate was the government's third and final look at 3rd quarter growth in gross domestic product - the value of all goods and services produced in the United States. ~~~~~ Dear readers, if we can put aside the federal government's seeming effort to bolster the Obama presidency by inflating all sorts of economic indicators from jobs and unemployment to GDP and Obamacare enrollment and costs -- these 3rd quarter economic numbers look promising. They follow on from good 2nd quarter numbers, and Wall Street investors and analysts seem ready to believe that they are real. That in itself is a sea change from the past six years when every piece of good economic news was viewed with skepticism, which, by the way, turned out to be right. Today, Wall Street enjoyed the 5% growth number, even through their surprise, and they cheered the Dow as it opened and held above 18,000 all day. Now, we have to wait and see if the optimism sticks. I hope it does because the world badly needs a healthy US economy to lead it out of its wretched, continuing stagnation.

Monday, December 22, 2014

"What is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant." RFK

On Saturday afternoon, NYPD officers Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, were killed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, who approached them at 2:47 p.m. and fired through the passenger-side window of their squad car, explained Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, his voice full of emotion. Brinsley killed himself shortly after the ambush on a nearby subway platform as he was pursued by police. He had shot and seriously wounded his ex-girlfriend earlier Saturday in her Baltimore apartment. Brinsley had made threats on social media about killing police in retribution for Staten Island resident Eric Garner - killed while resisting arrest when he was taken down by an NYPD policeman who used a chokehold, and who should not have been killed, according to many experts - and Ferguson, Missouri, teenager Michael Brown - who was shot while charging a local police officer after being told several times to stop. New York Representative Peter King said Sunday that the case in Staten Island was "supposed to be racial," when in fact "it was an African-American chief of the police department who sent in the police officers at the request of minority business owners. The top-ranking police officer at the scene was an African American female sergeant." Further, while King noted that New York City Mayor de Blasio said he wanted to be notified if there were threats against the police : "the fact is, last week there were thousands of demonstrators in fact, earlier this week, there were thousands of demonstrators chanting they wanted dead cops, they wanted dead cops now." Instead, said King, de Blasio has been supporting the Reverend Al Sharpton, who, King thinks, should not be "elevated" by national and local leaders. Concerning President Obama, King said : "The President's idea of a conversation is to find out how we can make the cops better, assuming that the cops are wrong to begin with....And such opinions create a climate "where you can have mad men...." King thinks that athletic teams who wear shirts denouncing police officers should this week instead wear shirts defending the NYPD to show solidarity with the officers who were killed. ~~~~~ Calling the shootings an "assassination," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Saturday : "It is an attack on all of us." Today at a police luncheon, de Blasio expanded, saying that the killings were an attack on democracy and on every New Yorker. But in the hours after the shooting, the increasing tensions in New York were evident. As Mayor de Blasio approached the podium to make his statement Saturday, police officers turned their backs to him. After de Blasio spoke, police union chief Pat Lynch declared : "There's blood on many hands tonight. That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the Office of the Mayor." Many police officials say the Mayor has betrayed them. He has not stood beside them as protesters have taken to the streets since the grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in Garner's death. Worse, the Mayor said in a press conference after the Garner grand jury decision that he has told his bi-racial son to "take special care" during police encounters. Some police had circulated a petition to request that de Blasio not come to their funeral if they were killed in the line of duty. Meanwhile, outside the hospital where the two police were taken Saturday, one Daily Beast reporter heard expletives yelled and said that some people were saying : "Serves them right because you mistreat people!" Police are saying, "I told you so." Gary McLhinney, a negotiator for police unions, told the Washington Post : "Unfortunately, I don't believe anyone connected to law enforcement is surprised this happened. When our leaders make statements that encourage lawlessness and demean an entire profession, this is the result." ~~~~~ But, again this weekend after the NYPD police officers' murders, sporadic violence erupted in incidents across the city as some 30,000 protesters marched, disrupting traffic and chanting slogans against the grand jury decision and the NYPD. And on Saturday night, a small breakaway group caused a disturbance on the Brooklyn Bridge, reportedly tossing materials onto the roadway below the pedestrian bridge and then assaulting two police lieutenants, leaving both hospitalized, one with a broken nose. ~~~~~ On Monday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, spiritual head of the area’s millions of Catholics spoke out, urging both sides to “tune down the volume and speak calmly” as anger continues to rise. Cardinal Dolan, the charismatic archbishop of 2.6 million Catholics in much of New York City (Brooklyn and Queens are in a separate archdiocese with 1.6 million more Catholic residents), is in many ways in a unique position as a broker of peace in the city, remaining a highly respected religious official among the New York Police Department, many of whose traditions have been formed by the Irish Catholic heritage of New York City and the NYPD. Cardinal Dolan also helped after the Garner death in July, when de Blasio outraged police by giving the Reverend Al Sharpton, a controversial civil rights activist, a prominent place in a forum about police and community relations. The Mayor asked Dolan to host a second meeting with the city’s spiritual leaders before a major protest against Garner’s killing in August - a move that drew “kudos” from the NYPD at the time, who said the Cardinal had respect and credibility among the rank and file. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Rudi Giuliani is one of New York City's mythic mayors. Who will forget his presence the minutes and days after the 9/11 attacks. Giuliani commented this weekend about the Saturday police officer killings : "The officers' deaths were assassinations that came after months of propaganda about how the police are the enemy of the black community." Giuliani said Sunday on Fox News that anti-police propaganda was to blame : "And it's certainly true that we have been treated to about three to four months of propaganda about how the police are the enemy...[about how] the police are the problem...[about how] they are the major problem between the police and the black community." He insisted he does not blame de Blasio directly for the murders, but for "for allowing the protests to get out of control." And, dear readers, what else could we have expected. When large groups of protesters do not immediately separate themselves and their cause from those mingled with them on the street who are shouting "Kill the cops" - and when those same protesters seem to agree because they join in the chant and both verbally and physically abuse police simply trying to allow their protests to proceed - neither they nor anyone else should be surprised if a mentally or emotionally unstable person takes the protesters at their word and actually kills a policeman. That is exactly what happened in New York City on Saturday. NYPD officers Liu and Ramos were shot in the head and killed while they were eating their lunches sitting in their squad car parked on a Brooklyn street. Inevitable. Inexcusable. It is time for President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to prove that they are more concerned about America and its police than about their left-leaning friends, like the Reverend Al Sharpton, who are doing their best to drive American race relations back to 1960. It is time for our President to stop making pious, negatively biased comments about police and speak up for all Americans -- white, Asian, Hispanic, African-American - who are law-abiding citizens trying to hold their families together economically, raise their children to be respectful of everyone, including police ("cop" is a word I was taught never to use because it is disrespectful), who genuinely want all Americans to live together in peace and brotherhood. It is disheartening that 1% of black leaders who are out-of-touch relics from the 1960s civil rights marches are pushing young Americans to take up a long since concluded movement. Today, we need jobs and training for unemployed Americans of all races and ethnic backgrounds so that they can be successfully employed. We need a concerted effort to help black communities govern themselves so that race is removed from the local equation. We need to hear from honorable, thoughtful people of all races about what they see as problems and about their ideas for solving those problems. We do not need mindless protesters shouting to kill police while they attack them. That is not how Dr. King won his battle. That is not how Rosa Parks behaved. That is not what Robert Kennedy put his life on the line for : "What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists, is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents." ___Robert Kennedy.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Clooney, Penn, Obama, Romney - Sony and the First Amendment Brought Them Together

The reaction of President Obama, the FBI and America to the Sony cyber attack is playing like the trailer for a new movie. The extraordinarily public reaction from the highest levels of American government must be compared to far more vital US domestic interests that have taken hits from foreign hackers in recent years, including the military, major banks and makers of nuclear and solar power whose trade secrets were siphoned off with a few clicks. This is not to make light of the Sony Pictures Entertainment case, in which the hackers who hit Sony days before Thanksgiving crippled the network, stole gigabytes of data and spilled into public view unreleased films and reams of private and often embarrassing executive emails. The cyber attack became public when Sony employees logged onto their computers to find a menacing screen message saying they had been hacked by a group calling itself Guardians of Peace. ~~~~~ American politicians and film stars have been very vocal, and have made some strange bedfellows. George Clooney said that the Sony cyber attack is a dangerous challenge to "freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberties." Sean Penn called for a UN meeting for the international community, saying : "Caving to the outside threat, we make our nightmares real. The decision to pull 'The Interview' is historic. It's a case of putting short-term interests ahead of the long term. If we don't get the world on board to see that this is a game changer...we're in a very different world." And one of the first to call for action was Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, who wants Sony Pictures to release its controversial comedy, "The Interview," for free online. Romney tweeted at Sony, "@SonyPictures  don’t cave, fight: release @TheInterview  free online globally Ask viewers for voluntary $5 contribution to fight #Ebola." -- I ask you, when have Mitt Romney, George Clooney and Sean Penn ever agreed on anything? ~~~~~ But it was the very public reaction of the Obama administration Friday that put the Sony cyber attack at the head of every TV news program and newspaper in the world. President Obama revealed what many had suspected : The North Korean government was behind the 'pre-emptive retaliatory' hack. US officials are promising a response, unspecified so far. In what is certainly a first in US presidential commentary vis-à-vis private sector decisions, Obama said on Friday that Sony's decision to pull the movie was "a mistake." The President added : "I wish they had spoken to me first. I would have told them do not get into a pattern in which you're intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks." Truly groundbreaking presidential meddling. ~~~~~ Even in a digital era with an endless cycle of cyber attacks, none has drawn the American public's attention like the Sony breach and its mingling of sensational plotlines : *An isolated dictator in a tiny hermit kingdom in Asia. *Damaging Hollywood gossip leaked from the executive suite. *Cyber terrorist attack threats against Christmas Day moviegoers. *The US President criticizing the Sony decision to withdraw the premiere of the film. *US authorities going public with their case against North Korea. ~~~~~ Why blame North Korea? Experts scoured months of system logs and learned that the attackers had conducted surveillance on the network since spring. Malware detected was similar to DarkSeoul, used in attacks on South Korea banking and media institutions and connected to North Koreans. They found the Internet protocol addresses used, including one in Bolivia that was the same as one in the DarkSeoul hack. They found time zone and language settings in Korean and malware source code that was believed to be held by North Korea. The FBI said clues included similarities to other tools developed by North Korea in specific lines of computer code, encryption algorithms and data deletion methods. Significantly, the FBI discovered that computer Internet addresses known to be operated by North Korea were communicating directly with other computers used to deploy and control the hacking tools and collect the stolen Sony files. The fact that North Korea labeled the release of "The Interview" an 'act of war' provided a motive. Seriously convincing facts.~~~~~ But, North Korea has denied hacking Sony, and today proposed a joint investigation with the US, warning of "serious" consequences if Washington said no. The White House responded by saying that it stands by its conclusion that the cyber attack was carried out by North Korea. While North Korea could have been less belligerent in asking for US help to prove its innocence, it can take some comfort in the cautious FBI announcement Friday. The FBI gave no details on remedies for Sony, no statement holding North Korea responsible for the already-known criminal acts of leaking copyright material, and no demand that North Korea return the stolen data. For the FBI to make such an announcement without suggesting what it will do is extremely unusual. We have no idea why the FBI made the public announcement, how it wants companies to work with it or what it wants the private sector to do about cyber attacks. So, while there has been much sound and fury, so far North Korea is not in an FBI dragnet, although that may be coming. ~~~~~ Dear readers, there are two remarkable aspects of the Sony cyber attack that set it apart from all other successful business hacks. First, there is the President's public criticism of Sony's decision. The White House is trying to walk back President Obama's "a mistake...I wish they had spoken to me" comment. Interviewed Friday by CNN's Candy Crowley, Obama rebutted any notion that Sony consulted with the White House on pulling "The Interview." This came after CNN aired excerpts of a separate interview in which Sony chairman Michael Lynton described reaching out to the administration. But, a source close to the administration took issue with the statement that it advised Sony on the film's release. Crowley said later on-air that Obama told her no one in the White House talked with Sony about pulling the film. "They called about the hacking," Crowley quoted Obama as telling her. In Lynton's earlier CNN interview, he said : "I personally did reach out to senior folks in the White House and talked to them about the situation and informed them we needed help," Lynton told CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Obama told Crowley that had he been approached by Sony, he would have personally talked to the movie theater chains about sticking with the December 25 release date. An unnamed senior administration official said : "There was a meeting, and they did present to the government their issue. But to say that we instructed them, or [led] them to believe that we endorsed the idea of them pulling the film is categorically incorrect. The administration, and no administration, is in the habit of instructing businesses what to do or not do or how to conduct their business." Second, there is the First Amendment free speech issue. Sony's decision to pull the film because of North Korea's cyber attack has a very "chilling effect" on Americans' constitutional right to freedom of speech. There is not a more sacred right than the First Amendment right to freedom of speech (and assembly and religion) and any attack on it is sure to unite all Americans, right, left, and center. Thus, Romney, Clooney, Penn and Obama agreeing. However, the defense of that fundamental right in a world connected by the Internet lies ahead. Americans won the first round against NSA when it was told to refine its "meta-data sweeping" of the Internet and phone lines in the name of anti-terrorist information needs. Now, we must figure out how to keep the Internet open while keeping cyber criminals out of it. The obvious first step is to teach North Korea that hacking doesn't pay -- perhaps by taking away its ability to use US Dollar accounts for its transactions. The White House has asked China to help with North Korea cyber attack solutions. That strikes me as a fox-in-the-hen-house approach. But, let's be open-minded. After all, China would probably not want all the US technology it has helped itself to by hacking into US business computer systems to be made less valuable by being stolen by North Korea hackers.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Rubio Yes, Cuba No -- But Is Guantanamo Obama's Goal?

Florida Senator Marco Rubio spoke to Megyn Kelly on Fox TV yesterday. His core comment on the Obama deal to normalize relations with Cuba was : "What's hurting the Cuban people is not the embargo. What's hurting the Cuban people is the Cuban government. Look, Venezuela's economy looks like Cuba's economy now. You can't even buy toilet paper in Caracas. And there's no embargo on Venezuela. What Venezuela has in common with Cuba, is they both have adopted radical socialist governmental policies. And I would expect that people would understand that if they just took a moment to analyze that, they would realize that the embargo is not what's hurting the Cuban people. It's the lack of freedom and the lack of competent leaders." ~~~~~ Senator Rubio has become the Republican whipping boy for the White House because of his blunt opposition to Obama's latest foreign policy gaff. Yesterday, the White House hit back at Rubio, saying he should back the deal because he supported the confirmation of an ambassador to China earlier this year. White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a news briefing : "One of the leading proponents of this strategy of shutting off funding for the construction of this embassy and appointing an ambassador to Cuba is Senator Rubio, of course." Earnest was answering a question about whether a new embassy would be needed, since American diplomatic personnel now work out of the "US Interests Section" in the Switzerland Embassy in Havana. Earnest was not asked about Rubio's criticism of Obama's Cuba deal. But Earnest took the opportunity to gratuitously belittle Rubio's statements from the confirmation hearing of former Democratic Senator Max Baucus as Chinese ambassador. Earnest hinted that those comments conflicted with his statements about Cuba, saying China has long been under attack for its human rights abuses, but Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted for Baucus's confirmation. Earnest told the press corps : " occurs to me that it seems odd Senator Rubio would be...actively seeking to block the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba when earlier this year he voted to confirm the ambassador to China....The other thing I noticed [was] that, in the context of those hearings, Senator Rubio said something that this administration wholeheartedly agrees with." Earnest read Rubio's remark as the press corps laughed : "I think you'll find broad consensus on this committee and I hope in the administration, that our embassy should be viewed as an ally of those within Chinese society that are looking to express their fundamental rights to speak out and to worship freely." Earnest said : "We think the exact same thing can be said of the new embassy in Cuba." Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, fiercely opposes Obama's plan, a deal reached after 18 months of secret talks brokered by Pope Francis and the Canadian government. Raoul Castro agreed to free American Alan Gross, imprisobed for five years in Havana, in exchange for three Cubans who had been convicted of spying on the United States. The plan includes opening embassies in both countries. Washington ended diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 - two years after Raul's older brother, Fidel Castro, came to power - and a year after the US began its trade embargo. (Note that the embargo was initiated after Fidel Castro's seizure of $7 billion of American-owned assets on Cuba, a point apparently neither dealt with, nor compensation made, in Obama's rush to agreement.) Rubio and many other Republicans and some Democrats bitterly attacked Obama's plan while praising Gross's release. Rubio vowed to use his new position as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee to try to block Obama's efforts : "This notion that somehow being able to travel more to Cuba, to sell more consumer products, the idea that's going to lead to some democratic opening is absurd. But it's par for the course with this administration constantly giving away unilateral concessions…in exchange for nothing." Rubio strongly objected again yesterday, calling it "a victory for oppressive governments the world over," charging that it would "have real, negative consequences for the American people." Rubio said on his website : "since the US severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, the Castro family has controlled the country and the economy with an iron fist that punishes Cubans who speak out in opposition and demand a better future. Under the Castros, Cuba has also been a central figure in terrorism, narco-trafficking, and all manner of misery and mayhem in our hemisphere. The opportunity for Cuba to normalize relations with the US has always been there, but the Castro regime has never been interested in changing its ways. Now thanks to President Obama's concessions, the regime in Cuba won't have to change." ~~~~~ Otto Reich, former US Ambassador to Venezuela who worked with three Republican Presidents and advised President Reagan in Cold War battles between the US and Cuba in Latin America, was even more blunt than Rubio, telling Newsmax : "Cuba's communist leaders must be ecstatic - and a little stunned - over the deal they just got from President Barack Obama because it rewards them handsomely and requires little in return. This is one of the most inexplicable initiatives by a United States administration in the history of foreign policy." Reich said that by re-establishing diplomatic relations, Obama "has thrown a lifeline to a sinking ship where the longest-lasting enemies of the US are standing on the deck : the Castro brothers. Nobody has been in power longer than they have who are still alive," said Reich, referring to Fidel Castro, 88, and his brother and successor as communist Cuba's ruler, Raoul Castro, 84. Reich asked, "Why is he replacing American taxpayers' dollars for the money that the Cubans used to get from the Soviet Union until they ceased to exist, and then [from] Venezuela? Nobody really knows. The Castros cannot believe their luck. Never in their wildest dreams did they think the President of the US would come begging them for an agreement. The word is getting out that the reason the President reached out to Pope Francis was because the Cubans were not responding in the way he wanted them to." Reich doubted that the Pope's intercession had much of an impact : "Raoul Castro did this because he could not believe that he was getting American money, American investment, American trade and American exchange for simply a promise that he was going to be a good boy for the next 10 or 20 years - of course, he's not going to last that long." Reich said there was no reason not to continue to apply pressure and wait for a bankrupt Castro regime to succumb to economic pressures : "When the Soviet Union disappeared, Hugo Chavez stepped in with huge amounts of money - up to 25% of the gross domestic product of Cuba. If the administration would've waited just a little while, we could've negotiated. I'm not against negotiation, but I am against us giving away our bargaining power to a bunch of people who have literally tried to destroy the US." Reich also said Obama had proved himself to be a poor negotiator. "For an 83-year-old general, Raoul Castro, who's not in good health, the head of a bankrupt government, to out-negotiate the President of the US so clearly humiliates him, [and] really undermines the image of the US around the world. People are laughing." Reich speculated that Obama acted out of ideological conviction and political vanity. "The left-wing Obama is coming out now that he's been unshackled from any political requirements. He doesn't have to run anymore, he's lost control of the Congress, and he's not going to get any legislation through the Congress. So he's using his executive authority to reshape the world in the way that he wanted to...but couldn't do it before....He figured, where can he give away the store and look to the leftist side of the world [like] a hero? And that's what he did....He doesn't care what it does to American prestige or our posture in the world." ~~~~~ America and the world are trying to make sense of Obama's inexplicable gambit, but Kelly told Rubio : "we are being told that in some military circles there is concern that the reason may be something to do with the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility." Kelly said the treaty that gave the US control of this part of Cuba and put Gitmo there, says it may be modified if both governments - Cuba and the US - agree.Kelly said Presidents have unilaterally modified other treaties without Congress. ~~~~~ Dear readers, is Obama using Raoul Castro to achieve his first campaign promise - close Gitmo - without asking Congress for the permission he knows he will never get, by acting unilaterally under the treaty, and complying with the Helms-Burton law by leaving the remaining detainees in Raoul Castro's hands.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Obama Cuddles Up to the Cuban Tyrants

As the debate over President Obama's loosening of US-Cuba relations is reported widely, an Industry Week article focuses on the commercial and economic aspects of Obama's effort to lift the trade embargo on Cuba that has been in place for more than 50 years. Among Obama initiatives, the White House said it will expand how much money Americans can send to the impoverished country and open up the flow of US tourists. But investment and trade will remain strictly controlled under laws passed by Congress and Cuba's own restrictions, preventing moves to enter the Cuban market by industries from US hoteliers to oil companies and automakers. Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington estimates that a full thaw in relations could open up $5 to $10 billion in investment into Cuba : "This is only the beginning of a long path to normalization. For the most part, US firms are still blocked, not only by US sanctions, but also by the heavy hand of the state in Cuba." The deal announced by the White House will increase the flow of dollars into Cuba, quadrupling the maximum remittances allowed to $2,000 per quarter, and gives general permission for a broad range of US visitors to the country. It also permits the flow into Cuba of American building materials and agricultural equipment to support the country's tiny private sector. The White House said : "This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state." Obama's action will also allow US banks to set up accounts with Cuban financial institutions to facilitate transfers and the use of US credit and debit cards, which will facilitate more visits to the country, as well as a greater inward flow of dollars. The White House also said that the US telecommunications industry will be permitted to build infrastructure in Cuba for telephone and internet services, improving communications between the two countries. But beyond that, there was little for businesses, because the 50-year-old embargo officially remains in place. ~~~~~ Specifically, President Obama has the power to make significant changes to the embargo and US-Cuba relations without any action from Congress. First, Obama can make sanctions less restrictive in practice by exercising his licensing authority under current laws that give the executive branch the authority to issue licenses that permit US citizens to undertake certain commercial activities and to visit and send money to family members on Cuba. Vox quotes Lawrence Ward, a partner at the law firm of Dorsey and Whitney who specializes in sanctions compliance law, as saying that the President has broad authority to implement various general licenses. So, even if Congress does not act, Obama could ease the embargo, even if, legislatively, it was still in place. For instance, Ward told Vox that "the President has wide latitude in general licenses authorizing travel to Cuba," even though a full repeal of the travel ban could only be accomplished through legislative action. Second, the President can remove Cuba from certain types of sanctions by changing its classification as a "State Sponsor of Terrorism." Technically, the Secretary of State makes that determination, not the President. And, the White House said in a statement that it has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to review whether Cuba should be removed from that list, and submit a report on his conclusions within six months. If Cuba is no longer designated as a sponsor of terrorism, it will no longer be subject to a variety of different sanctions, including restrictions on imports of weapons and "dual-use" technology, and a ban on its government doing business with US citizens and institutions. Finally, Obama has wide latitude in determining whether to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, regardless of whether Congress grants him permission. The Constitution specifically grants the President the authority to send and receive ambassadors, and this is generally interpreted to include the authority to recognize foreign governments. But, officially and completely ending the embargo would require congressional action. The embargo is supported by several federal laws, including the Trading With the Enemy Act and the 1996 Helms-Burton Act that keeps the embargo in place until Cuba has a democratic government and the Castro brothers, Raoul and Fidel, are out of government. The President can't repeal those laws unilaterally - he needs Congress to do it. Congress also controls the "power of the purse," which may complicate plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the incoming chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has already pledged to block all funding for a new embassy in Cuba. Congressional action on the Cuba embargo is not likely to happen anytime soon. ~~~~~ So, what can Congress do to stave off the full implementation of Obama's Cuba normalization plan? Congress can : (1). deny Obama funds to reopen an embassy in Havana, (2). stall the nomination of a potential ambassador, (3). vote down a bill to open up travel more widely, and (4). ignore requests from the White House to lift the 50-year-old embargo. When Republicans control the Senate next year, the party would be in a good position to carry out some of their plans. Speaker John Boehner said : “Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner. There is no ‘new course' here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalize its people and schemes with our enemies.” Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would defer the upper chamber’s response to Cuba policy changes to Rubio. ~~~~~ Dear readers, today's media defense of Obama's steps to normalize relations with Cuba has taken two tacks. First, liberal politicians and media analysts point out the suffering of average Cubans under the Castro regime. Undoubtedly true. But, dealing with Cuba will largely benefit the Cuban power elite. Even the progressive Democrat Jimmy Carter said yesterday that he had been in the Cuba homes of Raoul and Fidel Castro and he said "they are not suffering." And nobody today has taken note of the food and medicine long since provided to Cuba by America or the pre-Obama permission to send money from America to help family members still in Cuba - money needed because the Castro regime has wrecked the Cuban economy, under which the average monthly wage is US$ 20. The second argument for rapprochement with Cuba is that it is much like President Nixon's approach to China. I'm not sure why the American experience with China should be viewed favorably. What has the US effort in China gained? A manipulated Chinese currency that has allowed a flood of cheap and often defective goods to be sold in America - the demand that US companies with affiliates in China share their patented technology, leading to the Chinese stealing and copying of valuable US patented trade secrets - no easing of the Chinese gulags where political dissidents disappear into black holes of torture and death - and strict control and censorship of the Chinese people's use of the Internet and social media. This last seems to include the likelihood that even if North Korea hacked Sony and stopped the release of "The Interview" film, it was carried out not from North Korea but through China. Is this Obama's dream for Cubans? Continued political repression, torture, severe censorship and extreme poverty? Because if China is the model, that will be the result in Cuba. America and freedom will lose. Tyranny will win. President Reagan had the plan that worked -- spend militarily and force economic collapse on the tyrants. That is how Soviet Communism was defeated, not by cuddling up to the tyrants.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Iran, and Now Cuba -- Did Obama Skip 'Negotiating 101'?

President Barack Obama announced today that the US is beginning talks to normalize full diplomatic relations with Cuba. A senior administration official called it “the most significant changes to our Cuba policy in more than 50 years.” The White House will also re-establish an embassy in Havana in the coming months. Another senior official said : “We believe the policy of the past has not worked.” The official said that the President “has long believed that engagement is a better tool than isolation.” The move seems to be tied to the release of both Alan Gross, a US AID worker who has been jailed in Cuba for more than five years, as well as a US intelligence asset who has been imprisoned for nearly 20 years. The historic changes to Cuba policy will include easing travel restrictions to the country for Americans, with the administration saying it will permit every type of travel possible under existing legislation, but which may not include broad tourist travel. The administration cannot completely lift the travel ban, which would require an act of Congress, but a senior administartion official said they will be "authorizing as much travel as we possibly can." That includes broadening qualifications under a dozen existing categories, which should create only a minor logistical hurdle for travelers seeking to visit Cuba. The administration is also authorizing new exports to the country, and quadrupling the amounts American citizens can both import from and send to Cuba. Travelers to Cuba can now bring home $400 worth of goods, with a cap of $100 on tobacco and alcohol products. US banks will be allowed to establish accounts in Cuba, and American visitors will be allowed to use their credit and debit cards while visiting the island. Telecommunications providers will be allowed to build telecom and Internet services in Cuba, and the State Department will immediately launch a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of terrorism. In addition, the administration is lifting the export ban on some building materials, agricultural equipment, and goods for Cuban private sector entrepreneurs. The White House said the changes “will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.” The new policies were the result of months of negotiations, sealed in a 45-minute phone call Tuesday between President Obama and Cuban President Raoul Castro. US officials say Obama authorized the exploratory discussions with Havana in the spring of 2013, and high-level talks between the President’s National Security Council and Cuban officials began in Canada in June 2013. In those talks, the US stressed that it would only be willing to make the changes with the release of both Gross, who was jailed for taking Internet equipment to the islandin a botched Obama intelligence foray, and the intelligence asset, who helped identify high-level Cuban spies within the US government during the Cold War. The Cuban government is also releasing 53 political prisoners identified by the United States. In exchange, the US is returning three Cubans who were convicted of spying on anti-Castro organizations in Miami. The negotiations in Canada accelerated after a personal appeal to both Obama and Castro in a letter from Pope Francis. The Pope urged the leaders to free the prisoners, and this fall the Vatican hosted a high-level meeting where the final details were hammered out. ~~~~~ The United States and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations since 1961 and the US has maintained its trade embargo on the island, 90 miles (140 km) south of Florida, for more than 50 years. Obama said he would ask Congress to lift the embargo, but the President will face resistance on this from both Republicans and Democrats. While a growing number of US lawmakers favor more normal ties with Cuba, most of them Democrats, after the GOP sweep in the November midterm election, Republicans will control both houses of Congress in January. Senator Marco Rubio, an American Republican whose parents escaped Cuba, said he would use his role as incoming chairman of a key Senate Foreign Relations sub-committee to try to block the plan and was committed to doing all he could to "unravel" it. ~~~~~ There are 1.5 million Cuban Americans, many living in South Florida. The first and second generations of these refugees who fled the terrors of the Commuist Castro regime, suffered great hardship in settling and rebuilding their lives and establishing families in America, and they are now the grandparents and parents of a generation of Americans who make a large contribution to all sectors of Florida's culture and economy. They are proud of their Cuban heritage, but they are profoundly opposed to the Castro regime. Today, they gathered in Cuban neighborhoods in Miami as news of the Obama policy change spread. They were happy to see Alan Gross released but generally opposed to normalizng relations with Cuba while the Castro-led government is still in place. ~~~~~ Cuba under the Castro regime remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent, according to the Human Rights Watch 2013 report. The HRW report said that in 2012, the government of Raoul Castro continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile. In 2010 and 2011, the Cuban government released dozens of political prisoners on the condition that they accept exile in exchange for their freedom, but HRW says : "the government continues to sentence dissidents to one-to-four-year prison terms in private summary trials and detains others for extended periods without charge. The Castro regime also relies increasingly on arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions to restrict the basic rights of its critics, including the right to assemble and move freely." Cuban law limits freedom of expression, association, assembly movement, and the press. Concerns have also been expressed about the operation of due process. According to HRW, even though Cuba, officially atheist until 1992, now "permits greater opportunities for religious expression than it did in past years, and has allowed several religious-run humanitarian groups to operate, the government still maintains tight control on religious institutions, affiliated groups, and individual believers." In the period from 1961 to 1987, an estimated 15,000 political dissidents were executed. That number has fallen but today no one is sure how many political dissidents are detained or executed. The Castro regime reports that there are 214 political prisoners but there is no way to verify actual numbers. ~~~~~ Dear readers, because of a long list of misstatements, lies and politically expedient acts, and more recently by executive actions such as immigration reform meant to bypass a normally-sought congressional agreement, President Obama has so badly damaged his credibility with the American people that no matter what he does, his honesty is questioned. Today's action by the President to normalize relations with Cuba to the extent possible by executive action is yet another questionable act. It fits into his lame duck period, following the November midterm elections in which he lost control of the Senate and thus is facing a totally Republican Congress. Obama had promised the Hispanic community since 2008 that he would revamp immigration law -- he waited until the last election concerning him had passed to act, and without consulting Congress, which raises constitutional questions. Today, America and Cuban Americans learned that President Obama has acted to normalize relations with Cuba -- predictably, without consulting Congress. That Pope Francis was key to the diplomatic agreement does not eliminate the need for Obama to talk to congressional leaders before acting. As a result, and also because normalizing relations with Cuba is a very contentious issue in America and its Congress, with many Democrats and Republicans fiercely opposing it, the President will find it very tough going when he goes to Congress for funding for his executive initiatives and for a lifting of the Cuba embargo, something only Congress can do. Congress will certainly ask what Cuba is giving in return for Obama's extremely generous gifts to the repressive Communist Castro regime. Obama's answer will be "not much." As with the lifting of the Iranian economic sanctions, President Obama gives and gives but receives "nada, niente, rien, nothing." Obama must have skipped "Negotiating 101" in law school.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Saudi Arabia Handles US Foreign Policy Better than Obama

Today, the news is filled with two topics : the continuing fall of oil prices and the near-collapse of the ruble, the Russian currency. But few commentators have pointed out is that The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia controls oil prices and, therefore, to a great extent, the ruble's value, too. Saudi Arabia began the oil price war when it convinced the OPEC oil producer cartel not to lower production when the effect of rapidly increasing US shale oil production had reduced America's dependence on Saudi Arabian and other OPEC oil, thus beginning the downward movement of oil prices. Saudi Arabia had a simple plan -- flood the world market with cheap oil, thereby driving high-cost oil producers, that is American shale oil producers, to halt oil production and go back to buying low-cost Saudi oil. Saudi Arabia made the calculated bet that it could, if necessary, subsidize its low-cost production until the high-cost producers were forced to shut down. The bet is working. Oil has fallen from $110 to $60 and the highest-cost shale oil producers are shutting in production facilities. Saudi Arabia is winning its economic bet. ~~~~~ But, the side effects of the Saudi game plan are as much political as economic. Let's focus on this aspect of the current Saudi Arabia oil price war. If oil prices remain low into the first half of 2015, the effect on rogue governments, such as Russia and Venezuela, will be devastating, while western economies and China will benefit. Cheap oil may even push Europe out of its stagnating economic doldrums. While Saudi Arabia’s actions address the shale oil rush in America, both the US and Canada, the Kingdom's greater political motivation is elsewhere. ~~~~~ IRAN. Saudi Arabia is the leader of sunni Islam. Its oil bet was surely also meant to break the economic back of Iran, the dangerous rogue shiite leader. The Saudis must believe, based on six years of unhappy experience, that they cannot rely on the US to contain the imminent threat that Iran poses, and so Saudi Arabia has quietly taken up the leadership role of containing Iran, something US-backed weak sanctions couldn’t do. Iran reportedly needs oil prices at $130 to $140 per barrel to meet its economic needs. At $60, Iran's economy begins to teeter and it may be forced to do several things -- reduce social services, get out of Iraq and drastically reduce its support for the shiite Iraqi government, and/or go to the nuclear negotiating table ready to comply with worldwide demands that it abandon its nuclear enrichment program -- all good outcomes from both Saudi Arabia's and Western viewpoints. ~~~~~ RUSSIA. As a long term supporter of both Iran and Syria, Russia is no friend of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis want the al-Assad regime in Syria to go. Moscow props up al-Assad, but for how long if Russia's currency continues to feel the two-pronged attack of low oil prices forced by Saudi Arabia and the sanctions imposed because of Russian President Putin's aggression in Ukraine and Crimea. Saudi's continued flooding of the oil market with low-cost oil has driven Russia's income, 1/3 of which is based on sales of its own oil, to a level that makes any aggressive action by Putin less likely -- but, of course, we must remember that Putin could always surprise the world by striking out in Ukraine or shutting off gas to Europe. The ruble has fallen from 35 to 1 US Dollar in June to 70 to 1 today - a disastrous six-month fall that is extraordinary in currency valuations. The ruble actually fell to 80 to 1 early today before the Russian Central Bank raised from 10% to 17% the interest it is willing to pay to anyone willing to deposit funds with it. Russia must now decide, much like Iran, how to survive with much less money in its coffers. And we must ask how Putin will maintain the pricing in his energy sales contracts with China when China can easily buy much less expensive oil and gas on the world market. Indeed, will Putin be able to afford the pipelines he has committed to build for deliveries both to China and customers in southeast Europe. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it seems that Saudi Arabia has taken charge of a large chunk of Obama's failed foreign policy initiatives. The Kingdom may, through the simple plan of driving down oil prices, accomplish what Barack Obama has never been able to do -- contain Iran's terrorist support and force it to shut down its nuclear enrichment program, as well as force Vladimir Putin to behave in a more civilized manner. AND, in the process, if it succeeds, Saudi Arabia will have made Israel safer than it has been in many years. So, the next time you're buying cheaper gasoline, give a nod and thank-you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What Can We Learn from the Sydney Hostage Taking

Seventeen hostages were held for more than 16 hours in Sydney's Lindt Chocolat Cafe by a gunman who had a flag bearing an Islamic declaration of faith that has been used by jihadists. Sydney police say three people have died, including the gunman, during the hostage crisis that ended when officers stormed the downtown cafe. Police said the gunman was killed in a confrontation with police early Tuesday morning and that a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman also died. Four other people were injured. Heavily-armed police entered the cafe after they heard a number of gunshots from inside, according to New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, who said during a news conference that "police decided to enter because they believed that at that time, if they didn't enter, there would have been many more lives lost." It is not yet clear whether the two killed hostages were caught in crossfire, or shot by the gunman. Among the four wounded was a police officer shot in the face. ~~~~~ International media have described the gunman as a "lone wolf" well-known to local authorities because of his one-man street protests and serious criminal charges under New South Wales law. Media have named him as Man Haron Monis, 50, a self-proclaimed Moslem cleric who was previously convicted of writing hate letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. He was later charged with the sexual assault of a woman in 2002. NSW police say the gunman's act was not a concerted terrorism event or act. "It's a damaged goods individual who's done something outrageous," his former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. His beliefs are "just so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness," Conditsis said. ~~~~~ Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said : "It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation." Lindt Australia thanked the public for its support : "Our prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families," the company wrote in a Facebook post Australia has been on high alert in its three largest cities - Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane - since September when jihadist threats surfaced. One man arrested during a series of raids in Sydney was charged with conspiring with an ISIS leader in Syria to behead a random person in downtown Sydney. ~~~~~ International media has also been highlighting messages of solidarity to Moslems by Australian social-media users offering to accompany anyone who felt intimidated on public transit. The Twitter hashtag "IllRideWithYou" had been used more than 90,000 times by early Tuesday, as tweeters tried to allay fears of anti-Islamic attacks on Australia's streets. The #IllRideWithYou hashtag has now gone global, with uses being reported in the US, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It started when Sydneyite Rachael Jacobs wrote on Facebook that she had seen a woman on the train remove her headscarf and offered to walk with her. Kristen Boschma, a social media manager in Melbourne, printed out a sticker with the hashtag and stuck it on her bag. Her photo of the sticker was retweeted hundreds of times. That spurred a Twitter campaign in which users offered to travel on public transit with those in Islamic dress who felt insecure. Users were encouraged to supply details of their travel routes to ensure their online gestures were practical. Boschma said she wanted to send a message of support "not just for the Moslem community, but for anyone who feels a bit scared or insecure about taking transport or being out and about." Boschma said she hoped the siege would prove "galvanizing rather than polarizing" for Australia. ~~~~~ Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it well : " Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society" that won't change because of what happened in Sydney. And, indeed, the act of Man Haron Monis seems to be that of a mentally unstable individual who was a copycat seeking attention and possibly acceptance by ISIS, whom he wrote he followed on his Facebook page. That does not make ISIS less responsible for the violence and death that stalked Sydney. But it was heartening to hear Professor Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, the Australian Grand Mufti of Islam, issue a statement on behalf of the Moslem community : "The Grand Mufti and the Australian National Imams Council condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam," the statement read. The Arab Council of Australia also issued a statement saying it was "horrified" by the hostage taking. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the Sydney incident made me think, and not for the first time, of the four Iraqi children, all under 15, who were beheaded by ISIS because they refused to convert to Islam. We should always be cautious in accepting as true every horror story coming out of the Middle East. Some are internet hoaxes, but the report of the four children's beheadings has been published by the UK Daily Telegraph and confirmed by the Reverend Canon Andrew White, head of the only Anglican church in Iraq. White described in a recent interview some of the atrocities committed against Iraqi Christians by ISIS, including the beheading of the four children who told their killers, “We love Yeshua [Jesus], we have always loved Yeshua.” Canon White, known as the “Vicar of Baghdad” because of his church there, St. George’s, talked about the murders during an interview in Israel this month with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Canon White, who was being hunted by ISIS jihadists in Iraq, was ordered to go to Israel several weeks ago by his religious superior, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in part because Canon White has multiple sclerosis that somewhat impairs both his speech and his ability to walk. White told CBN that it has become "impossible" for Christians to live in northern Iraq, which has fallen under ISIS control. In 2003, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Today, there are 250,000 - and many of them have been driven out of their homes in northern Iraq. ~~~ We still have not heard any concerted Middle East condemnation of the ISIS effort to eradicate Christianity in Iraq and Syria. It speaks volumes about the indoctrinated docility of Middle East Moslems, as well as of their fear of ISIS. The tough stand of the Australian Grand Mufti is perhaps a lesson for us Christians. It is not all of Islam that favors or condones by its silence the radical terrorist political Islam of ISIS. It is a characteristic of Middle East Islam, kowed by a lack of political freedom and a history of tryannical sectarian leaders fighting each other for territorial conquest.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, the GOP's Hamlet and Don Quixote, Are Seriously Out of Control

Houston, we have a problem. But it's not about a spaceship. It's about politics. Republican politics. ~~~~~ First, we've been listening to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tell us he may decide to run for President in 2016, but he hasn't decided yet because he has to figure out how to win GOP primaries without compromising his principles. Now, Jeb says it’s about a "realistic assessment of whether the journey he wants to travel is compatible with winning a primary,” according to Al Cardenas, a longtime friend who was the Florida GOP chairman when Jeb Bush was Governor. Though he is deeply conservative on some issues such as taxes and abortion, in other ways, Bush - culturally and philosophically - is out of step with the grass-roots activists who now are the base of the Republican Party. Jeb says he is anti-abortion and against gay marriage, but he wants Republicans to find consensus with Democrats, especially on fiscal issues. And he has pushed for an immigration overhaul that would include a path to citizenship for people who are here illegally, and he also has championed the Common Core educational standards, two red-flag issues among Republican activists. Jeb has been told by James Baker, among others, according to the New York Times, that he should push ahead staying true to his principles and yet, somehow, seize the GOP nomination EVEN IF HE CAN'T WIN THE GOP PRIMARIES, controlled by conservative Republicans - primaries that would give him the convention delegate count he will need to have any chance of being nominated. The way I see it, these people are smoking rope -- if Jeb Bush wants the GOP presidential nomination, he must either accept the basic principles of the GOP base or convince them that his views are better. Either way, it will require that Jeb get his hair messed up and his suit rumpled in the GOP primary battles. There is no other way. Forget stealing the nomination on the convention floor after somebody else has done the work and won the delegates. It ain't gonna happen.The GOP went through the stolen-convention scene in 1964 and it was a disaster. Suck it up, Jeb, and get in or get out of the way. ~~~~~ And, while Jeb plays Hamlet, a second scenario is playing out in the Senate, where Texas Senator Ted Cruz has apparently burned his law books and Senate Rules book in favor of Don Quixote. Cruz snatched defeat from the jaws of victory without so much as an apology to the GOP leaders who had worked hard and long to forge a bi-partisan consensus permitting the unopposed passage of the $1.1 trillion budget bill. Democratic liberals were upset about the repeal of a banking regulation and Republican conservatives were unhappy that it failed to challenge Obama's immigration moves. But the Senate leaders held them in line. Until, without consulting anyone except Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul, Cruz began to demand procedural votes that allowed the Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid, to take one last stand as outgoing head of the Senate, thus unraveling the bi-partisan agreement to give the Senate the weekend off and defer the passage of the bill until early this coming week. Instead, Reid called a daylong Saturday session to ask for consideration of Obama appointees, including judges, something that, without Ted Cruz's intervention, would have been left to the Republican Senate in January, with a very different outcome assured. Asked if Cruz had created an opening for the Democrats, Senator Orrin Hatch said, "I wish you hadn't pointed that out." ~~~~~ Dear readers, with friends like Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, the GOP doesn't need enemies. The Republican Party desperately needs a leader -- not Speaker Boehner or Senate Leader McConnell, whose job plates are full to overflowing -- but someone, may I say a Mitt Romney, to bring order and consensus to a party that has for too long been leaderless.