Monday, November 30, 2015

Russia, Turkey, Israel : Which Is a Real EU Ally?

The EU has hired Turkey to prevent people crossing the Aegean Sea to Greek islands. Under a deal agreed yesterday, Turkey will receive €3 billion and political concessions in return for keeping refugees in Turkey. Most important, talks on Turkey joining the EU will be revived. Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said it was an "historic day" in Turkey-EU relations. Under the deal, Turkish citizens may by October 2016 be able to travel without visas in the EU's passport-free Schengen zone. The €3 billion is earmarked to help Syrian refugees in Turkey, which has spent $8 billion helping 2 million migrants already there. Davutoglu said : "We are paying the price of the failure of the UN system to solve the problem of the Syrian crisis at the earlier stages of the crisis." Some EU members hesitated about the Turkey deal, given serious concerns about its respect for democracy and the rule of law, but European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said the deal "would not lead to a situation where we forget about the main differences and divergences we have with Turkey - human rights and freedom of the press." Hours after sealing the deal, Turkish authorities rounded up 1,300 migrants planning to sail to Greece from hideouts near Aegean beaches and forests. Turkish gendarmes apprehended Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans, and three traffickers, coastguard officials told Reuters. The migrants were sent to a repatriation center where some could face deportation. In 2015, a record 500,000 migrants have travelled through Turkey trying to reach EU's Greece by boat. ~~~~~ While the EU was buying Turkish border control services, Israel was suspending contacts with EU entities involved in peace efforts with the Palestinians, because the EU now requires 'origin' labelling of exports from Israeli West Bank settlements headed for the EU. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the foreign ministry to reassess "the involvement of EU bodies in everything that is connected to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians." And, "Until completion of the reassessment, the Prime Minister has ordered a suspension of diplomatic contacts with the EU and its representatives in this matter." An Israeli ministry official also said Israel would stop assisting EU-sponsored projects intended for the Palestinians. EU officials played down the significance of the Israeli move, saying it is only a suspension which could be lifted soon. Brussels said the new EU labelling guidelines were technical, but Israel branded them discriminatory and damaging to peace efforts with the Palestinians. The EU position is that the lands Israel has occupied since the 1967 War - including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights - are not part of internationally recognized Israeli borders. So, settlement goods can't be labelled "Made in Israel." Netanyahu called it "hypocritical and a double standard," saying the EU has not taken similar steps in hundreds of territorial conflicts elsewhere, adding, "The European Union should be ashamed of itself." The labelling affects goods worth $50 million a year -- a fifth of the $200-$300 million worth of goods produced in settlements each year for sale outside the EU -- but small compared to the $30 billion of goods and services traded annually between Israel and the EU. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Israeli West Bank farmers and wine growers worried about the impact on their business have begun diversifying into markets in Russia and Asia to escape EU labelling. In another Russian move, Prime Minister Netanyahu stressed the importance of Israeli-Russian military cooperation to prevent "unnecessary accidents" at a meeting with President Putin in Paris, while Putin praised the "mechanism of cooperation" established in relation to Russia's Syrian military operations. Israel doesn't seek a Russian detente, but it has been misused by the EU and UN, whose actions strongly favor Palestine despite its nonstop terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. It is time for the EU to treat Israel fairly. Turkey is an employee. Israel is an ally.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Abortion on "Scandal" Trivialized All Women

I watch 'Scandal" every week. During the latest Season 5, I've been struck by how much the lead character Olivia Pope has become weak and victimized instead of the forceful leader she had been in the first four seasons. But, even that knawing subliminal perception had not prepared me for the Season Five final episode : 'Baby It's Cold Outside.' Olivia's abortion was shuddering heartless propaganda, showing Olivia alone and without so much as a hint of thoughtful pre-abortion preparation or evaluation, or discussion with the presumed father, Fitz, and without any plot line guidance for the audience or any plausible motive beyond Olivia's spite directed at Fitz. ~~~~~ Planned Parenthood gave the episode frighteningly mindless applause : “We saw one of our favorite characters make the deeply personal decision that one in three women have made in their lifetime. We applaud [“Scandal” showrunner] Shonda Rhimes...for proving that when women are telling our stories, the world will pause and watch.” The episode was additionally applauded for its storyline about Senator Mellie, Fitz's separated wife, filibustering to preserve non-discretionary funding for Planned Parenthood. It is a Senator's right in American politics and I have no quarrel with the scene. But, the Huffington Post wrote : “Millions of viewers watched a beloved character exercise her right to choose as just one of the things she did that day,” adding that “though nearly 3 in 10 women will get an abortion by the time they’re 45, the topic is rarely discussed in pop culture… [this] perpetuates the myth that the procedure is rare and contributes to the stigma surrounding it.” ~~~~~ "Just one of the things she did that day..." The abortion scene is set on Christmas Eve against a background of "Silent Night" and the voice of Olivia's father intoning : "Family is a burden, a pressure point, soft tissue, an illness, an antidote to greatness. Family...destroys you." The scene is Lady Macbeth sleepwalking while she tries to scrub the blood of her husband's victims, murdered at her request, off her hands. ~~~~~ Putting the anti-Christian attack aside, Christmas is not a celebration of abortion. It celebrates birth and family and the love of God for humanity. And, while Olivia's family is truly disfunctional, she has recognized that but, even armed with self-awareness, she will not abandon the pursuit of power instilled in her by her parents. Having helped Fitz ruin his marriage, she, by aborting, tosses him, them and their unborn child in the abortion clinic garbage pail in order to advance her Washington power career. And, why, we must ask, is she pregnant? She can afford to buy pills to prevent it, or morning after insurance pills - and sleeping with two men, she should have used some preventive. Scandal is watched by 10% of African American women. Is this the message they want to give their daughters - that neither education nor money nor power can save you from powerlessness in sexual relationships and the consequence of unwanted pregnancy. ~~~~~ Dear readers, that is not the role to be held out as normal to any young American woman in 2015. Abortion is not a decision any woman wants. While Americans may be evenly split on the need for legal support for abortion, 75% of Americans believe that abortion is morally wrong. Shanda Rhimes, the creator of "Scandal" who serves on the board of directors of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, as well as “Scandal's” writers, set out to tell America that abortion is "just one of the things" Olivia did that day. But, instead, the scene trivialized and demeaned Olivia, "Scandal," African American women, all women, and life itself. Abortion is a profound tragedy, for the unborn children whose lives are lost, and for the women who have abortions. If this was the "Scandal" episode that was supposed to show that abortion is normal and easy, that abortion is a great idea, a solution -- it failed. One critic said it showed that Shonda Rhimes may be a closet pro-lifer. Life is too precious to be closeted or destroyed carelessly, even on TV.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Saturday Politics : The Obamacare Disaster

The open enrollment period for Obamacare is underway, and an architect of President Obama's health law said last week the plans offered need to be more affordable to increase participation rates. High-deductible plans are part of the problem. Dr. Emanuel -- brother of Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago -- is a former special advisor to President Obama on health policy. His comments followed the news that UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest health insurer, said it may end its participation in Obamacare in 2017, citing "tempered" growth expectations for sign-ups for the plans. UnitedHealth Group recently projected $425 million losses on individual exchange plans for 2015 and 2016. Dr. Emanuel said some issues are specific to UnitedHealth : "They came in in the second year, and they might have gotten an adverse pool." According to Dr. Emanuel : "Affordability is absolutely critical across the board, because if we don't have affordable plans we are not going to get universal coverage. We've overplayed the high-deductible plans. People are feeling this is less and less insurance. And just more and more, 'I'm paying out of my pocket.'" Emanuel also cited soaring specialty drug costs : "They're affecting everyone. It's like 1% or 2% of the drug sales, but accounts for about 30, 40 or 50% of drug costs." ~~~~~ The government says penalties for not buying health insurance will rise substantially in 2016. Unless qualifying for an exemption, people will pay a penalty that's a percentage of taxable household income or per person, whichever is higher. In 2016, the percentage threshold goes up to 2.5% from 2% in 2015, with a maximum that's the average cost of a Bronze plan. The per-adult and per-child penalties more than double in 2016 to $695 and $347.50, respectively, with family maximums going from $975 to $2,085. ~~~~~ And, double-digit increases are coming in 2016 premiums for health insurance coverage -- from basic Bronze and Silver to top-flight Gold and Platinum policies. This is far above premium hikes between 2014 and 2015, according to a new analysis by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. : (1) monthly premiums for the lowest-price Silver plan median cost will rise by 11% in 2016, compared to a 7% increase between 2014 and 2015; (2) the median cost of the Bronze plans, one of the most popular offerings because of its relatively low premiums, will rise by 13% in 2016, compared to 7% this year; (3) high end Gold median premiums will jump 15% compared to 8% and Platinum will rise by 12% compared to 10% this year. ~~~~~ And, workers with employer-sponsored health insurance have seen costs more than double. Employees at mid-size and large companies paid $2,490 toward premiums and $2,208 in out-of-pocket costs (including copayments and deductibles) last year, for a total cost of about $4,700, according to a new report from Aon. In 2005, employees’ total healthcare costs were just $2,001. That is a 134% increase. ~~~~~Dear readers, it is most troubling that consumers will face soaring out-of-pocket costs for deductibles in 2016 – increases that often will negate the benefits of health care coverage and discourage its purchase. The Department of Health and Human Services insists there are plenty of plans available with low premiums -- yes, but afterward, sizeable out of pocket costs before Obamacare coverage actually kicks in. The New York Times recently published a survey showing that many of the newly insured are “feeling nearly as vulnerable as they were before they had coverage." More than half of Obamacare plans have a deductible of $3,000 or more, according to the NYT. Senate GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week, “If you look at how it unfolded over the years, everything we predicted is coming true. Higher premiums, higher co-payments, higher deductibles, lost jobs.” Obamacare - Obama's disaster for insurers, doctors, hospitals, patients and taxpayers. Repeal and Replace is vital. But the GOP must explain how the 'Replace' will provide better, less costly healthcare for Americans.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Merkel's Eurozone Policy Redone for Southern Europe's Refugee Crisis

France is still taking in refugees after the Paris attacks. Despite calls by leaders across Europe to stop accepting refugees, President Hollande said France will keep its commitment to receive 30,000 in the next two years. Hollande said : "Some want to establish a link between the influx of refugees coming from the Middle-East and the terrorist threat. The truth is that this link exists, because inhabitants of areas in Iraq and Syria are fleeing because they are being murdered by those who are attacking us today." ~~~~~ German Chancellor Angela Merkel agrees. On Wednesday, she vowed to maintain her open-door refugee policy, despite intense criticism at home and in the EU, caused by fears that refugees are a security risk. Merkel's own coalition and other EU states oppose her plan to take up to 1 million migrants this year in Germany and make EU states accept refugee quotas. Merkel told the Bundestag the security threat level in Germany is high but insisted : "The strongest response to terrorists is to carry on living our lives and our values as we have until now, self-confident and free, considerate and engaged." She was loudly applauded. To appease critics in her conservative party, especially in Bavaria, she said migrants who don't need protection must be sent home. She said the EU must resolve the crisis by working for peace in Syria, engaging Turkey as a partner in the refugee crisis, and protecting Europe's Schengen passport-free area by EU states agreeing to accept migrant quotas. A Wednesday poll put her conservative coalition up three points at 39%. ~~~~~ However, yesterday, just after Merkel's declaration, her Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told an Austrian newspaper the EU should set a limit on the number of refugees it takes in, seeking out those most clearly entitled to protection. De Maiziere said the EU should commit to "a generous concluding intake of refugees. Truly needy cases - from Syria, from Iraq - will be jointly sought out." He said his idea would include better protection of EU external borders, and the combination could help overcome resistance from some EU member states to the redistribution of refugees across the EU. ~~~~~ In the wake of the Paris attacks, Balkan countries that are transit routes for asylum seekers headed to northern Europe are cracking down, refusing to admit people of certain nationalities. Humanitarian workers report that migrants from countries other than Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are now stopped, raising fears of a migrant crisis in Greece. ~~~~~ Reuters says sources told it Germany will start deporting asylum seekers from the Balkan states of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro, under an agreement to repatriate asylum seekers whose identification papers had expired or been destroyed -- many destroy their passports on arrival in their destination country to avoid being sent home. In September, Germany declared Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro "safe," so their citizens, like those of Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia, would automatically be ineligible for asylum. Germany has identified 150,000 asylum seekers it wants to deport. Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro have now agreed to recognize Germany's identification procedure and temporary travel document. German deportation of applicants from Pakistan would use this document, but negotiations are not concluded. ~~~~~ Dear readers, hundreds of Moroccans, Algerians and Pakistanis stormed the Greece - Macedonia border yesterday, tearing down barbed wire and demanding to continue to northern Europe. Some 1,500 migrants are stranded on Greece's northern border after the EU began to allow only those fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq to enter the Balkans. The Balkans' border clamp down leaves tens of thousands stranded in Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Geeece. The EU crisis is neither solved nor improving. The Balkans and Greece should not be the dumping grounds that make Merkel's policy work. It's Merkel's "one size fits all" Eurozone policy applied once again to southern Europe. Neither mess will be resolved soon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving 2015

President Lincoln's proclamation set the precedent for America's national Thanksgiving Day. Sarah Hale, an elderly magazine editor, wrote Lincoln on September 28, 1863, asking that the day of our annual Thanksgiving be "made a National and fixed Union Festival." Prior to this, each state had its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times. Unlike his predecessors, who ignored Mrs. Hale's petitions, Lincoln acted immediately, following President George Washington's call for a day of thanksgiving, issuing his request on October 3, 1789, to set apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." The Lincoln proclamation was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original, in his handwriting, was sold a year later to benefit Union troops. Here is the Lincoln proclamation. ~~~~~ Washington, DC. October 3, 1863. By the President of the United States of America. A Proclamation. The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth. By the President : Abraham Lincoln. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Obama's Last Chance at Middle East Leadership

In the most serious public confrontation between a NATO member state and Russia since the 1950s, Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet Tuesday over Turkish territory. Russian President Putin reacted instantly, calling the downing a "stab In the back by the accomplices of terrorism," adding, "We cannot find another wording to what happened today. Our plane was shot down over the Syrian territory. The air-to-air missile came from an F-16 Turkish military plane. It fell in the Syrian territory four kilometers from the Turkish border. It was at an altitude of 6,000 meters one kilometer away from the Turkish border when it was hit. In any case, our pilot and our plane never threatened the Republic of Turkey." ~~~~~ That's the Russian story. But, Turkey says it warned the Russian jet it was violating Turkish airspace ten times before firing. In a letter to the UN Security Council, Turkey said it shot down the jet while it was in Turkish airspace. Along with a second plane, the aircraft had flown more than a mile into Turkey for 17 seconds, despite being warned to divert 10 times in five minutes during its approach, the letter said. Turkish President Erdogan stated : "Nobody should doubt that we made our best efforts to avoid this latest incident. But everyone should respect the right of Turkey to defend itself." Erdogan said that only Turkey's "cool-headedness" had prevented worse incidents in the past, alluding to Russian air strikes in Syria, during which it has violated Turkish airspace several times recently. ~~~~~ Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled a Wednesday visit to Turkey and advised Russians not to visit Turkey. The Russian defense ministry said it was preparing measures to respond. Private Turkish Haberturk TV showed the fighter jet going down in flames, trailing smoke behind as it crashed in a wooded area the TV called "Turkmen Mountain." A Turkey Anadolu Agency video showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed. A deputy commander of rebel Turkmen forces in Syria said his men shot both pilots dead as they parachuted. The Russian military confirmed one pilot had been killed from the ground and another soldier died during a rescue operation. A senior Turkish official said at least one of the pilots could still be alive : "We're trying to verify the information and taking all necessary steps to facilitate their return." A video sent to Reuters appeared to show one of the pilots badly wounded and motionless on the ground. ~~~~~ NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg supported Turkey, rejecting suggestions that the incident happened outside Turkey's borders. Stoltenberg said : "The allied assessments that we have are consistent with the information we have from Turkey. We stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally." ~~~~~ A US military spokesman said it was an issue between the Turkish and Russian governments and that US-led coalition operations in Syria and Iraq were continuing "as planned." President Obama said Turkey had "the right to defend itself." He and French President Hollande, meeting in Washington, encouraged calm. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Putin's separate Syria air strike campaign has resulted in Russian and NATO planes flying combat missions in the same airspace - a first since World War II. Russia is targeting US-coalition-supported rebel groups close to Turkish borders to support al-Assad regime ground operations. Putin's aggressive Syria/Iraq airstrike campaign has forced Obama to be slightly more active in his role as allied coalition leader, but analysts say the US needs to be much more proactive. Hollande said as much today in Washington. Putin is using Obama's laxity to encourage France and others to join Russia and Iran in Syria and Iraq, cutting out the US. Obama was wrong about the 2011 Iraq troop withdrawal and about not taking on al-Assad regime change in 2011 or 2012 when it was possible. This is Obama's last chance to positively impact the Middle East. But to do this, he needs to assume the required US leadership role now. NOW.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Obama Words...Putin Actions

President Obama : "Destroying ISIS is not only a realistic goal, we’re going to get it done.” Obama's latest platitude was offered at the just-concluded East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur. Obama again asserted that Russia is the impediment to action in Syria because it favors leaving al-Assad in place until the threat of terror is eliminated - an Obama conclusion shared by no one. Military and intel analysts have concluded that Obama must abandon his fixation on ousting al-Assad until ISIS is defeated. Even Hillary Clinton, in a Council on Foreign Relations speech last Thursday, said the chance to remove al-Assad in a “regime change” operation had come and gone. But, Obama this weekend called his position one of "conscience" and also a practical matter because, he said, "if I cynically" put al-Assad aside, the US could not stop the fighting among other groups in Syria. Obama, before talking with French President Hollande, added that Hollande agrees with him. ~~~~~ President Hollande said Monday that al-Assad is “not the future” for Syria. He said air strikes “will intensify and will seek to inflict maximum damage” on ISIS. Hollande was speaking in Paris with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who was there to visit the Bataclan attack site. The UK and France have agreed to increase joint intelligence work, Cameron said, adding that the UK will offer France the use of British air fields in Cyprus for strikes in Syria. ~~~~~ If Hollande is successful in pulling Russia and the US into a common position against ISIS, it could produce benefits beyond Syria, leading to a reduction in geopolitical tensions -- in the Middle East, on Russia’s borders with Europe in Ukraine, and perhaps even between the US and Russia. A successful diplomatic effort by Hollande would also put the Syria/Iraq alliance in place, because the Iranians would probably follow Russia, and the Saudis, Washington. Such a united front could actually make a difference against ISIS. ~~~~~ This is a very optimistic assessment because it would require a huge shift in Obama's positions -- about al-Assad having to go now, which makes cooperation with Russia unlikely; about his declarations that Russia is part of the Syria problem, which makes unified Syria goals difficult; and about his "no US ground troops" policy, which makes retaking Raqqa or Mosul almost impossible. ~~~~~ Vladimir Putin was in Iran Monday to talk about Syria and peace proposals. He met with the Ayatollah Khomenei, who told Putin that America is the problem in the Middle East, posing a threat to Iran and Russia. And, Putin eased an export ban on nuclear equipment and technology to Iran, under a Kremlin decree published on Monday, the same day Putin arrived in Iran and met with Khomenei. The decree states that Russian firms are now authorised to export nuclear hardware and provide financial and technical advice to Iran. ~~~~~ Dear readers, GOP Senator Ben Sasse recently used social media to ask Obama several fundamental questions : (1) Why are there ISIS HQs, training camps & ammo depots in Raqqa for France to bomb? Shouldn’t we have already taken those out? (2) Do you have a list of targets that you’ll bomb if ISIS is able to attack the US? If so, why aren’t you bombing them now? (3) Is France aligning with Russia because US support is insufficient? (4) What would it take to admit misjudging ISIS? Anything short of an attack on American soil? ~~~~~ All would be pertinent questions for congressional oversight hearings, which are unlikely because most Democrats still cling to the belief that their leader Barack Obama actually wants to "degrade and destroy" ISIS, when his real goal often seems to be to "degrade and destroy" the Western alliance and America. Compare that to Vladimir Putin's determination to make Russia #1 in the world. After confirmation that ISIS downed the Russian passenger jet, Putin said at a Kremlin meeting last week : "We will find them anywhere on the planet and punish them." The world believes Putin because his words are followed by serious action.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Containment Doesn't Work...Do We Want to Win the War against ISIS?

Does the West want to win the war against ISIS? President Obama's containment fantasy has failed. In The American Interest this weekend, EU scholar Ulrich Speck wrote : "The Syrian war has come to Europe. Half-hearted diplomatic efforts will not keep it at bay any more." ~~~~~ The US and EU watched as Syria was decimated in a vicious civil war. Then, as the war spilled over into Iraq, the US tried to contain ISIS with air strikes. Europe largely watched. But, this summer, the EU felt the civil war through the refugee crisis, driven by a flood of Syrian and other regional asylum-seekers. The Schengen area border regime is under unprecedented stress, threatening free movement in the EU - its only significant federal achievement. Some EU countries refuse to take in war refugees. Nationalist parties are on the rise. And now the result of watching and hoping has hit home : the Paris attacks were masterminded in Syria, and at least some of the terrorists were trained and indoctrinated there. ~~~~~ As for America, President Obama left Iraq indefensible and alone in 2011. He cossets Islam by refusing to call ISIS terrorists islamic or jihadist. He refused to step in to eliminate al-Assad, which his sunni Arab allies demand. He further alienated them by making a pact with shiite Iran that will end with its having nuclear weapons to turn on America's sunni allies. He has refused to arm the Kurds, the only military ground force winning against ISIS. And, he insists there is no war and refuses to put US ground troops in Syria or Iraq. ~~~~~ Does the West want to win the war against ISIS? No Western power - with the possible exception of France - seems ready to answer 'yes.' No one is prepared to fill the vacuum that the complete defeat of al-Assad would mean for Syria. It is now being filled by al-Assad henchmen and various jihadist groups. And Vladimir Putin is lurking, waiting for his moment to seize power in Syria. Obama wants at almost any price to avoid another war in Iraq. He will not undertake any Middle East state-building efforts -- his legacy goal is "ending wars," not worrying about what follows. Europe, more immediately affected by the ISIS advance, has chosen to shield itself from the war’s collateral damage by trying to pay Turkey to take in refugees and fight ISIS as its surrogate. ~~~~~ Obama Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says the US is already at war with ISIS. Carter said on Thursday : "We have to defeat ISIL. It is something that must be defeated." Carter said he agrees with French President Hollande that there is a war against ISIS, saying "Hollande has said it very well." Carter added, "We are fighting every day." ~~~~~ Dear readers, crisis should clarify leadership. We have heard French President Hollande and Russian President Putin. Their words may not be clarion calls but they recognize the crisis and are showing lradership - good or bad. US Defense Secretary Carter recognizes the crisis but he is trying to thread a needle held by his boss, Obama. Last week, GOP Senator Lindsey Graham pleaded with Obama to listen to his military. The Washington Post's Thomas Gibbons, a former US Marine, cited a video, reportedly made near Aleppo, Syria, and posted online November 17, showing rebels of the US-backed Free Syrian Army firing a US-supplied anti-tank guided missile at what it is clearly a US-made Humvee. Gibbons wrote : "Rarely do the weapons and equipment of a conflict come together in a single video to highlight how America now fights its wars, but there it is. It is unclear if the US Humvee is one that ISIS...captured from Iraqi security forces during its blitz across parts of northern Iraq last year, or if it’s from US-supplied Iraqi militias who have since entered Syria to prop’s fledging forces. But one thing is for certain : that truck was built in the USA." Winning the war against ISIS is the first step in any attempt to stabilize the Middle East. Winning depends on Obama becoming rational, and taking military advice. Things Obama rarely is, or does. Win the war? Not before 2017.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Saturday Politics : Obama, the US Military's Weak Link

It's Saturday politics after a tumultous week in which we were forcefully reminded how fragile civilization is. ~~~~~ One of the problems related to the war on jihadist terrorism - which President Obama refuses to call by its real name - cuts across political and military lines. An Air Force official recently told Congress that Obama's 'zero civilian casualty' policy to prevent civilian deaths and collateral damage, keeps US military pilots fighting ISIS in Iraq from dropping 75% of their payloads. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce says the policy is being attacked by military leaders who believe it has enabled ISIS to gain strength in the region. Royce says : "You went 12 full months while ISIS was on the march without the US using that air power and now as the pilots come back to talk to us, they say three-quarters of our ordnance we can't drop, we can't get clearance even when we have a clear target in front of us. I don't understand this...this is what has allowed ISIS the advantage and ability to recruit." Retired four-star general Jack Keane agrees with Royce, calling it "an absurdity from the beginning....the French are in there not using the restrictions we have imposed on our pilots." As for the Russians, Keane said : "They don't care at all about civilians." But, an unnamed Pentagon official told the media : "The bottom line is that we will not stoop to the level of our enemy and put civilians more in harm's way than absolutely necessary. The fact that aircraft go on missions and don't strike anything is not out of the norm," illogically adding that ISIS goes out of its way to put civilians at risk. Despite President Obama's "zero civilian casualties" policy, a new NBC poll released Thursday found that 70% of Americans reject his approach in favor of expanding the fight against ISIS. ~~~~~ The Obama's inability to “degrade and destroy ISIS,” or even to “contain” it, as he foolishly claimed last Friday, is an embarrassment to the unquestioned superiority of the US military. Obama and his national security team that one retired general describes as “pathetically weak” -- Susan Rice, former human rights activist, and Valerie Jarrett, lawyer and former real estate developer -- have produced headline failures in Syria, but military commanders have been silenced with political-style purges by a President and White House team that apparently values its control of military decision-making more than it values the US military. ~~~~~ Examples. Obama's failure to train and arm moderate rebels in Syria -- $50 million produced six soldiers -- has made the military seem incompetent. Recently, the White House announced it would send in dozens (fewer than 50) military advisors, as a show of resolve, but insists they won't engage in combat. The New York Times recently detailed efforts to disrupt Highway 47, ISIS’ critical supply route between Syria and Mosul. The US apparently hesitated to bomb the key road for fear of civilian casualties. There have been 250,000 people killed in Syria, but Obama seemed worried about truck drivers who, the NYT says, may be working for ISIS. Yesterday, the US launched airstrikes on hundreds of oil tanker trucks, destroying 116, but, reportedly avoided civilian casualties by dropping leaflets an hour before the strikes, alerting ISIS to the bombings. ~~~~~ Dear readers, where are US military commanders? Despite the lackluster performance against ISIS, senior officers are almost silent about switching to a winning strategy. Why? Confronting President Obama is risky. Senior military commanders who have disagreed in public often face early retirement. Sir Hew Strachan, a senior UK defense strategist, cites the ouster of General Stanley McChrystal, saying : “The concern about the military speaking out shows a lack of democratic and political maturity.” Senator John McCain accused the White House of pushing out Marine General James Mattis from US Central Command and Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn from the DIA for contradicting Obama policies. Obama - the US military's weak link.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugees, Security, Politics, Obama and Carson

The Bloomberg poll showing that 53% of Americans want the US to stop taking in Syrian refugees is part of a Bloomberg Politics National Poll released Wednesday showing the US divided on whether to send troops to Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS, opposed by President Obama, and on whether the government is doing enough to protect the US from terrorist attacks. Terrorism and ISIS jumped to the top of Americans’ concerns after the Paris attacks. The percentage rating terrorism or ISIS as top concerns has doubled since the last poll in September. At the same time, those who think the US is on the right track fell to 23%, the lowest rating in more than three years. Obama’s disapproval rating rose to 51%, up from 47% in September. Terror (14%, up from 7%) and ISIS (21%, up from 11%), are cited by a combined 35% of Americans as the top issue in the poll conducted November 15 to 17. That’s equal to the combined concerns about jobs, immigration, health care and the federal deficit. And, despite ongoing tension between the US and Russia, a surprising 53% of Americans favor a US-Russia military coalition to fight Islamic terrorism, even while Americans are divided about whether to send US troops to Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS (44% for and 45% against), or about whether the US has done enough to protect America from a Paris-style attack -- 64% of Republicans support sending US troops and 59% of Democrats oppose it -- while Democrats are twice as confident as Republicans that the US is doing enough to protect Americans at home. ~~~~~ On the refugee question, only 12% of Republicans want to keep the current program compared with 46% of Democrats. While 64% of Americans agree that Islam is inherently a peaceful religion, 46% of evangelicals say Islam is inherently violent, while 45% of evangelicals call Islam an inherently peaceful religion with some adherents who twist its teachings to justify violence. ~~~~~ These national trends may explain why House Republicans and 47 Democrats voted on Thursday, 289 to 137, to approve a bill requiring new screening requirements for refugees from Syria and Iraq before they can enter the US. The 47 Democrats who defied President Obama’s veto threat and backed the bill included centrists, those in tough reelection races and even one member of leadership, Representative Steve Israel, who heads the House Democrat communications effort. Two Republicans voted against the bill - Representatives Walter Jones (N.C.) and Steve King (Iowa). The bill will now go to the Senate, where it faces a tougher future. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid vowed to block the House bill if it is considered by the Senate : “The problem is not with refugees. I don’t think we’ll be dealing with it over here.” When asked about an Obama veto, Reid said, "Don’t worry, it won’t get passed. Next question?” ~~~~~ Dear readers, top Obama administration officials, in the hours before the vote, couldn't convince the 47 House Democrats to oppose the bill. The administration touts the vetting process, saying it now typically takes more than a year for each refugee. But, FBI Director James Comey said in an October hearing that some gaps remain in the administration’s ability to fully vet each refugee applicant. One thing is clear. If the House bill is blocked in the Senate, the House GOP will consider using the omnibus federal spending bill, attaching a rider blocking funding for the refugee program until stiffer controls are agreed. This raises the possibility of a Congress-Obama showdown and a partial federal shutdown. Congress must pass funding legislation by December 11. Obama may veto the spending bill, forcing a shutdown to try to make the GOP look bad with voters. But, Americans' real fears about ISIS/ jihadist terrorism may backfire, with a veto override forcing Obama to back down and agree to tighter controls. The next three weeks will give a preview of some 2016 presidential election fault lines. (NO, Dr. Carson, Syrians aren't dogs - a Moslem insult. Their entry into the US just needs to be halted to help keep Americans safe.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

American Groundswell against Obama Syrian Refugee Resettlement

Yesterday, the Washington Post printed a list of states whose governors say they won’t accept Syrian refugees, citing the inability to certify with certainty they are not radicalized. The states have Republican governors : Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming. And now the Democratic governor of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan, says the federal government should “halt acceptance” of Syrian refugees until guarantees can be offered. The leftist George Soros group ripped Hassan, saying it is “incredibly disappointing” to see a Democrat “join with her far right-wing Republican counterparts. When politicians use fear or racism to win elections, we should condemn that action - not reward it.” ~~~~~ It's not just one Democrat governor joining the GOP. Yesterday, two top Senate Democrats questioned the refugee resettlement program. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who will become the Democratic Senate leader in 2017, said “a pause may be necessary” on admitting Syrians. And, the deepest cut came from Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. Feinstein said the US needs to examine the role the visa process plays in security risks, as well as the use of encrypted communication. ISIS is different from al-Qaeda, said Feinstein, "This is big; ISIL has 30,000 fighters." ~~~~~ If the GOP is reacting "hysterically" to the Syrian refugee resettlement program, as Obama is charging in vicious personal attacks, a Bloomberg poll released yesterday shows that 53% of Americans must be "hysterical," too, because that's how many agree with GOP presidential candidates, the Republican Party, and Democrats Hassan, Schumer and Feinstein. Along with the 53%, surveyed immediately after the Paris attacks, who want to halt the resettlement of 10,000 Syrian refugees, 11% said they would favor a limited program to accept only Syrian Christians while excluding Moslems, a proposal Obama has dismissed as “shameful” and "un-American." ~~~~~ With the Obama administration saying states may not have the power to refuse refugees, the issue has moved to Congress. Senator Rand Paul, a GOP presidential candidate, proposed legislation that would impose an “immediate moratorium on visas for refugees” from countries with “jihadist movements.” Senator Ted Cruz, another GOP candidate, said he will introduce legislation that would ban all Moslem Syrian refugees from entering the US. Cruz said : “What Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are proposing is that we bring to this country tens of thousands of Syrian Moslem refugees....particularly in light of what happened in Paris, that’s nothing short of lunacy.” GOP leaders could vote on the refugee question before the Thanksgiving break, and the House will pass a bill placing strict controls on Syrian and Iraqi refugee certification. Legislation restricting Obama’s refugee program could be a tough vote for Democrats, forced to choose between backing their President and responding to public fears about a potential terrorist attack in the United States. The fight could become an obstacle to finishing the year-end government funding bill by December 11 because the GOP wants to include language to halt federal funding for refugee resettlement. Obama has threatened to veto a bill halting resettlement. It is unclear if this means the funding bill or if a veto could be overridden. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Ted Cruz has the right approach to Obama : "If you want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries but I would encourage you, Mr. President, to come back and insult me to my face. Let’s have a debate on Syrian refugees right now....if he actually wants to defend his policy instead of tossing cheap insults, I actually think that will be beneficial for this country." The White House has not responded.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mr. Obama, Step Aside...the World Needs a Leader

There was still blood on the streets of Paris Saturday when Republican presidential candidates demanded US leadership against terrorists and a clampdown on immigration, pounding President Barack Obama, following Friday's Paris terrorist attacks. Ben Carson said boots on the ground would be important. Along with most Republican presidential candidates, Carson also said the US should not accept Middle East refugees, fearing terrorists may enter with them. This followed French news that the fake Syrian passport found next to the body of one of the Paris suicide bombers was confirmed by Greece to have been registered on the Greek island of Leros, suggesting the holder entered the EU posing as a refugee. Donald Trump said : "Our President wants to take in 250,000 from Syria....And we all have heart, and we all want people taken care of and all of that. But with the problems our country has, to take in 250,000 people, some of whom are going to have problems, big problems....We have to be insane." Senator Ted Cruz listed "immediate, commonsense steps" to keep America safe : "We need to consult closely with our NATO allies who may be targeted for additional immediately declare a halt to any plans to bring refugees that may have been infiltrated by ISIS to the United redouble our efforts to prevent ISIS agents from penetrating our nation by other means....Those who are fleeing persecution should be resettled in the Middle East in majority-Moslem countries....on the other hand, Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, who are being beheaded or crucified - we should be providing safe haven to them." The line has been drawn, largely by Cruz, and now 31 US state governors have announced their refusal to take in Syrian refugees. ~~~~~ But, it is clear that America's anger with President Obama runs much deeper than taking in Syrian refugees. America condemns Obama's refusal to confront terrorism. Trump tweeted Friday : "We need much tougher, much smarter leadership - and we need it NOW!” Friday morning, Obama said "the US has 'contained' ISIS from making territorial gains in Syria and Iraq.'' He said the group was not "gaining strength, what we have not yet been able to do is to completely decapitate their command and control structures." Friday evening, ISIS claimed 129 lives in Paris - callously called a "setback" by Obama - and threatened to do the same in Washington. ~~~~~ Retired Air Force General Michael Hayden said : "You've got to be on your guard for all possible options going forward." ~~~~~ President Obama's Monday press conference at the G20 meeting in Turkey was the last straw for many, including one reporter who asked Obama when he was going to "take out the bastards." Obama's answer : “If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they want to do, present a specific plan. What I am not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning...I’m too busy for that.” ~~~~~ Obama has not been as busy as French President Hollande. Obama claims progress on the diplomatic front with Russian President Putin on securing a political transition in Syria, but hedged : “There are a number of ways that this diplomatic initiative would falter.” But, Hollande has arranged with Putin coordinated intel and air strikes on ISIS' seat at Raqqa and cooperation of their naval activities off the Syrian coast. ~~~~~ Dear readers, former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told Newsmax on Monday : "The President in his press conference....has surrendered to ISIS." DeLay said Congress should "explain what's going on here, explain what has to happen, show them a President who is a coward and stand up for the people." That is, stand up for America. The time for tolerating Obama's dangerous presidency is over. Congress and the White House should be flooded with demands for Obama to go. Now. The world is not "popping off." It is demanding American leadership for a global war. But Obama is still AWOL.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hollande : "Terrorism will not defeat us; we will defeat terrorism"

Monday, November 16, 2015. ~~~~~ French President Hollande addressed the Senate and Assemblée Nationale, gathered in a Congress at Versailles. It is rare, happening only three times since the mid-1800s. As in the US, a French president must be invited and has no right to enter the legislature otherwise. ~~~~~ President Hollande said : "The Republic is not beyond the reach of contemptible, despicable killers." Nor is Europe or the Middle East, he added, ISIS concerns the entire international community. "We are not engaged in a war of civilizations, but in a war against jihadist terrorism that threatens the entire world....Friday's attacks were planned in Syria, organized in Belgium and carried out in Paris." He promised to intensify France's attack and its effort in Syria. He announced a meeting soon with Presidents Obama snd Putin. He called for a UN Security Council meeting as soon as possible. He called for systematic, coordinated EU border controls. "But, France remains an open, constitutional Republic. We must adapt to this war against terrorism." He will ask for constitutional changes to permit revoking the French nationality of dual-nationals convicted of terrorist acts. And he will ask for a new definition of legitimate self-defense by police..."We ask now for a rapid constitutional evaluation of our proposals." He said he will ask for a three-month State of Emergency by presenting a proposal to the Assemblée Nationale on Wednesday. He is increasing Justice Ministry and prison personnel by 2,500 and the border police and other police by 6,000. The military's strength will not be reduced before 2019. He said this will increase the budget deficit because "the security accord supercedes the stability accord [the EU maximum 3% of GNP as a budget deficit]....We must continue to work, to go out, to live...we are not hostages to terrorism....We are attached to our liberties...we will continue to shine as an example for the world. Vive la France! Vive la République!" The Congress stood, applauded, and sang the Marseillaise. ~~~~~ But, several of Hollande's proposals are controversial -- revising the constitution first among them. The conservative Républicain party of former President Sarkozy on Monday evening asked Socialist President Hollande to add the element they say is missing -- the only really valuable legal change -- to be able to detain and intern the 4,000 radicalized people in France before they actually carry out an act of terrorism. ~~~~~ Dear readers, there was a minute of silence all over France at noon Monday - even trains and cars stopped. The silence was also honored many places in Europe. Then, at 4 p.m., amid the formal but austere display of French military and political pomp and circumstance, French President François Hollande delivered a stirring, if surely to be debated, call to arms against terrorism. And Monday night the Eiffel Tower was again lit -- for the first time since Friday - in red white and blue. As has been the case since 9/11, France leads Europe's determination to destroy jihadist terrorism. Left and Right, every French president has acted and called for international support. Since 2008, France has often been left alone as the Obama administration would first declare its intent to act, only to retreat. On Monday, Hollande called for a "single coalition" against an ISIS he said is beatable. America's political leaders of both parties are excoriating President Obama's timidity. Perhaps this time, America will lead -- not because Obama's weakness has suddenly turned to strength, but because the alternative will undoubtedly be a war against jihadist terrorism led by Russia and Vladimir Putin, followed by a Russian Middle East ascendancy. This time, necessity for Barack Obama may be the mother, not of invention, but of necessity itself.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris Mourns But Vows to Pursue ISIS

My notes as I watched French TV Friday evening. By 10:15 p.m. the X and XI arrondisements of Paris were in lockdown. Restaurants had taken Kakachnikov fire. As we later were told, at 9:25 p.m., men in a rented black car opened fire on Le Petit Cambodge and the nearby bar Le Carillon. Fifteen dead. Used 7.62-calibre cartridges were found on the street. And just before 10 p.m., a neighboor reported that a man got out of a second car, a black Seat, and fired a large-calibre gun at the terrace of La Belle Equipe bistro, in the XI arrondissement. Later, a gendarme said 19 people died in that attack. ~~~~~ Then, we learned about hostages - how many was not clear - in a theatre called Le Bataclan, where a Californian rock group was performing. And, we heard that near Le Stade de France, the site of a France-Germany football match, explosions went off at 9:20 and 9:30 p.m. - and a third at 9:53. Three were reported dead, with 5 others in critical condition. French President François Hollande was attending, as is often the case in Europe when national teams play. A presidential security officer whispered in Hollande's ear -- the image was eerily like 9/11 -- he was evacuated and taken to the Interior Ministry. ~~~~~ At 11 p.m., French AFP media reported 30 dead. At 11:30 p.m., 2 or 3 heavily armed men fired on security forces outside the Bataclan theatre. No injuries were reported, but a later announcement said a French security officer had been killed. The death toll stood at 40. At 11:35 p.m., the media said there had been 6 separate attacks. Injuries were set at 60. At 11:40 p.m., President Hollande and Prime Minister Valls had already been meeting with Interior Minister Cazeneuve for an hour. Parisians were told to stay home and await news and further advice. ~~~~~ At 11:55 p.m., President Hollande spoke to France : Paris was sealed, all of the Ile de France would be searched, all French borders were closed, a state of emergency was declared on all French territory, and 3,000 military were called to Paris to help. Later, the Ministers approved the decree for the State of Emergency. ~~~~~ At 00:30 a.m., security forces made an assault on the Bataclan theatre. Some people were evacuated. At 00:50 a.m., TV announced that at least 2 terrorists were dead. The assault was over, but there was no news about the people inside. "Carnage" was reported. Later, we learned the terrorists in the theatre had exploded their suicide bombs. At 01:12 a.m., a gendarme told AFP there were 100 dead in the theatre. We later learned it was 89, shot randomly and at close range. By 01:20 a.m., President Hollande, Prime Minister Valls, Interior Minister Cazeneuve and Justice Minister Taubira were at Le Bataclan theatre. At 01:48 a.m., we learned that two terrorists had killed themselves with suicide bombs earlier at the Stade de France. ~~~~~ We now know that authorities are scouring Europe for at least two suspects “directly involved” in the attacks. Investigators are trying to determine whether the two are among the seven people arrested in the last 48 hours in Belgium. Another, the brother of a dead terrorist who rented one of the black cars, is the subject of an international warrant. French police took six people -- relatives of one of the terrorists who was a French citizen -- into custody for questioning Sunday. At least 132 people are dead and 529 injured, 90 very critically. The investigation now stretches from the Greek islsnds and Turkey to poorer Paris suburbs and Belgium. ~~~~~ Dear readers, we know that the terrorists were in contact with ISIS in Syria, and that a major Ankara attack was averted Friday. ISIS is at war with Europe and the West. What will we do? Obama said he would help hunt them down and "bring them to justice." The trouble with that is they aren't criminals. They are islamic jihadist TERRORISTS. Putting a few of them in prison is meaningless. ISIS must be eradicated. France is ready, as are Western and Arab allies. Russia might even be persuaded. But, they all ask for US leadership. Who can convince Obama to lead?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dear, Gentle France, We Are with You

Our prayers, our thoughts, our hearts are with our brothers and sisters in Paris and with all of France. We stand with you in your time of pain and horror. We share your grief and your determination. We will always be with you. We will never surrender.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Greek-Eurozone Austerity Battle Is Far from Over

Greece's accord with its Eurozone creditors is in danger. On Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told his cabinet to finish talks with lenders this week so Greece can get a new disbursement of aid being held up by a dispute over foreclosures and non-performing mortgages. It's the first major Greek dispute with lenders since Tsipras and his leftist coalition were re-elected in September. Eurozone finance ministers told Greek officials on Monday Greece would not get any more aid until it implements a series of reforms, the most important being a tighter foreclosures law for problem mortgages. Tsipras's office said he told his cabinet it is a "priority" to conclude negotiations and receive €2 billion in aid and another €10 billion to recapitalize Greece's four big banks. A European Central Bank stress test last month showed Greek banks need a total of €14.4 billion additional capital to survive adverse economic conditions -- €4.4 billion will come from private investors, with the rest from the €10 billion held in earmarked accounts. One banker said : "The newsflow on foreclosures created noise and is on the mind of some investors, but overall there is interest in the offerings. If there is a fast compromise, it will help." ~~~~~ Negotiations are stuck on the issue of protecting Greek mortgage holders if they fail to make payments. Greece insists that thousands of Greeks should not be put in danger of losing their homes, as happened in Spain. Now, mortgage holders can apply for foreclosure protection if the value of their home is €300,000. The Greek government wants protection based on a home valuation of between €180,000 and €200,000, with income-related criteria. Greeks losing their homes is a very sensitive issue now, as Greece struggles to shelter and feed thousands of Middle East refugees and migrants entering the country. ~~~~~ Life has been hard for Greeks caught by government efforts to manage the Greek economic crisis and EU demands. There are renewed accusations in Greece that lender-imposed austerity has crushed the economy, while the EU argues that Tsipras's leftists wasted improvements achieved by the prior center-right Greek government. ~~~~~ "Greece is making considerable efforts. They are scrupulously respecting the July agreement," French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told reporters, "France wants an agreement today." Greek officials stress that Athens wants to honor the bailout accord, but for reforms to work, they need to have social cohesion, which means not making life more difficult for poorer Greek citizens. An unnamed Eurozone official said : "There is always room for compromise but I don't think the ministers would accept rules that are much more favorable for people not paying their mortgages than in any other country." ~~~~~ Dear readers, yesterday thousands of Greeks were on strike against austerity, marching for the first time in a year, telling the Tsipras government it has not kept its promise to end austerity. There were grounded flights, hospitals with minimal staff, ships docked and public offices shut across Greece to protest the never-ending rounds of tax hikes and pension cutbacks under the bailout. Riot police fired tear gas in central Athens as youths hurled petrol bombs and stones, smashing shop windows and hitting the Greek central bank. Five years of austerity have killed economic activity - 25% of Greeks are unemployed. "My salary is not enough to cover even my basic needs. My students are starving," a protesting teacher told Reuters. Tsipras's own Syriza party said it supports the strike, because it strengthens their position. A retired teacher whose pension has been cut by 50%, is angry at Tsipras and the lenders. "I wish Tsipras had done what he promised but they didn't let him. Now we have turned into beggars for a plate of food." Tsipras accepted the unpopular terms of the third bailout when faced with the threat of an exit from the Eurozone. But, as in Spain and Portugal, the Euro remains a burden that bailouts worsen. The Euro/austerity battle is far from over.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day 2015

Dear readers, this is the very special day on which we honor our veterans - the courageous, self-sacrificing men and women who defend our liberties and freedom with their lives - Veterans Day in America and Armistice Day in Europe. I always feel that all the words have been written and said. Our role is simply to say with profound gratitude "Thank you" for being there and for watching over us. So, before the day ends, here are the words of those who have gone before us. ~~~~~ "The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it." (Thucydides). ~~~~~ “The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” (Patrick Henry). ~~~~~ “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.” (Abraham Lincoln). ~~~~~ "It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the organizer, who gave us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag." (Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC). ~~~~~ "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." (George Washington). ~~~~~ “Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower). ~~~~~ “Never give in -- never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” (Winston Churchill). ~~~~~ And, finally, as is so often the case, George Washington reminds America of its constitutional government, even in time of war : "The Constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure. (George Washington).

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Is the FBI Hillary Email Server Inquiry Heating Up?

Politico reported Tuesday that although Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is trying to put questions about her private email server behind her, the FBI has stepped up inquiries into the security of the former Secretary of State's server, as well as email communication between aides. Tom Fuentes, former assistant director of the FBI, noted : "This sounds to me like it's more than a preliminary inquiry; it sounds like a full-blown investigation. When you have this amount of resources going into it …. I think it's at the investigative level." ~~~~~ The FBI declines to comment on their examination, but Politico reports that the agency has interviewed minor individuals who corresponded with Clinton, in an attempt to determine the security of the server. Former FBI and Justice officials say the agency is tasked with trying to prove two things : whether the use of an outside email system posed risks to national security secrets and if so, was anyone responsible for exposing classified information. A former State Department official interviewed by the FBI had little to do with the Clinton server, suggesting the FBI’s inquiry has expanded from server security to content of emails between State staff. Clinton's campaign and lawyers have turned over Clinton's server and a thumb drive backup of her messages to the FBI, and they are encouraging anyone who has been affiliated with the server issue to do the same. ~~~~~ The FBI is not required to announce if they change a preliminary inquiry into a full-fledged investigation. The secrecy surrounding the FBI's Clinton 'review' makes it impossible to know where the FBI stands on the issue. Ron Hosko, former assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigation Division, told Politico the Department of Justice is probably worried about issuing formal legal notices "because they know it will get out, and then you're talking about a grand jury investigation." However, Hosko added that it is "not uncommon" for companies to require subpoenas, court orders or other legal notices before cooperating in order to protect their corporate reputation and liability. Hosko added, "I am sure there is hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth across the street at the Hoover Building [FBI] because you're going to have people saying ‘I don't want to produce X documents. Give me a piece of paper that covers me.' And that's where push is going to come to shove." ~~~~~ Last Friday, Representative Mike Pompeo, a member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, told Newsmax the Committee has evidence that Hillary Clinton understood it was her duty to protect classified information and even signed documents as Secretary of State pledging not to release sensitive government data : "We knew that she was required to have signed such a document. Every one of us who handles classified information has an obligation to safeguard it. We make a personal commitment, we make a commitment to the Constitution and good old-fashioned common sense tells you that you can't mishandle information." But, Pompeo added : "We now see that not only would she have known that, but she read a document that she signed indicating that even just mishandling, not intention, but negligence, is sufficient to suffer criminal penalties." Pompeo added : "My view would have been that she had an obligation to safeguard it whether she signed the darn thing or not. But it is absolutely the case, it's evidentiary matter [that can be used] to prove something in a court of law, we now have a signature and a commitment [on a document] that is legal and binding." ~~~~~ Dear readers, Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as Secretary of State was a decision that possibly resulted in sensitive government information being leaked. The FBI is investigating whether any laws were violated by her use of the private server. Mrs. Clinton has so far managed to convince Democrats and donors that the server issue is trivial and not a bar to her fitness to be President. The FBI investigation may prove that donors, Democrats and Clinton are wrong.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Portugal Socialist Coalition Reopens Eurozone Bailout Austerity Issue

The world has been busy following Europe's refugee crisis, but an "austerity" problem is again chewing at the "union" in the European Union. ~~~~~ Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva must decide what happens next after the confusion created by October's inconclusive elections. Leftist parties that won enough seats in parliament to force the center-right pro-EU austerity coalition into a minority government have said they'll vote to topple that Cavaco Silva-appointed minority government. Last month, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho's center-right government came in first but lost its majority, as many voters rejected the harsh austerity that he has imposed on the country in return for an EU bailout. But, Cavaco Silva re-named Passos Coelho as prime minister, arguing that the precedent since Portugal abandoned dictatorship in 1974 gave him the right to try to form a government, ignoring the left's claim to power, and arguing the center-left Socialists only secured a majority by turning to hard-left political allies with Eurosceptic stances. He was referring to Friday's announcement by Portugal's Communist Party that conditions are in place to create a government led by the center-left Socialists and ousting the center-right from power. The deal ensures that the Socialists can lead a leftist majority government, having earlier brought in the Left Bloc, another small far-left party. Cavaco Silva said : "Never has a Portuguese government depended on the support of anti-European political forces." His comment was aimed at the Communists and Left Bloc that have advocated leaving the Eurozone. Passos Coelho stands to lose a vote in parliament on his government program -- on Tuesday or Wednesday. ~~~~~ The prime minister would lose his job, and Cavaco Silva would be in trouble because the constitution doesn't clearly say what would happen next. Normally, Cavaco Silva could dissolve parliament and call new elections, but a scheduled January presidential election means he can't do that constitutionally. So, Cavaco Silva must decide whether to invite Socialist leader Antonio Costa, whom he has already insulted, to form a government, or keep Passos Coelho's government as caretaker until new parliamentary elections in June. Analysts say the key issue for Cavaco Silva may be whether any leftist government would stand by Portugal's commitments to EU budget rules. And, whatever Cavaco Silva decides, he will leave office early next year, so it will be up to his successor to deal with the consequences of the complicated parliamentary situation. ~~~~~ One consequence is economic. Passos Coelho warned yesterday that if a Socialist government abandons the reforms and Eurozone commitments, it would be ruinous for Portugal. The prospect has unsettled financial markets. The Portugal benchmark 10-year bond yields soared 20 basis points to 2.87% on Monday - their highest since July - anticipating higher borrowing costs under a Socialist government. The Lisbon stock market fell 4.1%, led by banks. Passos Coelho warned that Portugal, which only exited an EU bailout last year, could not afford to quit the reforms and Eurozone budget commitments. Socialist leader Costa said yesterday that agreements signed with the Communists, Left Bloc and the Greens "guarantee the forming and parliamentary approval of a Socialist government" that would respect Portugal's EU commitments. However, Costa's far-left partners have only promised parliamentary support, not entering the government. They reject some bailout reforms, despite Socialist pledges to respect budget discipline. And the Socialists want to return disposable income to households to boost the economy, by overturning some Passos Coehlo wage cuts, that they believe would do more than austerity to reduce the budget deficit and meet Portugal's EU commitments. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Portugal had been touted as an austerity success story. Many Portuguese citizens seem to disagree. And, the EU austerity deal with Greece is also coming unglued. Eurozone stresses are far from over.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Tale of Two Candidates : If Carson Is Unfit, So Is Hillary

Dr. Ben Carson is battling Donald Trump for first place in the Republican presidential race, and he has become both a target and a fear for the leftist mainstream media that touts Hillary Clinton as the only way to save America from GOP conservatives. ~~~~~ Carson has been fighting the mainstream media since Friday. Yesterday he appeared on Sunday political talk shows to try to settle continuing questions about his background. "Meet the Press" ran an interview with Carson made Saturday night at JFK airport about his claims he shielded white students in high school during protests over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. The Wall Street Journal can't find evidence to support his claim, but Carson answered as he did when classmates said they couldn't recall his trying to stab a friend or having a violent temper in his early teens : "Why would they know about that unless they were one of those students?" ~~~~~ Carson says he's being "vetted" more heavily than any other presidential candidate because what he calls the "secular progressive movement" sees him as "a very big threat because they can look at the polling data and they can see that I'm the candidate who's most likely to beat Hillary Clinton." Carson challenged the media : "Show me somebody, even from your business, the media, who was 100% accurate in everything that they say that happened 40, 50 years ago. Please show me that. I'll...learn something from them." ~~~~~ But, the Democratic Party candidate is protected by the leftist mainstream media. Since February, the issue of Hillary Clinton’s secret email server has been treated as a campaign news story, not an issue of her honesty. Mrs. Clinton lost her 2008 bid to become the first woman to top the Democratic ticket, so she spent four years being the voice of Barack Obama's addle-brained foreign policy -- thinking that despite Benghazi, the Russian reset button and the Iraq withdrawal, she would be nominated. Actually, GOP candidates have beaten Democrats so often in state and local elections since 2010 that Democrats have little choice but to anoint Hillary Clinton. Even now, as she contends with weak polls and serious legal problems, Democrats cling to her. ~~~~~ Ever since the existence of her secret email server was revealed in February by the New York Times, Hillary has handled the issue with public jokes and sarcasm -- and with silence followed by a press conference in which she said the email server never transmitted sensitive material, and that her team deleted more than half the emails on it before turning it over to the State Department. Clinton pledged never to turn over the server, saying that it was her personal property. All that was a lie. Two of those emails from spy satellites and the NSA were classified as Top Secret when they were sent and still are. More than 300 emails have since been proven to be classified, despite Clinton's continuing refusal to admit it. Six months after refusing to turn over her server, the FBI requested and got it, and hopes to restore all the files in the server to enable the Department of Justice to see whether the deleted emails were really “personal,” as Clinton claims, or were deleted for other reasons. And in October, the House Select Benghazi Committee presented emails and testimony proving that Hillary Clinton knew within hours the Benghazi attack was carried out by terrorists but lied to America for several weeks. She still refuses to admit this. ~~~~~ Dear readers, transmitting and retaining classified material in her private server violates criminal statutes 18 USC 793 and 1924. Others have been convicted. David Petraeus plea-bargained. Bureaucrats have been imprisoned. Some lost their security clearance and couldn't be employed in sensitive federal or contractor jobs. Hillary still has her security clearance. But, mainstream media doesn't talk about her lies or possible criminal acts. If Ben Carson's faulty memory raises questions about his fitness for the presidency, Hillary Clinton's lies should long since have disqualified her.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Merkel Coalition Decides : Most Migrants Will Be Deported

Saturday politics is EU refugee politics this week. As of November 4, the EU had placed 116 refugees in member states, and only 1,418 places had been made available by just 14 member states. ~~~~~ So far this year 770,000 migrants have flooded into Balkan countries on EU borders, and into Greece and Italy inside the EU. Germany alone has taken more than 350,000 refugee status applicants this year. On September 23, European leaders agreed on a plan to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy. Six weeks later, according to the EU executive group - the European Commission (EC) - the EU has relocated just 116 of the 160,000 refugees, falling short of all their September commitments. The EC says few EU member states have responded to Serbian, Slovenian and Croatian requests to provide resources they need to cope with the situation overwhelming them. Only 10 member states have responded – Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Hungary, Slovakia, the UK and Romania. Many requested items have not been delivered, including essentials such as beds, blankets, protective clothing, first aid kits and water containers. ~~~~~ The EC says 700 children a day are now claiming asylum in the EU - more than 190,000 this year, according to the UN children's aid agency UNICEF. ~~~~~ An example of not being herded into Chancellor Merkel's EU/EC refugee program is Britain, which has pledged to take up to 4,000 vetted refugees a year from camps near Syria - small compared to unvetted hundreds of thousands planned by Germany and other EU nations. And, the UK will not take any refugees who arrive in Europe on their own accord. However, the UK has for years and is continuing to provide significant amounts of financial and humanitarian aid to camps near conflict zones in Syria. The UK says this is the best way to help Middle East refugees -- and many EU countries agree. ~~~~~ Nearly 200,000 people entered Croatia in October after Hungary closed its borders, and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported that more than 10,000 refugees were stranded in Serbia with little aid or food. EU member states had been asked on September 23 to notify the EC of assets able to be held ready to deploy to help refugees. At the time, only eight countries – Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Lithuania and Latvia – notified the EC, but they said they had limited civil protection assets or experts to deploy this year, should a request be made. ~~~~~ EC data also shows that many member states have failed to match EU funding for the UNHCR and the World Food Program. On September 23 and on October 15, they agreed €2.8 billion for refugee programs. But, just €500 million has been pledged, leaving a shortfall of €2.3 billion. EC President Jean-Claude Juncker says : “Noble words need to be followed by concrete actions back home.” ~~~~~ And, in what is bad news for migrants, BBC reported yesterday that Germany now has a plan to speed up the asylum process, after the governing coalition resolved a division on the issue. Chancellor Merkel said Germany would create up to five special centres for asylum-seekers deemed to have little chance of being given refugee status. Merkel, whose open door policy is widely criticized, said : "We took a good and important step forward." The five special centers will hold migrants from countries deemed safe; those barred from re-entering Germany; and those refusing to cooperate. An accelerated asylum process means cases can be heard in a week, and appeals will take only two more weeks. Most migrants can expect to be deported. Merkel also stressed the importance of tackling the reasons causing people to flee their countries and of securing the EU's external borders. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the cold light of reality has hit Merkel. Europe will apparently not be a dumping ground for Middle East migrants. The UN and the world must understand this, confront the refugee problem at home in the Middle East, AND handle German deportees, while halting the frenetic migrant march toward Europe.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Horror Created by ISIS in Syria and Iraq

Kurds and Americans rescued 70 Iraqis at Hawija. They were immensely more lucky than captured US humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller, 26, who was repeatedly raped by ISIS leader al-Baghdadi before her death in an airstrike in February. The repeated sexual assaults were confirmed to her parents by the US government. ~~~~~ The details of Meuller's ordeal came from US debriefings of two Yazidi girls, age 16 and 18, who were also held as sex slaves with Mueller. The systematic repeated rape of hundreds of Yazidi women and girls has become a religious tenet of ISIS' radical Islam. New York Times interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped ISIS, as well as an NYT review of ISIS official communications, show how rape and slavery have been enshrined by ISIS. ~~~~~ Breitbart News reported in August that American hostage James Foley, who was beheaded by British killer "Jihadi John," was singled out for the harshest treatment by his ISIS captors after they found pictures of his brother who serves in the US Air Force on his laptop computer, according to other prisoners. He was regularly the victim of mock executions, including once being "crucified against a wall," said French journalist Didier François, who has told media ISIS gave Foley rougher treatment than the rest of them. François called Foley "one of the pillars of the group, who never cracked even under the most difficult conditions. He was an extraordinary guy, an extremely nice companion in detention, very solid." François said the hostages' treatment was always "rough and sometimes violent." A second French hostage, Nicolas Henin, with Foley in Syria for seven months, including a week when they were handcuffed together, told BBC Foley was seen as "some kind of scapegoat....Being an American, he was probably more targeted." Henin was later released, as was François. ~~~~~ A fearful ISIS defector named “Saleh" told Sky News ISIS keeps their hostages docile in beheading videos by rehearsing many times. The hostages are told they aren’t going to be killed. Saleh, a translator, was hired by ISIS to interrogate hostages. ~~~~~ The Daily Mail reported that ISIS uses the same torture methods used by the Syrian al-Assad government. In fact, ISIS uses the brutal techniques once used on them, including being hung for days by their wrists or upside down tied to chairs. Rebels in Raqqa described torture by ISIS using the 'shabeh' (ghost). The victims' arms are tied behind their backs using handcuffs - which are then used to hoist the body into the air, putting extreme pressure on the shoulder sockets. One man told the Daily Mail he was given the 'shabeh' every four days for four months until his arms dislodged from their sockets. ~~~~~ NBC News reported in August about ISIS treatment of young boys. ISIS tortured and then chopped off Mohammed's right hand and left foot two weeks ago, after he refused to become a child soldier. The Syrian boy, 14, uses a wheelchair in the apartment where he lives in Turkey - his mother smuggled him there from Syria - with his brother and a friend of the family who is his nurse. Ahmed, 16, another boy from the same part of Syria as Mohammed, says ISIS coerced him into fighting with a mix of threats and false promises, until he escaped. Both boys had been with rebel Free Syria Army groups fighting al-Assad forces and were captured when ISIS overran their region. Interviews by NBC News with the boys, their guardians, Syrian rebels and a former ISIS commander who defected, reveal a disturbing ISIS strategy to recruit and deploy child soldiers, brainwashing them to be suicide bombers or carry out terrorist attacks in the Middle East and abroad, and brutalizing those who refuse to cooperate. "They fool children with money," Mohammed said. "They give a boy some money or a bicycle, and after two days they take him in a car to bomb himself. They target children...because children are unaware of anything in this life." ~~~~~ Dear readers, this is the horror of existence today under ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Can Europe be the answer? Tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

"Don't be afraid, we've come to liberate you with the Americans"

Since the death of Delta Force Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, the admission by Defense Secretary Carter that Wheeler died in combat, and President Obama's deployment of 50 military advisors to Syria, America has been debating the wisdom of putting a larger force on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Yesterday, Reuters released a report about the rescued prisoners that lends moral support to those wanting to stamp out ISIS. Reuters interviewed three of the prisoners at a Kurdish security facility in Erbil, but could not independently verify their accounts. ~~~~~ "The last thing that came to Saad Khalaf Ali's mind as his ISIS interrogators smothered him with a plastic bag was his two wives and children. Then everything went dark. He was jolted back to life by an electric current and came round soaked in water and gasping for breath on the floor of a prison in northern Iraq." This is how the former Iraqi policeman described his treatment at the hands of ISIS, which tortures, executes or beheads anyone deemed immoral or an opponent of its ideology and goal of creating a caliphate across the Moslem world. Saad told Reuters he withstood physically but broke psychologically when ISIS threatened to slaughter his entire family. He confessed to giving ISIS positions to Kurdish and Iraqi forces, an act punishable by beheading or shooting. “I confessed to everything,” Saad said. He was then taken blindfolded to a judge who sentenced him to death. His execution was set for October 23. BUT, a daring rescue mission the night before by Kurdish and US Special Forces saved Saad and 68 other hostages. ~~~~~ Many of those rescued were former Iraqi security force members who had fought the same insurgents before ISIS overran 1/3 of Iraq. Another prisoner, 31-year old Ahmed Mahmoud Mustafa, told Reuters he was held in a windowless room just big enough for him and 38 others when they lay down to sleep. They were forced to remain silent, pray five times a day and read Islamic lessons provided by ISIS. Meals were potatoes, lentils and tomato. When one of the men would recite a verse of poetry, the others would weep. Surveillance cameras monitored them. They were forced to watch beheading videos shown on a large screen. One man turned away from a grisly scene and was beaten on the head, according to Ahmed and Mohammed Abd Ahmed, another prisoner. Both men had already crossed ISIS. Some months earlier, Mohammed received fifty lashes for criticizing ISIS. He was warned his tongue would be cut off next time. Ahmed had been detained on four prior occasions because a person he had a dispute with had connections with ISIS. But, this time, both men faced the capital charge of spying. Their interrogators - fellow Iraqis - had a file for each prisoner detailing crimes and corroborated by two witnesses. One of the two men who testified against Ahmed was his own cousin. When the interrogators finished, they would give the prisoner’s file to a judge, who ordered execution or more interrogation. Finally, like Saad, Mohammed gave in to torture and put his fingerprint on a list of charges, knowing that denial would only prolong his suffering and that death was inevitable. The interrogators asked whether he would prefer to be decapitated from in front or behind. Later, Saad, hearing the sound of heavy machinery outside, climbed onto the back of another prisoner to look through an opening in the wall. He saw a bulldozer digging a trench. The next day, October 22, four prisoners were taken and then the remaining prisoners heard four gunshots. Saad was told his turn was the next day. He used a nail to etch his last wishes onto a Moslem prayer timetable. The message to his nephew was short : look after his family. Saad also named his two informers, so his death could be avenged. Saad then prayed, weeping, until he heard helicopter sounds in the night. After intense firefighting, the door of the room was smashed open by a Kurdish commando, who said : "Don’t be afraid, we have come to liberate you with the Americans." ~~~~~ Dear readers, what more need be said.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Merkel Is Paying for her Illogical Migrant Policy

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition partners met to seek a compromise for their differences about handling the flood of refugees pouring into Germany. The country expects between 800,000 and a million migrants this year, twice as many as in any previous year - many more than any other European Union country. German media called Sunday's meeting -- between Merkel, Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) that is Merkel's conservative Bavarian sister party, and her other coalition partner Social Democrat (SPD) chief Sigmar Gabriel -- a crisis summit between the ruling coalition partners. But, there was no resolution of Merkel's coalition problems. Her spokesman described the talks as "constructive" and said the three party leaders would meet again Thursday. ~~~~~ The coalition's problem is the idea of introducing "transit zones" at border crossings to process asylum requests, turning back those not qualifying. Seehofer says this action will stem the migrant flow. He's threatened Merkel recently, saying he'd take the government to court over its migrant policies, only to back down. Some of Seehofer's CSU members even want to close Germany's borders, and Seehofer's compromise was to introduce transit zones. ~~~~~ But, SPD members have said they would not agree to transit zones, and Gabriel, the head of the center-left SPD and Merkel's vice chancellor, on Monday rejected the idea of transit zones on Germany's borders to filter out migrants who have little chance of gaining asylum. In the deepening division within Chancellor Merkel's ruling coalition, Gabriel says he's considering challenging Merkel's leadership in the 2017 national elections. So, Seehofer and the CSU demand transit zones, and Merkel agrees with them, but her failure to convince Gabriel threatens to destabilize her government and has led to rare German criticism of her leadership both outside and within her conservative bloc. Gabriel calls the transit zone argument a "totally phoney debate," distracting from what he says are the "real challenges" in taking in and helping the refugees. ~~~~~ And the challenges are many. The number of migrants entering Europe by sea in October was equal to the whole of 2014, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Monday. The October record 218,394 also outstripped September's 172,843, according to UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards : "That makes it the highest total for any month to date and roughly the same as the entire total for 2014." The most in a single day - 10,006 - arrived on Greece's shores on October 20. The largest national group are Syrians, at 53% of arrivals. Afghans were second, at 18% of the total. But, the flow of refugees into Europe is small compared to Syria's neighbors -- Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have Syrian refugees exceeding 2 million, 1 million and 600,000 respectively. ~~~~~ Dear readers, hypothermia, pneumonia and disease threaten the unwelcome migrants as the central European winter closes in with damp foggy days and cold nights on the EU borders where they are massing. Migrants are desperate to save their families. They fight over blankets. Sex traffickers follow the marchers to snatch slow youngsters. A Monday reader's comment to a Guardian refugee article is telling : "Merkel was mad to invite them. Far better to look after them at refugee camps closer to Syria, and relocate only the most vulnerable to Europe." Chancellor Merkel has been known for her coldly methodical decisionmaking. But, her decision to force Germany and the EU to accept unlimited, unvetted refugee waves was ill-considered. It has opened the EU to profound internal division, as well as to the dangers of terrorists and radical Islam. It has presented Europe with insoluble cultural and economic problems. It has made her German constituents ask whether she should be replaced. A heavy price to pay for a problem that could have been managed in the Moslem Middle East, where the migrants belong culturally and where they have a legitimate stake in their own futures.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Sinai Crash : Accident or Attack? And Who's in Charge?

Confusion reigns. On Saturday, a Russian A321 airliner with 224 aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula at dawn, 23 minutes after takeoff from Sharm el-Sheikh, shortly after losing radar contact at 31,000 feet. All onboard were killed. The Airbus was operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia under the name Metrojet. Communication between the plane and air traffic control before the crash was normal. ~~~~~ Later Saturday, a militant group affiliated with ISIS in Sinai said on Twitter it had brought down the plane "in response to Russian airstrikes that killed hundreds of Moslems on Syrian land....The fighters of the Islamic State were able to down a Russian plane over Sinai province that was carrying over 220 Russian crusaders. They were all killed, thanks be to God." Russia's Transport Minister told Interfax news agency the claim "can't be considered accurate." But, the claim was also reported by the Aamaq website which acts as a semi-official news agency for ISIS. And Zack Gold, a regional expert on Sinai security, said the militant group claimed “they were responsible for downing the plane, not shooting it down....A legitimate ISIS-supporting [social media] account in Sinai said : ‘Why is everyone talking about shooting it down, why is no one talking about a bomb or suicide bomber on board’?” ~~~~~ Lufthansa and Air France-KLM announced they won't overfly the Sinai until the cause of the crash is determined. Airlines in United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait said they will re-route flights to avoid Sinai until there is more clarity. Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways said it will continue to overfly Sinai but avoid airspace over certain areas, as advised by Egyptian authorities. ~~~~~ Sinai is the scene of an ISIS-affiliated insurgency by militants who have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police and attacked western targets this year. Much of the Sinai is a restricted military zone. Sinai militants are not believed to have missiles capable of hitting a plane at 30,000 feet. But, Russia, a long-term ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has in the last month launched air raids in Syria against groups, including ISIS, who oppose the al-Assad regime. ~~~~~ Saturday, Egyptian security sources said early investigations suggest the plane crashed due to a technical fault. The claim was contradicted by Alexander Neradko, head of the Russian aviation agency, who is in Cairo. He said it's premature to comment on possible causes since investigators don't have enough data to reach any conclusions. Today, Alexander Smirnov, deputy general director of Metrojet, said the cause of the crash “could only have been an external impact on the plane,” causing it to break up in mid-air. Smirnov added : “The plane was in excellent condition....We rule out a technical fault and any mistake by the crew.” Smirnov said the plane dropped 186 mph in speed and 5,000 feet in altitude one minute before it crashed. He also said the crew didn't send a distress call or contact traffic controllers before the crash. The Metrojet deputy general director for engineering said the fact that in 2001 the plane's tail section struck the tarmac on landing could not have been a factor in the crash because it was fully repaired. Metrojet also said the plane's engines passed inspection in Moscow on October 26, and a Russian inspection of its fuel found that it met requirements. The aircraft, registered in Ireland, received a 2015 certificate of airworthiness from Irish regulators. ~~~~~ Dear readers, a source in the Egyptian committee analyzing the black box recorders told Reuters the outside of the plane wasn't struck and the pilot didn't make a distress call. Aviation experts say a sudden mechanical failure or explosion could have been to blame. If a planted ISIS bomb caused the crash, it raises questions about security systems at Sharm el-Sheikh airport. And tonight, the US reports one of its satellites detected an infrared flash over the Sinai when the plane was there. The truth is we don't know what happened. And nobody seems to be in charge.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Migration Policy Is Splitting Europe into EU East vs EU West

A week ago, Poland's Law and Justice party (PiS) won an election that puts it on a collision course with its key European Union allies. Led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of Poland's late president, PiS secured sufficient votes to govern alone without having to form a coalition. Wary of the EU and an advocate of a strong NATO in dealing with Russia, PiS opposes joining the Eurozone and wants to enshrine more Roman Catholic values in Polish law, reflecting the party's deeply socially conservative stance. ~~~~~ As a result, Poland will join Hungary and Slovakia in opposing relocation of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, deepening divisions in the EU, where Germany's Angela Merkel advocates a more open approach. Kaczynski, much like Hungary's conservative Prime Minister Orban, has said Moslem migrants threaten Poland's Catholic way of life. The EU migrant crisis has led to increasing support for conservative parties in the EU, including Sweden and The Netherlands. "The victory by PiS is part of a wider shift in Europe, of a return to national values," according to analyst Aleksander Smolar. ~~~~~ The same day Polish voters elected the PiS, EU and Balkan leaders met in Brussels to agree on a plan to cooperatively manage migrant flows through the Balkans on the EU's southern border. The main points agreed are : (1) increase Greece reception capacity to 30,000 places by year's end, with the UN refugee agency providing rent subsidies and host family programs for 20,000 more people. (2) seek an additional 50,000 places capacity, for a total of 100,000 along the Balkans route and Greece. (3) step up efforts to return migrants not needing international protection, aiming for cooperative repatriation with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq and Pakistan. (4) scale up the Poseidon Sea Joint Operation in Greece, including EU border agency Frontex's presence in the Aegean Sea, and its support to Greece in registering and fingerprinting migrants. (5) refrain from waiving through migrants to the border of another EU country. (6) set up contact points for daily exchanges of information regarding migrant movements and size. (7) contact financial institutions to secure finances for housing refugees. (8) step up police and judicial cooperation against migrant smuggling, working with Europol and Interpol. (9) reinforce support of EU border agency Frontex at the Bulgaria-Turkey border, and set up a Frontex operation at the external land borders between Greece and Macedonia and Greece and Albania to make exit checks and register refugees not registered while in Greece. (10) work with Frontex to detect irregular border crossings and support registration with fingerprints in Croatia. ~~~~~ More than 9,000 migrants arrived in Greece every day in mid-October, the highest rate this year, with 157,000 migrants reaching Greek islands in October, and 60,000 reaching Slovenia. An estimated 650,000 migrants have arrived in the EU by sea so far this year. Smaller countries on the Balkan route say their resources are stretched by the migrants. Bottlenecks exist because Hungary closed its borders with Serbia and Croatia, forcing migrants to seek alternative routes north, aided by governments that help them move on to the next border. Before the Brussels meeting, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic dismissed requests to stop forwarding migrants. He and the Slovenian president said stricter restrictions on migrants moving from Turkey to Greece are needed. ~~~~~ Dear readers, while eastern EU states are in open revolt against EU migrant policy, Dutch Finance Minister and Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem threatened them, saying they could see some of their EU subsidies cut if they refuse to take in refugees. Dijsselbloem said Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic should show something in return for Europe's "largesse." Largesse...??? Chancellor Merkel has called an EU agreement on taking in refugees "a litmus test." So far, the tests proposed by Merkel & Co. have failed. And it is not likely that threats will work.