Saturday, January 31, 2015

Now Is the Time for Merkel to Assume Full Responsibility as Europe's De Facto Leader

THE FACTS. Greece has a debt of €315bn - about 175% of GDP - despite creditors writing down debts in a renegotiation in 2012. The average monthly Greek wage is €600 ($690). Unemployment is at 25%, with youth unemployment at 53%. The Greek economy has shrunk by 25% since the start of the eurozone crisis. Greece's debt is 175% of GDP. Greece has borrowed €320 billion from the EU, ECB and IMF. That was the problem facing the Greek electorate when they voted for the political party that understood their unsupportable suffering at the hands of the eurozone, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is driven by the desire to use structural reform and austerity to solve Greece's - and the eurozone's - problems. We asked several days ago if Merkel had the capacity to treat Greece in a civilized manner. Here is today's answer.~~~~~ DENIAL OF THE FACTS. Merkel has ruled out further debt cuts for Greece from its creditor nations, putting Greece’s new government on a potential collision course with the EU. Her unyielding statement came as Syriza insists that it will make good on its promises to halve the country’s debt obligations, while scrapping a range of choking budget measures imposed in exchange for the loans. Greece has refused to cooperate with the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund - the Troika overseeing the loans. Instead, the new Greek government will meet with individual creditor nations to seek concessions that are vital if Greece is to emerge from depression. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will visit Cyprus, Italy and France next week but has no plans to visit Germany, which fiercely opposes unilateral negotiations. Merkel is adamant that eurozone creditor nations must stand fast on Greece’s debt. In a Friday interview, she said Athens had already been forgiven billions of euros by private creditors : “I don’t see a further debt haircut.” The previous day, German finance minister Schaeuble told Die Welt : “If I were a responsible Greek politician, I wouldn’t lead any debates over a debt haircut.” However, Merkel insists that she does not want Greece to leave the eurozone : "The aim of our policy was and is that Greece remains permanently part of the euro community. Europe will continue to show its solidarity with Greece, as with other countries hard hit by the crisis, if these countries carry out reforms and cost-saving measures." Schaeuble warned Greece about its negotiation tactics on writing off debt : "There's no arguing with us about this, and what's more we are difficult to blackmail." ~~~~~ COMING CONFRONTATION. Greece's current loan program ends on 28 February. A final bailout tranche of €7.2 billion still has to be negotiated, but Tsipras has refused to meet with the Troika. Greece's new prime minister has insisted his country will fulfill all its loan obligations to creditors and he has appointed private bank Lazard to advise him. In a prepared statement, Tsipras said : "I am absolutely confident that we will soon manage to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, both for Greece and for Europe as a whole. No side is seeking conflict and it has never been our intention to act unilaterally on Greek debt." Tsipras said his commitment to end austerity and restart growth in Greece "in no way entails that we will not fulfill our debt obligations to the ECB and the IMF." Yet, with the Greek reality staring at them, the northern European power structure has issued inflexible warnings to Greece that Greece’s triumphant leftists must pay the country’s debts and stick to the letter of the hated 'Memorandum’ imposed by creditors. If premier Alexis Tsipras breaches the terms of the Troika bail-out -- signed by earlier Greek leaders under duress, and deemed unjust in Athens -- Europe will cut off €54 billion of support for the Greek banking system and force the country out of the eurozone. ~~~~~ THE FACE OF THE FUTURE. Germany's repetition of its desire to keep Greece in the eurozone stems from its worry that if concessions were granted to Greece, other struggling EU member states would make similar demands. This week, tens of thousands of people have marched through Madrid’s streets in a show of strength by Spain’s fledgling radical leftist party Podemos ("We Can"), that hopes to repeat the success of the Syriza party in Spanish elections later this year. However, Germany has apparently convinced France to follow its tough line on debt relief. Yesterday, French President Hollande and Merkel had dinner in Strasbourg, and a source close to the French president’s office told Reuters that Hollande and Merkel agreed that it is important to respect the choices of the Greek people and for Greece to respect its commitments to the holders of its debt. "There is a need for dialogue and exchange to better understand the intentions of the Greek government,” the source said. But, in an attempt to break the consensus among eurozone nations, the new Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is meeting with his French counterpart, Michel Sapin, in Paris. Varoufakis seemed to rule out agreeing to the wishes of eurozone creditors : “We are not prepared to carry on pretending and extending trying to enforce an unenforceable program which for five years now has steadfastly refused to produce any tangible benefits.” Varoufakis told the BBC : "The disease that we're facing in Greece at the moment is that a problem of insolvency for five years has been dealt with as a problem of liquidity." ~~~~~ THE PROBLEM THAT WILL NOT GO AWAY. In 2012, German politicians declared that the euro crisis was over. Germany and the European Union, they said, had weathered the storm. Today, we know that the German euphoria was one more mistake in a continuing crisis in which Greece is the poster child. Even before the Syriza victory in Greece, it was clear that the crisis could worsen, although EU central bank managers and political leaders continued to spin their fairy tale. Austerity - the policy of saving your way out of a lack of demand - does not work. In a shrinking economy, a country’s debt-to-GDP ratio rises rather than falls because the growing debt numerator is divided into a smaller GDP denominator. And undertaking large-cost structural reform in a recession will raise taxes while salaries fall and jobs disappear. France is now enmeshed in such a disaster. What is needed is jobs - but austerity prevents job formation. The eurozone experience with this economic model has resulted in high unemployment, abnormal levels of poverty and lack of confidence in political leaders. The warnings of economists about pending failure and political backlash went unheeded, especially by Merkel’s government that stubbornly clings to its belief that spirit-breaking austerity is the only path to economic recovery. The rest of the EU had little choice but to go along. Now, with Greece’s vote, the backlash has arrived. Sensing what was coming, the Swiss National Bank unexpectedly abandoned the franc’s euro peg. The euro, the SNB’s move implied, remains as fragile as ever. The subsequent decision by the European Central Bank (ECB) to buy more than €1 trillion in eurozone government bonds - a move that was late but necessary - has reduced confidence. If no agreement is reached with the Troika holding 85% of Greece's debt or individual countries holding 15%, Greece will default. What would a Greek default mean for the euro? Nobody knows -- pressure on the euro? a eurozone breakup? And, Germany and prosperous Germans would be at the middle of the crisis. A compromise would result in less austerity, causing somewhat lesser domestic risks for Merkel. And, the Greek election outcome will ripple through Spain, Italy and France, where anti-austerity political sentiment is rising and political pressure on eurozone finance ministers is increasing. It doesn't take a crystal ball to see that the latest chapter of the euro crisis will end Germany’s austerity policy, unless Merkel really wants to take the enormous risk of letting the euro fail. There is no indication that she does, although rumors persist that Germany already has new Deutschmarks printed and ready for use. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the Greek election has already defeated Merkel's austerity strategy for saving the euro. Without growth, structural reform is not possible. That is Greece’s lesson. When will Merkel accept this? Will it take a similar electoral defeat for Spain’s conservatives to force Merkel to face reality? Merkel should act - assume her full leadership responsibility - while she has freedom to manoeuver. Otherwise, she may wake up to an EU of far right and far left governments elected by Europeans fed up with German austerity and determined to scrap the euro and possibly the European Union -- where all her hopes for the euro, the EU and Germany are in tatters.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Europe Is Fragile and Putin Knows It

We are inclined to think that all the world's problems are in the Middle East, and, indeed, some of our greatest challenges and horrors emanate from the region. But there are serious troubles much closer -- in Ukraine and western Europe. ~~~~~ In rebel-held Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, civilians are being killed on both sides as heavy fighting continues for control of the key town, with the Kiev government and Russia-supported rebels fighting over key rail and road junctions. The main rebel stronghold, Donetsk, is being pounded by heavy artillery, including multiple rocket launchers and heavier artillery coming from the direction of the airport, a constant battlefield. A Reuters cameraman in Donetsk reported seeing six bodies. CNN had similar figures, reporting 12 confirmed deaths today. Downtown Donetsk looked like a bombed-out WWII European town in CNN video. Not only Donetsk but also nearby towns are under fierce attack, with rebels encircling government garrisons and cutting off water and electricity supplies. Eight civilians were killed in rocket attacks Thursday. Kiev's military said five of its servicemen had also been killed and 23 wounded in fighting in the past 24 hours, describing the situation in the conflict zone as "hard." "They are repeatedly using Grad missiles, artillery, mortars, tanks and rocket launchers," a spokesman said in a televised briefing. In Debaltseve, east of Donetsk, seven civilians were killed on Friday by separatist shelling of their homes, a regional police chief said in a Facebook post. He also reported another seven civilians killed in and around the town in the previous 24 hours. The heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine torpedoed peace talks set to begin today in Belarus. In fact, the talks were aborted before they began. Rebel delegates flew to the Belarus capital Minsk, only to announce that no talks would take place on Friday and they were flying straight back to Moscow. The past week has been the worst fighting since the ceasefire was signed five months ago, with rebels announcing an offensive that Kiev says amounts to a repudiation of the truce. NATO and Kiev accuse Russia of sending thousands of troops, heavy weapons and tanks to support the rebel advance. Moscow insists it is not directly involved in fighting over territory that the Kremlin refers to as "New Russia." The immediate fear of Kiev and its NATO allies is a looming rebel offensive on Mariupol, a town of 500,000 people, by far the biggest government-held city in the east. It was hit by shelling last Saturday, killing 30 civilians, according to Kiev. The rebels have denied that Mariupol is a target for now. The rebels have said their principal aims currently are to push government guns out of range of their cities and make their positions more secure by "straightening out the front" -- choking off government-held areas and thus making existing rebel areas more defensible. This would nake sense if, as many Western countries suspect, Russia's aim is to achieve a stable "frozen conflict" in eastern Ukraine. The leaders of France and Poland called for EU relations with Moscow to be "rethought." ~~~~~ And, not satisfied with the havoc he has wreaked on Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has again launched fighter jets over the EU. Great Britain summoned the Russian ambassador to explain why two Russian long-range bombers flew over the English Channel on Wednesday, flying dangerously close to passenger planes. The British Typhoon fighters were scrambled to escort the long-range Russian Bear planes - which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons - out of the UK's “area of interest.” The Telegraph reported that its sources said the Russian planes were flying without their transponders turned on, making them invisible to civilian aircraft. Some inbound flights were diverted to avoid potential disaster. The incident was part of an "increasing pattern of out-of-area operations by Russian aircraft", according to the British Foreign Office. A British government source told the Telegraph the move was viewed as "a significant escalation" on the part of Putin because Russian aircraft had previously only dared to fly close to Scotland. The British said the manoeuvre in the English Channel could have been designed to. ‘probe the RAF speed of reaction’ - raising fears that the Russians were looking for weaknesses in the British fighter force. Within seconds of the bombers deviating from their usual flight path, the British quick reaction alert (QRA) jets were scrambled. A defence source said the RAF always‘maintains the highest level of readiness’ just as in the days of Battle of Britain. The Typhoons flew so close to the Russian planes - roughly 1,000ft away - that they could signal to the pilots. A QRA is launched to intercept aircraft that cannot be identified by any other means. In this case, the Russians would either not have filed a flight plan, not transmitted a recognisable surveillance radar code, or failed to talk to air traffic control. ~~~~~ And if we thought that France was one family united against jihadists, we need to rethink. It was bad enough when France learned that the minute of silence for victims of the January Charlie Hebdo massacre, nation's deadliest terror attacks in decades, was not respected by all students. Some children contested it. Some walked out. But when an 8-year old Muslim boy proclaimed, "I am with the terrorists," the alarm bells sounded at full strength. The boy's cry brought into stark relief the divide between mainstream France and a portion of the Muslim population, often from neglected neighborhoods. But the official reaction - hauling the boy into the police station for questioning - also triggered debate, with many seeing it as a sign of mounting hysteria. Put in context, perhaps the French reaction can be understood. More French have embraced jihad in Syria and Iraq than in any other European country - over 1,000. Dozens of these fighters have returned, feeding fears they could turn their battle skills on France. In early January, those fears were realized, as three Frenchmen with links to Islamic extremists went on their rampage. The French government is determined to prevent more bloodshed. This week, it started a "stop jihad" website that mimics the media tactics of ISIS, which lures youth to the battlefront - while, crucially, adding a dose of real-life warnings about what the siren calls from Syria can mean. They range from being killed far from home to having a role in massacres of children. President Francois Hollande held a day-long emergency meeting on Thursday with school officials, associations and mayors of poor suburbs with crime-infested housing projects - widely believed to also be filled with potential jihadists. The government is trying to devise a plan to bridge the divide between the haves and have-nots and bring the values that define French citizenship, notably equality and secularism, to this parallel world. The incident of the 8-year-old boy illustrates how the issues that divide may be seeded long before adolescence. ~~~~~ More? A survey of French adults taken last week by IFOP pollsters for left-leaning magazine Marianne showed that far-right anti-EU znti-immigration Marine Le Pen, leadet of the Front National, would win 29 to 31% of the vote -- up from 26% in the previous survey and more than Hollande -- in the first round of the 2017 presidential election, based on people's current voting intentions. The survey showed Hollande winning 21% and not making it to the second and final round. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe, both of the conservative UMP party, and Hollande's prime minister Manuel Valls would all do better than Hollande, with 23% in the first round, the survey of 983 voters showed. However, Le Pen would not be elected president even in a head-to-head against the weak Hollande, with a highest predicted score of 45% in a second-round run-off, the poll showed. ~~~~~ Dear readers, we have already seen an anti-EU anti-immigration, far left party come to power in Greece. The EU economic stranglehold drove Greek voters to the far left. And today, we saw EU deflation, led by German figures, worsen. Unemployment at an EU 11.5% average, deflation, a devalued Euro making urban political leaders talk about even higher taxes, and genuine fear about the homegrown jihadist menace in their midst, Europe is fragile. The political scene, full of far right and far left parties offering nationalism instead of the EU and an end to most immigration, are challenging mainstream parties in France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Greece and Britain. The time, reminiscent of the 1930s, should make everyone uneasy. Putin is not playing war games. His target is Europe.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Iran Is Stalking Saudi Arabia and Israel

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday rejected the idea that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should delay his controversial speech to Congress. McConnell also vowed action on a bill to tighten Iranian sanctions despite White House opposition. He declined to say when the Iran sanctions bill would be debated. Ten Senate Democrats who support it said Tuesday they want to wait until the March deadline before moving ahead. Concerning Netanyahu, McConnell added : "I think we should go ahead and have the speech because the issue is very timely in this country, and this is an American initiative, not an Israel initiative." The address to a joint meeting of Congress, scheduled without advance notice to the White House, has divided Democrats and caused much public comment. McConnell defended the invitation and dismissed the notion that there had been a breach of protocol, saying : "I'm not sure what the custom is. We now have a new Republican Congress. It has a different agenda in many respects from that of the President. We think the Iran sanctions bill is important and ought to be dealt with in the near future." The Senator's remarks to USA TODAY came as international pressure mounted and political jockeying intensified over Iran's nuclear program. Negotiators face a March 24 deadline to reach an agreement. In Washington, a proposal to levy more sanctions on Teheran if a deal isn't reached has divided Democrats and drawn a veto threat from President Obama. It's expected that Netanyahu will again issue warnings about the threat from a nuclear-armed Iran in his address on March 3. The White House has announced that President Obama won't meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits Washington, citing the closeness of the Israeli elections on March 17. ~~~~~ Meanwhile, Netanyahu said today that it was Iran that stood behind Hezbollah's deadly attack on northern Israel yesterday, in which two Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed while on patrol near the Lebanon border. Netanyahu said : "It is Iran that stands behind the attack on us yesterday from Lebanon,." He was speaking at a memorial marking the first anniversary of the death of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "This is the same Iran that is trying to reach a deal now with world powers that will leave it with the capability of developing nuclear weapons, a deal which we vehemently oppose. We will continue to defend ourselves against every threat, both near and far. Arik (Sharon) understood very well the Iranian regime's character, and what he said then still stands today," Netanyahu added. ~~~~~ What is the Iranian threat to Israel and the Middle East? With bases in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq, Iran has surrounded Saudi Arabia and all the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. This deployment would be forcefully reinforced if an Iranian nuclear weapons program is fully developed. Iran's presumed goal in encircling the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia is to gain control over all Middle East petroleim fields, as well as to control the Palestinian islamic jihadist movement so that it can become the leader in the Israeli-Arab conflict. The Iranians already have Hezbollah positioned on Israel's northern border. They need another terrorist group positioned in Gaza to the south, in order to create an encirclement around Israel. Iran is working hard to achieve its goal -- starting with Hamas. Relations between Iran and Hamas were strained after Hamas refused to support the Syrian al-Assad regime, an Iranian client, when al-Assad began to attack the Syrian rebels. Iran and Hamas need each other. Iran wants Hamas because it does not have many sunni allies left in the region and an alliance with Hamas would give Iran a direct link to sunni Qatar, which supports Hamas, seeibg it as a non-terrorist group.This, in turn, would make it easier for Iran to promote itself as a leader with both shiite and sunni allies, not as the partisan leader of a shiite camp fighting against the Saudi-led sunnis. Hamas, for its part, is desperate for any outside support in the wake of its increasing isolation in the President Abbas-led Palestinian Authority. Hamas is also feeling the heat at home because of its failure to rebuild the Gaza Strip after last summer's war with Israel. Hamas leaders are now hoping that Iran will resume its financial aid to the movement, allowing Hamas to avoid a situation where Palestinians might revolt against it. And Egypt's tight security measures along its border with the Gaza Strip, including demolishing hundreds of smuggling tunnels and creating a security zone, have also squeezed Hamas. ~~~~~ Now, Hamas leaders say they have taken a "strategic" decision to restore their ties with Iran. Ismail Haniyeh, former Hamas prime minister in Gaza, announced recently that Hamas is working toward establishing "open relations" with Iran. Another Hamas leader, Osama Hamdan, announced that the differences between Hamas and Iran have been resolved : "We welcome any party that supports the Palestinian cause. Relations between Iran and Hamas have returned to normal." To appease the Iranians, Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin al-Qassam, issued a rare statement "thanking Iran for providing money and weapons" to Hamas and other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip over the past few years. Hamas knows that improved relations with Iran also means partnering with Teheran's proxy, Hezbollah, with whom Hamas has moved to restore its ties. The commander of Izaddin al-Qassam, Mohamed Deif, last week sent a letter of condolence to Hezbollah chief Hassan for the deaths Hezbollah operatives killed in an Israeli air strike in Syria. In his letter, Deif called on Hezbollah to join forces with Hamas against "the real enemy -- the Zionist entity." ~~~~~ Dear readers, the Hamas-Iran rapprochement is one more sign of Teheran using its Middle East allies to try to destroy Israel. Hamas leaders hope that Iran will resume not only financial aid, but the supply of weapons. Realistically, Iran won't pour money into the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip or for housing for thousands of Palestinian families who lost their homes during the last war. Iran is only interested in making Hamas another Iranian-backed army to be used to attack Israel -- and to pressure Saudi Arabia -- to try to find a weakness, if there is one, that would make the Saudis vulnerable. And-- lest we forget -- Iran's obvious moves are happening at the same time that the Obama administration is busy with another round of talks with Iran over its nuclear program. It should be clear by now that Teheran is using these negotiations to divert attention from its efforts to deepen its tentacles in the Middle East, with the hope of controlling the oil fields and eliminating Israel. Saudi Arabia sees it. Egypt sees it. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner see it. Many Democrats see it. Israel sees it. Why is Barack Obama blind? Or is he? Perhaps he prefers Iran. Or, trotting out Condoleeza Rice and James Baker for Saudi King Salman may suggest that Obama finally realizes just how deeply he has dug himself into a bottomless hole -- and that he sees no way out using his favorite operating mode -- going it alone.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Saudi Arabia - Middle East Keystone Supporting America, Europe and Israel

There are two Middle East stories today that are important because they point to major problems and alignments in the region and beyond, and because they affect Israel and its relations with its neighbors and with the United States. ~~~~~ Missiles fired by the Lebanese Hezbollah group struck an Israeli military convoy on today, killing two soldiers and wounding seven others, the military said. The strike, in an area where Israel, Lebanon and Syria borders touch, was an apparent retaliation for a deadly airstrike attributed to Israel that killed six Hezbollah fighters in Syria earlier this month. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond forcefully. The Israeli aerial and ground assault on Hezbollah positions included 50 artillery shells, according to Lebanese officials. A Spanish peacekeeper was killed in later follow-up incidents in southern Lebanon. The Spanish Defense Ministry identified the dead peacekeeper as Corporel Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, 36. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told reporters he received a phone call from Israel's ambassador to Spain, offering condolences. Celebratory gunfire could be heard in shiite-dominated areas of Beirut, while in some areas, worried parents picked up their children from school and headed for home. In a prepared statement, Hezbollah said the attack, carried out by a group calling itself the "righteous martyrs of Quneitra, destroyed a number of Israeli vehicles that were carrying Israeli officers and soldiers and caused casualties among "enemy ranks." The Israeli military said it responded with fire toward Lebanese positions, and evacuated Israeli visitors from a ski resort in the area. The flare-up in reminiscent of the beginning of the month-long 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, which was sparked by a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli military vehicle along the border and the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers. There was no indication that Israeli soldiers weee captured in today's attack. But the latest border flare-up raised the possibility of renewed fighting along the Lebanese-Israel border, which has remained mostly quiet since the 2006 war. Since then, Israel has responded with airstrikes and artillery fire following a number of rocket attacks and shootings, but the violence has remained contained. Earlier today, Israel launched airstrikes in Syria against Syrian army artillery posts after two rockets were fired from Syria the previous day into the Israeli-held Golan Heights. No casualties were reported. Netanyahu, speaking at an event in southern Israel, warned that Israel's enemies would face a fate similar to Hamas, the Gaza Strip rulers who fought a brutal 50-day war against Israel last summer. Netanyahu warned : "To anyone who is trying to challenge us on the northern border I suggest looking at what happened here, not far from the city of Sderot, in the Gaza Strip. Hamas was dealt its heaviest blow ever since its founding and the Israel Defense Forces is prepared to act forcefully in all areas." Israel Ziv, a reserve Israeli general and former head of the IDF's Operations Directorate, told reporters that the situation was "flammable" and that Israel should try to contain the situation. "We could find ourselves in a war that does not belong to Israel....I do believe that Israel understands that it needs to contain it," he said, added Israel should not take any "steps that would pull us into the chaotic situation in Syria." ~~~~~ There are few reports of President Obama's meetings with Saudi Arabia King Salman Abdul Aziz Al Saud. One of the few offering details came from Reuters, which saod that Obama met met with King Salmam, after a dinner at Erga Palace in central Riyadh, on Tuesday "to pay respects to the late King Abdullah and bolster a relationship that now stretches well beyond oil interests to security cooperation across the volatile Gulf Arab region." King Salman, in his first official meeting with a high-level foreign delegation, did not express reservations over US-led negotiations aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program, a US official said. It was unclear whether King Salman's comments on the nuclear talks offered a hint of change. Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s top sunni power, has been concerned that the talks would lead to a rapprochement between the United States and the kingdom's main rival, shi'ite-led Iran. Reuters reported, however, that a US official told reporters on Air Force One that King Salman said Teheran should not be allowed to build a nuclear weapon. In an indication of the critical importance of the meeting for Obama, he was joined on the four-hour visit by Secretary of State John Kerry and a bipartisan group of prominent current and former officials - including former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and James Baker III, and Senator John McCain, the Arizona republican who is a frequent critic of Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East. Their presence helped to convey the importance of a relationship that has endured on-off strains in recent years. The new king also signaled continuity in energy policies by the world's top oil exporter, the US official said. The two discussed the stability of the oil market. Obama's visit came as the US struggles with deepening strife in the Middle East, where America counts on Saudi Arabia as one of its few steady partners in a campaign against ISIS. American security headache worsened last week after Yemen's government resigned under pressure by Iran-backed rebels, a setback to US efforts to contain al Qaida in Yemen and to limit the regional influence of shi'ite Moslem Iran. The Yemen government's collapse is a deep concern for Saudi Arabia because of their common border and because of the advance of Iran into the Arabian peninsula, not only in Yemrn but also in Bahrain. The US official Obama and Salman discussed Saudi's role in rallying Arab countries to join a coalition against ISIS. The Saudi-US alliance has long been a cornerstone of US Middle East policy, but the kingdom has made clear its impatience with the Obama administration’s failure to do more to oust Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and voiced its anxiety over US–led nuclear negotiations with Iran. This added to a sense among Saudi rulers that Obama was neglecting old Arab allies. US-Saudi relations have improved recently after Obama made a fence-mending visit to Riyadh last March. The kingdom’s willingness to keep output high despite tumbling global oil prices has bolstered Obama’s domestic economic recovery efforts, as well as his strategy of keeping pressure on oil producers Russia and Iran, who are feeling the negative economic impact of Saudi's action. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the tensions on the Israel borders with Lebanon and Syria are not going to lessen. It is fired by Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel positions inside Israel. The rockets and everything else is provided to Hezbollah by Iran. Saudi Arabia is the only Middle East nation capable of defending the region against Iran's aggressive expansion actions. Saudi Arabia can also enlist Egypt President el-Sissi and his US trained and supplied army in the effort. Without Saudi Arabia, America would be cut out of the Middle East. Clearly, this is the major American strategic relationship in the region and it makes the US-Israel relationship sustainable as the "western" point of departure for economic and social development in the Middle East. So, forget Michelle's uncovered head. Tread slowly and privately on human rights in the kingdom. They will come. But, without Saudi cultural, religious and military leadership, the Middle East would collapse. And with it, Israel's future would be in jeopardy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Auschwitz..."Never, never be a bystander"

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2015. Steven Speilberg's speech to Holocaust survivors, given in Krakow, Poland, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by Ukrainian units of the Russian army on January 27, 1945 : "I want to thank the many survivors along with their family members for being here this evening to share this moment with you. [It’s] incredibly meaningful for all of us and it’s a great great honour for me in so many personal ways. After 53,000 of you gave to our foundation [The Shoah Foubdation created by Steven Speilberg] your stories of life and death I feel like I belong to each and every one of you. We all feel that way. When we are young we have profound experiences which if not detectable at that time serve our initial comprehension of human behaviour and more specifically of pain and of trauma. I’ve spoken before about how one of my earliest learning experiences, one of my earliest memories, is learning how to read numbers from Holocaust survivors showing me their tattoos when my grandmother and grandfather taught English in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Hungarian survivors, and as a little kid I understood what the numbers were saying, but I certainly could not grasp the magnitude of the numbers, that they were in fact indelible marks of death, unimaginable suffering, unimaginable loss. But I know now that tracing my identity as a Jew is an ever-evolving process. The learning of the numbers as a child, number one. As an adolescent seeing antisemitism amongst some of my classmates and some people in our neighbourhoods, and then as an adult, coming here to Krakow, Poland, to make Schindler’s List. If you’re a Holocaust survivor your identity as a Jew was threatened by the Third Reich. Your identity is flooded with mortality, [and] unspeakable acts of hatred, but your identity is also one of resilience and an incomparable appreciation of life despite all those who tried to take it away from you. Your identity is in the courage you have shown in telling your stories. Your identity is in having trusted me and the Shoah Foundation as the custodian of some of your stories. You’ll survive as long as children can listen to your words, listen to what your eyes are saying, too, and carry your messages in their own futures and into all generations to come. That’s our mission at the Shoah Foundation. Now if you were born a Jew after the Holocaust, like me, your identity can only be fully explored by one’s willingness to acknowledge and embrace it, by your eagerness to find and root out what invoked the Holocaust and what triggered those and many other atrocities in the form of genocide and terrorism. The Holocaust, we understand and respect this, the Holocaust, except for you and maybe even including you, is incomprehensible. So making Schindler’s List here in Krakow and speaking to survivors, these are the ways I tried to comprehend the Holocaust. When I talked to survivors, they told me that thinking of the day when they could be heard, when they could share their own stories and identities, had given them solace. And I’m grateful to these survivors, not only for their bravery in the face of genocide, but because in wanting to help them find their voices, I got to find my own voice, and I got to find my own Jewish identity....If you are a Jew today, in fact if you are any person who believes in freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, you know that like many other groups we’re once again facing the perennial demons of intolerance. Antisemites, radical extremists and religious fanatics that provoke hate crime – these people that want to, all over again, strip you of your past, of your story and of your identity, and just as we talk about our personal histories and what makes us who we are, these people make their own points. Facebook pages, for instance, identifying Jews and their geographic locations with the intention to attack, and the growing effort to banish Jews from Europe. The most effective way we can combat this intolerance and honour those who survived and those who perished is to call on each other to do what the survivors have already done, to remember and to never forget. Taking on this task is an exceptional responsibility. It means preserving places like Auschwitz so people can always see for themselves how hateful ideologies can become tangible acts of murder. It means sharing and sustaining the testimonies of witnesses so that they can endure. For teachers and students around the world their testimonies give to each survivor everlasting life and give to all of us everlasting value. Which brings us to where we are now, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and despite the obstacles we face today I feel reassured by our shared efforts to combat hatred. And my hope for tomorrow’s commemoration is that the survivors with us and those survivors from all round the world feel confident that we are renewing their call to remember, that we will not only make known their own identities but in the process help form a meaningful collective conscience for generations to come. On this anniversary, let’s all be renewed by the knowledge that ours is a just cause and that we will make sure that the lessons of the past remain with us in the present so that we can now and forever find humanitarian ways to fight inhumanity. It’s an honour to be with all of you." ~~~~~ "The story of the camp reminds us that evil is real. It must be called by its name and must be confronted.Gathered in this place we are reminded that this immense cruelty did not happen in an uncivilised faraway part of the world, but at the heart of the civilised world." ___US Vice President Dick Cheney. / "The sad and horrible conclusion is that no one cared that Jews were being murdered... This is the Jewish lesson of the Holocaust and this is the lesson which Auschwitz taught us." ___Ariel Sharon. / "The people were liberated, mankind was not." Shimon Peres. ~~~~~ Dear readers, there are no words. Deep in the essence of every human being worthy of the name there is the burden of our common guilt and the unending effort at our common and individual contrition. It would be the ultimate injustice to ask the Jewish people to forgive us, to erase our monumental sin. Only public remembrance can begin the journey to our self-awareness and to some small inner peace. Remembrance is also the flame that lights our way, for in embracing our common humanity we are filled with the love that always forgives, that binds us to our Jewish brothers and sisters in our common determination to replace hatred with true brotherhood. Roman Kent, an Auschwitz survivor, gave a moving speech at today's ceremony at the death camp. He said it so clearly and simply, " We do not want our past to be our children's future." And he said these eternal words : "Hate is never right. Love is never wrong. Never, never be a bystander."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Is Germany Capable of Treating Greece in a Civilized Manner?

"Greece leaves behind it five years of catastrophic austerity, five years of fear and authoritarianism, of humiliation and anguish." Those were the words of the new Greek Prime Minister, in his first address outside the Greek parliament after his swearing-in. As an atheist, he became the first Greek prime minister to be sworn in without the traditional oath and blessing of basil and water from the Greek Archbishop. But Tsipras embraced the Archbishop after his swearing in before he left the ceremony. And, importantly, Tsipras' words were preceded by his first act. He laid red roses at the National Resistance Memorial in the Athens suburb of Kaisariani. The site, a former rifle range, was where the Nazis executed 200 Greek communist resistance fighters on 1 May 1944. Do not mistake the significance of this act. Greeks have once more learned to detest Germany, and foremost Chancellor Merkel and Finance Minister Schnaeuble. Today, the young Greek politician delivered a message to Germany, to Merkel, to Schnaeuble, to the European Union. Humiliation is not acceptable. The destruction of Greece is not acceptable. ~~~~~ Many commentators are treating Alexis Tsipras as a character who leaped off a political cartoon to be elected. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Alexis Tsipras has been a political figure since he was a teenager in Athens. Born on 28 July 1974, three days after the fall of the Greek military junta, Tsipras studied civil engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, followed by postgraduate studies in Urban and Regional Planning to earn an inter-departmental Masters at itsvSchool of Architecture. He began working as a civil engineer and wrote several studies and projects on the theme of the city of Athens. He joined the Young Communists Society in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s, as a high school student, he rose to prominence as a representative of the student movement when he was featured as a guest on a TV show. As a university student, he joined the ranks of the renovative left-wing movement, "Enceladus" and was elected to the executive board of the students' union of the Civil Engineering School of NTUA, serving as student representative in the University Senate. From 1995 to 1997, he was an elected member of the Central Council of the National Students Union of Greece. After the departure of the Communist Party of Greece from Synaspismos, Tsipras remained in the party as the first political secretary of the youth-wing of Synaspismos Neolaia from 1999 to 2003. Despite the very clear radical, left-wing profile that he has maintained as Leader of Synaspismos, he was a centrist during his period of leadership in Neolaia. He managed quite efficiently to maintain a strong adherence to party policy, effectively out-voicing political members to the left and the right. In December 2004, at the 4th Congress of Synaspismos, he was elected a member of the party's Central Political Committee and later to the Political Secretariat. Tsipras first entered the limelight of mainstream Greek politics during the 2006 local election when he ran for the municipality of Athens under the "Anoihti Poli" SYRIZA ticket that gained 10.51% of the Athenian vote. He did not run for the Hellenic Parliament in the 2007 election, choosing to complete his term as a member of the Athens municipal council. He was elected Leader of Synaspismos during the 5th Congress in 2008, becoming Leader of Synaspismos at the age of 33, thus becoming the youngest ever leader of a Greek political party. In the 2009 election, he was elected to the Hellenic Parliament for Athens and was unanimously elected as the head of the SYRIZA parliamentary group. Tsipras led SYRIZA through the 2012 Greek elections, overseeing a swing of over 22% toward the party,l and becoming the Leader of the Opposition. Tsipras led SYRIZA to victory in yesterday's snap general election, receiving 36% of the vote and 149 out of the 300 seats in the Parliament. Make no mistake, Alexis Tsipras is a vetted poitician, ready to lead Greece, even if he is only 40. ~~~~~ Tsipras formed his parliamentary majority today by a surprise alliance with a small right-wing nationalist party, the Independent Greeks, which is opposed to immigration. The two parties are ideological opposites, sharing only their opposition to the bailout, so their coalition was a surprise, but today it nevertheless boosted European markets that had fallen on news of the non-conclusive election results and fear of the need for a second election. ~~~~~ But, the election in Greece of a radical party that wants to overhaul the country's bailout program raises questions for the eurozone. Trying to make the best of it, several European creditor nations hinted they will seek a compromise to avoid the sure disaster to the eurozone if Greece were to abandon the euro. Several leaders in the 19-country eurozone suggested they were open to discussing how to lighten Greece's debt burden -- which has since 2010 mounted to 240 billion euros ($270 billion) in loans from fellow eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund to keep Greece from falling into bankruptcy. Syriza is calling on the eurozone to ease the spending cuts and tax increases required in Greece's bailout program and also to lighten the country's rescue loans. The debt, at 175% of GDP, is at a level that many economists think is unmanageable and unsustainable. It was imposed by the other eurozone nations, led by Germany, in exchange for the loans. The tough spending cuts and tax hikes were meant to reduce debt but have also put the Greek economy through a depression, causing : (1) high unemployment - now at 27% overall and above 50% for young people, and (2) poverty - 30% of Greeks are at or below the poverty level because the eurozone demanded that the minimum wage be reduced to a bit more than 500 euros per month. Already today, there were outstretched eurozone hands. The Dutchman who chairs the eurozone finance ministers committee said that even though "there is very little support for debt write-offs," there is room to "come back to debt sustainability issues" in the future. He stressed "if necessary." His views were echoed by the leader of Finland, a country that has long been among the most unmovable on austerity issues, who offered help. Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said that even if he opposes forgiving Greece's debts outright, he would be prepared to discuss extending loan repayments. Belgium's finance minister likewise said there was some room to discuss the "modalities" to ease the Greek debt program. ~~~~~ But, regional heavyweight Germany has so far taken a hard line on debt in Europe, and particularly in Greece. Today, Germany was non-committal beyond stressing that commitments needed to be kept. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has continualy insisted that there will be no forgiving of Greek debt. Other Merkel coalition members have said that Greeks cannot expect German taxpayers to absorb their debt. One said that Greeks can vote for whomever they want, but the debt must be paid. But, others who are not part of the Merkel political coalition welcomed the news. Bernd Riexinger, one of the leaders of the German left wing party Die Linke, said that Syriza’s victory “means the beginning of a new politics not just in Greece but in the rest of Europe.” In a tweet, he hailed Syriza’s “historic victory” as a rejection of “Merkel’s destruction” ~~~~~ Dear readers, today CNN made this comparison. If Germany had been forced into a "Greek deal" : its unemployment would be at 11 million - it is now at 2 million; and its debt would be 6.5 trillion euros, or 200% of its GDP - Greece's is now at 175% of GDP. But, I prefer another comparison. At the end of World War II, Germany was in a shambles. It had for the second time in the 20th century driven Europe and the world to war. It had accepted the Nazis and formed their armies. It had watched, silent, as 7 million Jews and other minorities were exterminated. Its military had terrorized and raped Europe, taking its men, resources and art treasures. Was Germany told to pull itself up and restore Europe singlehandedly. No. The American Marshall Plan rebuilt Germany and much of Europe. Fast forward to today. Has Greece brought the world to war, or massacred any minority groups? Not at all. What Greeks did was to follow disastrous fiscal policies presented by inept politicians. So, when Greece, the cradle of civilization, not its would-be destroyer, needs help, how should Germany respond. We all know what the civilized answer is. The real question is whether Germany can rise from its past and give a civilized answer.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Churchill Has Been Gone 50 Years, but His Spirit Lives on in Us

Fifty years ago today, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, historian, writer and Nobel Laureate in Literature, passed away, aged 90, in his London home. January 24, 1965. As Britain's prime minister during much of World War II, Churchill rallied his people behind their sacred democracy. His dogged resistance to Nazism's rampage across Europe was the beacon of civilization in the Nazi night. His rousing speeches and radio addresses lifted and maintained the besieged British spirit. The 'British Bulldog' won, leading his nation to victory – and he is roundly regarded as one of the twentieth century's monumental figures. ~~~~~ Churchill is a treasure trove of unforgettable comments : *"If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." *"We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." *"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." *"Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival." *"Some people like the Jews and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.” Winston Churchill was not a shy man. He knew his worth, his place in history. But he accepted it with a wry humor : "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." ~~~~~ Dear readers, in these days that are so reminiscent of Europe in the 1930s ~~ when politicians and citizens alike were sure they could cut a deal with Hitler that would save them without costing them another war - when Roosevelt believed he could get along with a France cut in two and largely ruled by Nazi-led Vichy - when the tenets of western civilization were offered as a sacrifice in the hope of appeasing barbarians in their midst -- one man knew better. When Churchill said "without victory there is no survival," it was not an idle thought. When he said "we shall never surrender," he knew the price of victory and the cost of failure. Today, there are barbarians in our midst. They demand that we sacrifice our human and cultural and political values. They believe we are Hitler thought of our grandparents. They were blessed to have Winston Churchill on their side. Who is our generation's Churchill? Somewhere, he or she exists. What jolting event will bring our 21st century Churchill forth? How long will we have to wait, semi-cowering, semi-lost, semi-defeated, before the seminal event arouses us out of our false sense of brotherhood toward the barbarians and turns our appeasement into determination to save ourselves and our civilization. Few people have been called the savior of their nation. Only one person is worthy of being called the one who saved the world. Churchill. Where is our Churchill? He is actually in each of us - our sense of duty and personal responsibility, our love of freedom, our mission to pass our democratic and cultural values on to our children and grandchildren. If there is no singular Churchill coming to help us, then we must build a collective Churchill of values that will bind us together in the difficult and long work ahead. For "without victory there is no survival." That is why "we shall never surrender."

Friday, January 23, 2015

We Offer Condolences to Saudi Arabia and Wish its People Blessings under King Salman

Just hours after the death of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's newly enthroned King Salman rapidly named a future successor to the crown in his oil-rich kingdom, a significant appointment that puts the kingdom's future squarely in the hands of a new generation - the grandsons of Saudi Arabia's founder. King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud's actions came as the sunni kingdom mourned King Abdullah, who officially ascended to the throne in 2005, but had been de-facto ruler since the mid-1990s. King Salman, 79, in recent years undertook many official activities for his incapacitated half-brother, who died early Friday at the age of 90 after nearly two decades in power. He was buried Friday, shrouded in a beige burial cloth and placed without a coffin in an unmarked grave, following the rules of Saudi Wahhabism that forbid undue displays of grief and in the tradition of his Bedouin ancestors, desert nomads who buried their dead in the shifting sands and moved on. The austerity also complied with the Islamic tradition that all people - even kings - are equal in death before God. One billboard in the capital with Abdullah's image said: "To God we belong and to God we shall return." ~~~~~ A royal decree affirmed Crown Prince Muqrin, 69, as Salman's immediate successor. Since Muqrin is the last of the brothers who are sons of founder King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Salman named the first grandson, Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, as deputy crown prince, making him second-in-line to the throne. Mohammed is the first grandson of Saudi Arabia's founder to be named as a future heir. He is Salman's nephew, the son of Salman's full brother, Prince Nayef, who was a powerful, favored member of the royal family before his death in 2012. Like his father, Mohammed is head of the powerful Interior Ministry that oversees the country's police. Mohammed was the target of a failed assassination attempt by al-Qaida militants in 2009. King Salman promised in a televised speech to the nation to continue the policies of his predecessors. The decision to name Mohammed as deputy crown prince helps alleviate uncertainty over which of Abdul-Aziz's hundreds of grandsons would ascend to the throne. It also highlights the Al Saud family's ability to bond together around the touchy issue of succession in order to preserve their dynasty. King Salman also named his son, Prince Mohammed, as Defense Minister. The prince, in his 30s, was head of his father's royal court when Salman was crown prince and is among his most-favored sons. ~~~~~ So, are things looking rosy for King Salman and Saudi Arabia? Not quite. In his first speech, King Salman made aa passing reference to the chaos gripping the Middle East, with extremist ISIS now holding a third of both Iraq and Syria. "The Arab and the Islamic nations are in dire need of solidarity and cohesion," the king said. Salman is well placed to lead the nation that is the leader of the battle against what is, after all, Middle East homegrown terrorism. He has been Defense Minister since 2011 and was head of the military as Saudi Arabia joined the United States and other Arab countries in carrying out airstrikes in Syria in 2014 against ISIS, the Sunni militant group that the kingdom sees as a threat to its own stability. Salman faces many challenges. Half of Saudi Arabia's population of 20 million is under 25 and seeking jobs. They are active on social media, they expect more rapid modernization than has thus far occurred, and they are increasingly testing boundaries of speech on the Internet, where criticism of the royal family is rife. In a nod in their direction, the 79-year-old Salman, in a departure from past kings, used his Twitter account to send a message to his followers : "I ask God to ensure my success to serve our dear people and realize their hopes, and to preserve our nation and society's security and stability, and to protect it from all evil," the message read. ~~~~~ But, Salman's problems reach beyond Twittering. Young Saudis who use social media are challenging many assumptions. Everyone is online, from young jihadists to Saudi women protesting restrictions on driving in the kingdom. The Arab Spring, although never appearing in the kingdom, exposed younger people to the possibility of challenging long-entrenched Arab regimes. Activists are pushing the limits of freedom in the extremely conservative kingdom, which is already under scrutiny from rights groups over its decision to publicly flog Raif Badawi, who was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes over 20 weeks for criticizing Saudi Arabia's clerics and mocking the country's morality police on his blog. The first round of lashes was administered but the next two have been postponed. Another Saudi man was recently arrested for filming a woman's public beheading and posting it online. And, there are many limits to Saudi women's freedom. They can't travel or marry without a male guardian's permission. Saudi women are increasingly challenging those rules, particularly the prohibition on driving. Acts of defiance are not likely to abate under Salman. We will see how Salman deals with these social issues. ~~~~~ Saudi Arabia also faces plunging global oil prices, and oil is the linchpin of its economy. The kingdom relies on oil revenues to fund most of its large budget, which covers lavish payouts to royal family members, as well as subsidized fuel and large numbers of public-sector jobs to ordinary Saudis. It has billions of dollars in cash reserves, but lower oil prices give it less spending flexibility, both at home and abroad. With current oil prices below $50 a barrel, Salman must decide how to balance the budget. Saudi Arabia needs oil at $89 a barrel to break even, according to experts. The kingdom has the output capacity that would allow it to cut supplies and drive prices up, but thus far, it hasn't done so, preferring to maintain market share and pressure higher-cost producers rather than trim its own production. That policy, which has dealt a blow to Iran and its backer, Russia, is unlikely to change in the near future, analysts say. ~~~~~ And there is the whole panoply of jihadist terrorist challenges -- Yemen's unstable government divided between northern shiite Houthis supported by Iran and southern sunni Saudi allies who are confronted by al-Qaida -- the shiite power, Iran, that is surrounding Saudi Arabia on its Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen borders, as well as in Palestine with the help of Qatar, and in Syria and Lebanon. The kingdom is now building great walls along its Iraq and Yemen borders. Saudi Arabia has only two stable allies in the region -- Egypt, now that the kingdom has supported President el-Sissi and the army in suppressing the Moslem Brotherhood, and Israel. The United States has been put a little to one side because of President Obama's support for Morsi and the Brotherhood in Egypt and his rapprochement with Iran, Saudi Arabia's sworn enemy. Israel sides with the kingdpm on these issues and Salman will have to wait until the 2016 US presidential election to see if the old alliance can be restored. ~~~~~ Dear readers, there are few leaders in the world who carry the burdrn borne by Saudi King Salman. And one thing to watch for in the coming months is who he ignores. Arab loyalties are tribal - the family, their tribe's leader, the king, their allies. They value above all else loyalty. Once deceived, they are polite but aloof. Egypt and Saudi Arabia's sunni brothers, and Israel, understand this. America must learn the lesson and repair the damage caused by Barack Obama in order for the US-SA alliance to function once again. That is perhaps the only way that the Middle East has a chance of succeeding. We all wish King Salman good health, long life and blessings for his people and the Middle East.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Anti-Semitism in Paris, Buenos Aires, Washington

The unaddressed element of the Paris jihadist terrorist attacks in early January is anti-Semitism -- and the rather overt efforts of the French Socialist government led by President François Hollande to downplay the fact that six of the 16 people massacred were Jewish citizens sought out in a kosher market. At the same time, Hollande went to great lengths to repeatedly say that the jihadist attacks do not represent Islam. It took more than a day for Prime Minister Manuel Valls to say that France is at war with jihadists and radical Islam. We still await those words from President Hollande. ~~~~~ But, French Jews understand. Anti-Semitic attacks are common - desecration of Jewish cemeteries and anti-Semitic graffiti - and they have become increasingly severe. In March, 23-year-old Islamic jihadist Mohamed Merah became the first 'homegrown' Moslem terrorist in France when he murdered three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi, with close-range head shots. Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin, filmed himself carrying out the attacks to "verify" the deaths. He later died in a gunfight with police after a 32-hour standoff at his apartment in Toulouse in the south of France. French police said Merah attacked the Army personnel because of France's involvement in the war in Afghanistan, and he killed young Jewish schoolchildren because "the Jews kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine." ~~~~~ On the rare occasions when members of the French government speak of anti-Semitism - usually after an anti-Semitic incident - they refuse to speak of Islamic anti-Semitism, even if Islamic anti- Semitism is now the cause of almost all anti-Semitic attacks in France. French Jews could see on January 11 that Prime Minister Netanyahu was not welcome at the marche républicaine - and rumors flew in France that Hollande asked him not to come because of "security" considerations - while Palestinian Authority President Abbas, who helped invent modern anti-Semitic terrorism - and other supporters of jihad were warmly welcomed. French Jews are resigned to the anti-Israel opinions rampant in French mainstream media. They have seen the French parliament vote for the creation of a "Palestinian State," notwithstanding that its goal is the eradication of Israel and its Jewish population. French Jews, like most French civilians, realize that, unlike the French jihadists who have weapons caches, they are unarmed and that the soldiers put in the streets after the Paris massacres will not be there forever. They see no-go zones grow increasingly violent. They see that French prisons breed radical jihadists. They are aware that the government cannot stop mass riots and has few means of preventing more attacks against Jews. They suspect that if it had been only Jews killed in the recent attacks, no protests or march would have taken place. There were milions of "Je suis Charlie" signs but perhaps several hundred "Je suis juif" signs displayed during the crisis period and march. ~~~~~ Is it any surprise, then, that each year more French Jews leave for Israel? Almost 7,000 left in 2014, and the Jewish Agency for Israel expects 15,000 this year. The Moslem population is largely silent. Those who speak officially for the French Moslem community say that Islam is not the threat, that the real culprits are those who "insult Islam," and that "the main victims" are Moslems. The French population is not convinced. Several polls, taken before the Paris massacres, show that more than 70% of French people think that Islam is incompatible with democracy and western civilization. French society has not been so divided for a long time. Recent polls show the rising fear of a widespread explosion. The French journalist Eric Zemmour said in 2014 that France was on the edge of civil war. His remarks were a shock. He received multiple death threats and is now under police protection. All those who criticize Islam in France suffer the same fate. Charlie Hebdo cartoonists received death threats. They were also under police protection but they are dead. French Jews are now under military protection. ~~~~~ France is a special case because of its historical ties with Moslem West and North Africa, leading to a 10% and rapidly growing Moslem population in mainland France that is encouraged by the French Socialist government, perhaps because 93% of Moslems voted for Hollande. But anti-Semitism is not restricted to France. ~~~~~ Reuters today reported that the death of a prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of the Argentine AMIA Jewish center that killed 85 people, which was initially reported as a suicide, has now been declared by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez not to be. She said today that Alberto Nisman, lead investigator into the 1994 attack, who was found dead in his apartment late Sunday with a 22-caliber pistol by his side, did not kill himself, but the President offered no other explanation. Nisman had accused Fernandez of trying to derail his investigation into the bombing and he was due to present his case to Congress hours after his death. The government says two men who Nisman believed were deeply involved in the alleged cover-up of the 1994 attack had been falsely presented to him as state intelligence agents and he believed them. Fernandez said the deception discredited Nisman's charges against her and points to a conspiracy to smear her name. What is suggested by some is that Fernandez was in a secret deal with Iran to exchange oil for grain and that Nisman may have been going to implicate Iran in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish center. ~~~~~ And anti-Semitism popped up in Washington today. The White House announced that President Barack Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during Netanyahu's controversial March 3 visit to Washington. Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited and Netanyahu accepted, without informing Obama, an invitation to address a joint meeting of Congress to explain why the President's approach to Islamist extremism and negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program are not in the best interests of Israel or America. When informed about the invitation by Boehner's office, the White House accused Israel of breaching diplomatic protocol under which foreign leaders advise host leaders of pending visits. The White House also said a meeting could be perceived as an attempt by the administration to influence Israel's March 17 elections : "The President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the US Congress," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in an emailed statement. “As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country." Netanyahu's visit has further strained already difficult relations between the Israeli leader and Obama. Netanyahu has made no secret of his opposition to ongoing talks with Iran, saying that Teheran cannot be trusted to abandon ts ability to build a nuclear weapon that could directly threaten Israel. His visit will come as the White House tries to tamp down a move in Congress to pass legislation that envisions new economic sanctions on Iran if no satisfactory comprehensive nuclear deal can be reached. "The President has been clear about his opposition to Congress passing new legislation on Iran that could undermine our negotiations and divide the international community," said Meehan. "The President has had many conversations with the Prime Minister on this matter, and I am sure they will continue to be in contact on this and other important matters.” ~~~~~ Dear readers, just last week, President Obama held White House talks and conducted a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The British election campaign is underway and Cameron's re-election as prime minister will be decided by the parliamentary elections on May 7. What a difference two months makes. Or could it be that Barack Obama has once again shown his preference for Moslem leaders and agendas, while once again embarrassing America by rejecting Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Is this anti-Semitism? You decide.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The State of the Obama-led World

Last night in his State of the Union address to Congress, President Obama touted everything he has done. On foreign policy, he said : "We’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America. In Iraq and Syria, American leadership - including our military power - is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism. This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we wil succeed." Obama noted : "I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership. We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now - and around the globe, it is making a difference." ~~~~~ Your leadership certainly is making a difference, Mr. President. Let's review the "State of the Obama-led World." ~~~~~ Syria’s civil war has killed more than 200,000 people in less than four years, a monitoring group told AFP in December. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP : “We have documented the killing of 202,354 people since March 2011, more than 130,000 of them were combatants. Of the total, 63,074 of those killed were civilians, including 10,377 children. Among the anti-regime fighters, 37,324 were Syrian rebels, while 22,624 were non-Syrian jihadists.” Rahman said the casualties may be closer to 300,000 but some al-Assad regime and ISIS/jihadist areas are off limits to his field monitors. A high percentage of the al-Assad regime’s civilian casualties are victims of torture at one of the regime’s 27 torture centers, documented  by Human Rights Watch. An average of four people die every day in Syria from torture in government-run prisons, according to data from the Violations Documentation Center. Previously compiled data by International Business Times Reports from various monitoring groups put the torture death total for December between 88 and 197. ~~~~~ Moving right along from your hands-off red-line smarter Syria leadership, let's look at Iran. Reuters reports that Iran denied last Saturday that it had reached an agreement with the United States to ship its surplus enriched uranium to Russia under new concessions aimed at clinching a comprehensive nuclear deal with six world powers. The Associated Press, citing diplomats, had reported earlier that Teheran and Washington had tentatively agreed on a formula to ship to Russia much of the material that could potentially lead to manufacture of atomic arms by the Islamic republic. Iran's foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said "no agreement on any nuclear topic" had been reached." ~~~~ Oops, the Iran nuclear deal looks like it hasn't benefited from your hands-off but give-em-everything-they-ask-for smarter leadership. Can Russia help? Well, Russia and Iran announced yesterday that they have signed a military cooperation deal for wider collaboration in personnel training and counter-terrorism activities. It may also resolve the situation concerning the delivery of Russian S300 missiles to Iran, according to Iranian media. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Iranian counterpart Brigadier General Hussein Dehghan, signed the document during a visit by Russia’s top brass to Teheran. Under the new agreement, the broadened cooperation will include military exchanges, increased counter-terrorism cooperation and enhanced intelligence capability. The two countries also agreed that their Navies will use each other’s ports more frequently. The new agreement is aimed at creating a “long-term and multifaceted” military relationship with Iran, Russia's Shoigu said, stressing that “a theoretical basis for cooperation in the military field has been created.” The Iranians believe that "durable impacts on regional peace and security" can be achieved by the deal, Iran's state media outlet FARS reported. “As two neighbors, Iran and Russia have common goals towards political, regional and global issues,” Dehghan said, according to AP. For Iran, the deal to boost military cooperation could also mean support in countering American ambitions in the Middle East, with the two countries to "jointly contribute to a strengthening of international security and regional stability." ~~~~~ Ouch! Looks like your new brand of smarter leadership led Russia and Iran more tightly into each other's arms. How does Iraq feel about this? Iraq's prime minister has once more appealed for greater aid for his beleaguered ground forces, which have yet to score a decisive victory against ISIS after six months of US-led coalition air raids. Pressed, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi praised the coalition's air campaign but said the international community has stalled on commitments to train and equip the ground forces needed to retake major cities. But not to worry -- shiite Iran has answered shiite al-Abadi's call for help and has sent front-line trainers and equipment. However, Iran has not joined the US-led coalition and is not coordinating its efforts with the coalition. The Foreign Policy journal says that Iran is de facto leading the Iraq war against ISIS. ~~~~~ Oh well, sometimes new leadership styles take time to kick in. But, Mr. President, time just ran out in Yemen, which is the base for a large US military presence, including Special Operations groups. Yemeni shiite Houthi rebels are now in control of Yemen's capital and hold the country's president "captive" at his home, his aides said today, calling into question who actually rules the Arab world's poorest nation. Trapped Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi - a top US ally in the war against the largely sunni al-Qaida in Yemen - appears to have run out of options to continue governing the country. The Houthis began a blitz in September, seizing the capital and state institutions. Hadi "cannot leave his house" after Houthi rebels removed his guards and deployed their own fighters there today, one aide said. The Houthi leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, warned Hadi yesterday that if he stalls in implementing a UN-brokered deal - which effectively grants them a bigger role - "all options are open." The draft document created by Hadi has proposed a federation of six regions, something the Houthis reject. Part of the problem is Yemen's armed forces, torn between Hadi and his predecessor, deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom some accuse of orchestrating the Houthis' seizure of Sanaa to speed Hadi's failure. Critics also say the Houthis have the backing of regional Shiite power Iran, a charge the Houthis deny. ~~~~~ Gee, Mr. President, the Middle East has apparently not caught on to the fact that your new smarter leadership is supposed to make a difference in your favor, not in the favor of Iran or ISIS or the Houthis. Have other areas responded better? Well, certainly not Russia in Ukraine. Although you said last night that Russia is on its knees because of your sanctions, the Bear seems to be doing just fine in Ukraine where the Russian-backed rebels continue to terrorize and destroy eastern Ukraine. Ukraine President Poroshenko told the Davos meeting this week that there are 9,000 Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.~~~ And what about China? Japanese air force jets are scrambling at a record pace to counter Chinese fighters intruding into its air space along its southern flank, as well as to counter Russian bombers and spy planes probing its northern defenses, the Defence Ministry said this week. Chinese fighter flights have increased in and around the energy-rich East China Sea. In the nine months ending December 31, Japanese fighters scrambled 744 times, 32% more than the same period the previous year, the ministry said. Encounters with Chinese aircraft, which accounted for half the nine month total, jumped to 164 in the final quarter of 2014, the most since 1958, when records began. Other Asian neighbors of China report more harassment from Chinese naval vessels in the past year. We won't bother to detail Chinese hacking into US military sites to steal design and engineering for US aircraft and naval ships. ~~~~~ I suppose it would be mean-spirited to mention the Russian spy ship anchored in Havana harbor or the Russian spy planes buzzing America's coasts. ~~~~~ Dear readers, perhaps President Obama will understand it when I say that the best thing about his new smarter leadership style is that it will disappear in 2016 and we can get back to the good old time-proven American world leadership style that actually worked. Sometimes, "smarter" isn't so smart after all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

While Pope Francis Tells Us to Weep for War and Suffering, President Obama Tells Us He Has All the Answers

Pope Francis has taken aim on war, particularly world war, and namely, World War III. When any Pope makes multiple references to any subject, it becomes a topic for wide consideration. But, Francis has done more than make reference to World War III. He has visited war sites, arranged for political leaders to go to the Vatican to pray with him for peace, and he has declared that World War III may already be upon us. ~~~~~ Last July, during an address to the faithful in the Vatican's St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis put aside his prepared speech to call for peace in conflict zones around the world, from the Middle East and Ukraine to northern Nigeria and the Central African Republic. His voice filled with emotion and tears welled up in his eyes when he told the crowds : "Please stop, I ask you with all my heart, it's time to stop. Stop, please. Brothers and sisters, never war, never war!" ~~~~~ Then, last September, when Pope Francis visited Italy's largest military cemetery, a memorial to the 100,000 Italian soldiers killed in the battle that saw the largest single-engagement casualties of World War I, he said : "Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction....War is madness....War ruins everything, even the bonds between brothers. War is irrational; its only plan is to bring destruction: It seeks to grow by destroying." ~~~~~ And a week later, during his visit to Albania - a country that is 59% Moslem, 10% Catholic and 10% Orthodox, and the first European capital visited by him - Pope Francis spoke out against the "perversion, distortion and exploitation" of religion to justify violence : "Let no one use God as a shield while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression," Francis said in an address to the Albanian president, state officials, religious leaders and diplomats. "May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman." Pope Francis used Albania as an example of peace among religions : "What the experience in Albania shows is that a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic." ~~~~~ Next, last September 22, the Pope and a group of Jewish leaders met in the Vatican, where Pope Francis compared the current persecution of Christians in the Middle East to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. The head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, was quoted by the UK's Telegraph as saying : “Pope Francis told us privately that he believes we are in World War Three. First it was your turn and now it is our turn.” Lauder explained what he thought the Pope's words meant : “In other words, first Jews suffered savage attacks that were met with the world’s silence. And now it is Christians who are being annihilated and the world is silent." ~~~~~ In the period last autumn when the world was watching Christian massacres in the Middle East and the starvation of Yazidi refugees trapped on a mountain in Iraq by ISIS, Amnesty International labelled ISIS’s violent rampage through Iraq and Syria as ethnic cleansing on an “historic scale.” It was then that the Pope went to Albania and talked with Jewish leaders. Francis, who often condemns war waged in the name of God, said that the international community would be justified in using force to stop ISIS from slaughtering more innocent people in the Middle East. The pontiff said : “In cases like this, where there is an unjust aggression, then it is licit to halt the aggressor.” The Pope did make sure to add that he stressed the word “halt.” “I don’t say bomb, or make war,” he said, “But rather, stop him.” ~~~~~ On the first leg of the pontiff's Asian trip last week, he visited Sri Lanka. Francis emphasized the two poles of war and peace there, as well. Sri Lanka's holiest Christian site, the Our Lady of Madhu shrine, which has a remarkable, centuries-long history as a place of refuge for Christians fleeing war and persecution. Pope Francis traveled to the jungles of northern Sri Lanka to visit the shrine and pray before its statue of the Madonna. The shrine dates from the 16th century when Christians fleeing persecution in the kingdom of Jaffna established a sanctuary in the area, bringing the statue with them. The current shrine dates from 1670 when Catholics fleeing persecution - this time from Dutch colonizers - built the blue and white house that now holds the Madonna. During the recent 25-year civil war that wracked Sri Lanka, civilians sought refuge in the shrine, though in the war's final months the villages surrounding Madhu emptied out as residents fled deeper into rebel territory to escape the government offensives. At one point, the priest in charge of the shrine fled for safety with the statue, but both returned. Francis held the statue in his arms, saying :"May this shrine always be a haven for prayer and for peace." ~~~~~ The idea that World War III was actually the Cold War is held by some military historians, who have concluded that the Cold War was World War III because it was fought, by proxy, on a global scale, involving the United States, NATO, the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. Eliot Cohen, the director of strategic studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, declared, in Street Journal, that he considers World War III to be history, writing: "The Cold War was World War III, which reminds us that not all global conflicts entail the movement of multi-million-man armies, or conventional front lines on a map." But this view of the Cold War as World War III is not widely held. Historians and analysts who disagree have claimed that the world has changed and war has changed, and so World War III will not be a conventional or even nuclear war, as was the spectre in the Cold War. Some claim that the " War on Terrorism" is World War III, with the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City on Tuesday, 11 September 2001 the 'Pearl Harbor' that dragged the United States into a terrorism fight, as the UK and Israel were already fighting, in a way similar to World War II. ~~~~~ What is clear is that the next, or current, World War - whether WWIII or WWIV - is the war on terrorism and fanatical, barbarically violent religious extremism. Hence, Pope Francis' denouncing all war waged in the name of God, calling for mankind of all beliefs to learn to live in peace together, and recognizing that it is legitimate to stop ISIS from slaughtering innocent people. But, Francis uses a particularly visual image in referring to the quest mankind must undertake. At the Redipuglia war memorial, Francis used the imagery of tears to describe mankind's need to address the issues of war profoundly : "Humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep." Tellingly, Pope Francis used the same imagery of tears again in Manila last Saturday, when 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar, who used to live on the streets but now has a home thanks to the ANAK-Tnk Foundation, asked him a tearful question about why God allows suffering. Francis answered, "I don't know" and then said : “Certain realities in life can only be seen through eyes cleansed by tears.” ~~~~~ Dear readers, this Argentinian Jesuit singled out to be Pope has a strong message for the world. Whether it is respect for the poor and families, not using dogma to "breed like rabbits" or calling out for people to feel the world's suffering enough to weep. His message is infinitely more urgent and profound than others we hear every day. Tonight, for example, the American President will tell the US Congress that he has all the answers. But where is Barack Obama's compassion. Where is his outreach to Middle East Christians and Jews and other minorities. Where is his heart. Where are his tears?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dr. Martin Luther King and the Oscars

Today is the official Martin Luther King federal holiday in America. It was celebrated yesterday by a march in Selma, Alabama, by members of the "Selma" film cast, led by Oprah Winfrey. Selma was the site of Dr. King's most famous civil rights march. The film has been the focus of a discussion by Black artists and all-race media analysts about the "racism" inherent in the Hollywood Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - the professional organization that chooses the nominees and winners of the Oscars. The complaint seems to be that no Black actors were nominated for any of the Best and Best Supporting roles this year because -- and here, the arguments range from the "non- representative" makeup of the Academy's membership - white males whose average age is 62, according to the dissatisfied - to the idea that Blacks are only nominated and win once every ten years as tokens. Here are the facts. *Black winners of Best Actor in a Leading Role - 20 nominated, starting in 1954, and 4 won, the first winner in 1958. *Black Best Actress in a Leading Role - 10 nominated, starting in 1969, and 1 won, in 1982. *Black Best Actor in a Supporting Role - 17 nominated, starting in 1962, and 4 won, the first winner in 1969. *Black Best Actress in a Supporting Role - 19 nominated, starting in 1939, and 6 won, the first, Hattie McDaniel, in 1939. So, there have been Black nominees and winners, dating back to Gone with the Wind in 1939. ~~~~~ But, dear readers, for me, the entire polemic is out of place, and frankly, ridiculous. The Academy is not an equal rights commission. It is not the US Department of Justice. The Academy does not have an oversight and enforcement function to be sure that governmental agencies, businesses, universities and voting districts don't discriminate. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is an association of film actors and actresses and all the technical experts and writers and designers who make the movies we love. The Oscar nominees and winners are the result of the members' best effort to find and reward what they, as artists themselves, consider to be the best artistic performances each year. If equality is the goal - consider also Hispanics and Asians and Native American artists, who have almost no nominations or wins. And, my advice in that case would be to give the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to the federal government -- appoint an Equal Opportunity for Actors and Actresses (EOAA) czar -- and forget about watching the Oscars because the winners will be, like everything else the federal government touches, a mediocre but multi-racial mix of those who survived the gauntlet of well-meaning but incompetent bureaucrats. In fact, forget about going to the movies, because they will be the dull as dishwater products of the EOAA czar - whose knowledge of film-making is limited to the smartphone 5-second videos he takes of his kids playing touch football every weekend. Really. If there is no more pressing race relations problem in America, Dr. King can truly Rest in Peace.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

European Terrorists Spew Hatred that Has Nothing to Do with Religion

The fallout continues from the Charlie Hebdo cover that led to the Paris terrorist attack leaving 12 people dead. There is a swelling tide of popular antagonism across Europe against radical Islam, as well as stepped-up police efforts to prevent terrorism, while protests against caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad across the Moslem world highlight the cultural divide that can no longer be papered over. Here are some of the latest episodes. ~~~~~ Today, French authorities tried to head off possible civil unrest and glorification of terrorism after the country's worst terror attacks in decades. They also agreed to the secret burial in unmarked graves of the two Kouachi brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo and they banned an anti-Islamist demonstration in Paris after the Paris administrative tribunal ruled that Paris police were authorized to ban a Sunday "Islamists out of France" rally planned by two groups that promote secular and republican values. One group, "Secular Riposte," said on its website that it would hold a news conference on Sunday. Resistance Republicaine, the other group, said it would hold Sunday rallies in the southern cities of Bordeaux and Montpellier. ~~~~~ In Belgium, for the first time in 30 years, the government used paratroopers to reinforce police patrols at possible terrorist target sites in Belgian cities, including some buildings in Antwerp's Jewish quarter, a decision that came a day after anti-terror raids netted dozens of suspects in Belguim and other European countries. Belgian media reported that investigators were still looking for one man - a Belgian with Moroccan roots reported to be fighting with ISIS in Syria. European media reported that the man is in Greece. Federal magistrate Eric Van der Sypt declined to comment, but expressed "regret that the Greece factor had reached the media." AP later reported that it was told by Greek police that they have detained four suspected terrorists, including one who could be the man wanted by Belgian authorities as an alleged ringleader of a jihadist cell. One of the four men arrested "matches the description" of Abdelhamid Abaaoud - the man who Belgian authorities suspect was the mastermind behind the dismantled jihadist cell that police fought in Verniers, the official said. Photos, fingerprints and DNA samples are being sent to Belgium, and Greek authorities are waiting to see if the person is Abaaoud, according to the AP source. ~~~~~ And, as was predictable, there are demonstrations in the Moslem world against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Many of the demonstrations are in French-speaking former French colonies. ~~~~~ Stone-throwing demonstrators set fire to two churches in Niger's capital Niamey on Saturday. Five people were killed in Niger on Friday and five more today in protests over the cartoons. Protesters in Niamey attacked a police station and burned at least two police cars near the main mosque after authorities banned a meeting called by local Moslem leaders. Police responded with teargas. One demonstrator told Sky News : "They offended our Prophet Mohammed. That's what we didn't like. This is the reason why we demonstration. This is the reason why we have asked Moslems to come, so that we can explain this to them, but the state refused. That's why we're angry today." Demonstrations were also reported in regional Niger towns, including Maradi, where two churches were burned. Another church and a residence of the foreign minister were burned in Goure. Four Moslem preachers who had called the meeting in Niamey were arrested, according to French media. Protesters burned the French flag and set up roadblocks on streets in the centre of Niamey. The French embassy in Niamey warned its citizens not to go out on the streets. On Friday, churches were burned, Christian homes looted and the French cultural centre was attacked during the violence in Zinder, residents said. A police officer and three civilians had already been confirmed killed and a burned body was found today in a burnt-out church there. ~~~~~ Demonstrations against Charlie Hebdo occurred after Friday prayers in Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Algeria and Yemen. Protesters in Senegal and Mauritania torched French flags, and Qatar and Bahrain warned that the cartoon on the cover of the latst Charlie Hebdo could fuel hatred. The cartoon features the Prophet holding a Je Suis Charlie sign under the headline "All Is Forgiven." ~~~~~ In Jordan's capital Amman, 2,500 protesters marched from Al Husseini mosque under tight security, holding banners that read "insulting the Prophet is global terrorism." In Algiers, there were clashes as up to 3,000 marchers chanted: "We are all Mohammed. In Istanbul, about 100 people gathered, some carrying photos of the Kouachi brothers. ~~~~~ In Karachi, Pakistan, people were injured when protesters clashed with police outside the French consulate. The nationwide rallies in Pakistan followed comments by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who led parliament in condemning the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo. One faction of the Pakistani Taliban has issued a statement praising the Islamist Kouachi brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre saying: "They freed the Earth from the existence of filthy blasphemers." Insulting the Prophet carries the death penalty under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, and 14 people are currently on death row. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the most disheartening aspect of the turmoil we find ourselves in over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons is that there is no clear prohibition in Islam about depicting the Prophet, and until the 18th century artists made beautiful paintings showing him surrounded by angels and his companions. It seems that the general use of images in Islam - animals and people, as well as the Prophet - varies with the various branches of Islam. And it was the Taliban in 2005 who made images critical as the subject of a fatwah which forbade their use because they are a form of idol worship. Soon afterward, the Taliban destroyed the famous wall of Buddhas and began their campaign to wipe out all historically important statues and paintings in territories controlled by them. So, the world is once more being set against itself by fanatic terrorists who use and distort Islam to justify and fuel their jihad against Christians, Jews, Westerners -- and more moderate Moslems. Once more, we must say that this is terrorism not religion. And everyone - Christians, Jews, Westerners and Moslems - must present a united front in stamping it out.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lifting Iran Sanctions - not Easy for Obama or the UN

At a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Washington today, President Barack Obama issued a stern warning to Congress, saying that any legislation threatening additional sanctions against Iran could derail talks aimed at ending Iran's nuclear program in a peaceful manner. Prime Minister Cameron said he had made phone calls to try to convince US Senators to delay any action on sanctions. Obama set low expectations for a deal - less than 50 - 50, the President said at the press conference. He warned that legislation being considered by Congress to impose sanctions if the negotiations don't succeed could actually lead them to fail. "The chance of the negotiations collapsing is very high," Obama said, making an impassioned argument against the idea. He said sanction legislation now could lead to a "military showdown." Obama went so far as to say that if the negotiations fail, there will be at some point a heightened possibility of military confrontation, "and Congress will have to own that as well," Obama said. He later toned down the war rhetoric, saying, "I am not, repeat, not suggesting that we are in immediate war footing should negotiations with Iran fail." But he said if diplomatic efforts collapse, he will have to look at other options to fulfil his commitment not to let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon. Prime Minister Cameron said that he is making calls while in Washington to let Senators know that the UK believes that the eatlier sanctions imoised by the US, UK and European Union increased pressure on Iran that led to Iran coming to the table. He said he was telling Senators that "it's the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won't actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion, and they could fracture the international unity that there's been which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran." ~~~~~ President Obama said he made the same points when he talked with Democrat lawmakers in Baltimore, warning that he would veto the Iran sanctions legislation. The President also had a tense exchange with Democrat Senator Bob Menendez,Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member, over his legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if the nuclear talks failed. Menendez questioned Obama’s negotiating strategy with Iran during the closed-door retreat for Senate Democrats attended by the President. Menendez, a leading supporter of sanctions, is working closely with Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois to introduce legislation in the coming days that would threaten new, deeper sanctions if Iran walked away from the negotiating table without a deal before the June deadline. But Obama said the move would be interpreted badly by Iran, as well as allies supporting the negotiations, and that the “likelihood of the entire negotiations collapsing is very high.” In addition, Obama said the US would be blamed for such a collapse and current partners who support the existing sanctions regime could pull out, because buying Iranian oil would be to their economic benefit. The President noted that Russia and China were among those who so far had backed the efforts. Obama also argued that the temporary deal - which has eased sanctions in exchange for a freeze on the development of Iran's nuclear program - has paid dividends : “We have not lost ground. Iran has not accelerated its program during the time these negotiations have taken place.” ~~~~~ At the White House news conference, Obama said, "Congress needs to show patience." He asked why it is important to take actions that might jeopardize the possibility of getting a deal over the next 60 to 90 days? "What is it precisely that is going to be accomplished?" Obama said. He said Iran came to the table under the assurance that there would be no new sanctions, and he said that even the threat of more sanctions could lead Iran to go back to building its nuclear program. ~~~~~ Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry met for nearly an hour with his Iranian counterpart in Paris in what was their second face-to-face encounter this week. The meeting with Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif took place at Kerry's hotel in the French capital before he returned to Washington. The pair spent six hours together in Geneva on Wednesday on the eve of a new round of nuclear negotiations among Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. The negotiators in Geneva grappled to reach a framework accord that would address international concerns about Iran's nuclear program by a March target date. Kerry was in Paris to show US solidarity with France following last week's terrorist attacks, and Zarif was in the city primarily to see French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. France has taken a tough public line on the negotiations, and French President Francois Hollande reiterated that point on Friday in a speech to 200 foreign diplomats. "France wants a final agreement but not in any conditions," he said. "With a clear approach : Yes to access of Iran to civil nuclear energy, no to its access to nuclear weapon. We won't compromise on that principle." ~~~~~ Dear readers, sanctions are a key issue in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. During the 2014 round of talks in Oman, Iranian negotiators reportedly pressed for  the early lifting of UN Security Council sanctions to be part of any nuclear accord. The Obama administration is reportedly prepared to suspend US-imposed “nuclear-related” sanctions early in the implementation of an accord. But, the likely opposition of Congress would make it difficult for President Obama to honor such an offer, unless he decided to resort to the waiver authority granted the President by most sanctions legislation. The US Treasury has, since the first US sanctions against Iran in 1979, granted some 10,000 waivers. Iran surely recognizes that the uncertain political support for a deal in the US means that it has a narrow window of opportunity to get UN sanctions lifted, because the move could be blocked by an American veto -- and either a veto or voting 'yes' would be problematic for the United States. Once lifted, UN sanctions could not quickly or easily be reimposed in the event of Iranian cheating on its nuclear deal obligations -- although Russia and China voted in favor of sanctions on six occasions from 2006 to 2010, they might block any reintroduction. And now, President Obama faces a group of influential Senators determined to impose more US sanctions if Iran leaves the negotiating table. So, nothing is resolved either at the UN or in the US concerning Iran sanctions. But the very fact that Iran is pushing so hard to have them lifted indicates that the sanctions are effective. Congress holds the key cards and Obama has a weak hand in trying to stop the Senate's new sanction bill from being passed. If the President vetoes the bill, the Senators sponsoring the bill believe they have the votes to override. Stay tuned.