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America's Economic Collapse

Bailout Report Card--A Failing Grade and a Frightening Outlook for 2009

December 1st 2008

Economy - No Bull

The United States government has been in non-stop bailout mode for the last three months. How has it done? How has the nation’s economy been impacted if at all? Here’s a report card.

Troubled Asset Relief Program

The Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP has distributed $179 billion to the largest financial institutions in the United States. The first $125 billion was forced on the nine largest financial institutions by Henry Paulson on October 28. Since that forced feeding, 21 other financial institutions have applied for and received an additional $54 billion from the $700 billion trough. Now every shaky company in America is trying to figure out how to get a piece of the action. American Express and GMAC are converting to “banks” so they can get bailed out by taxpayers for loaning money to people who couldn’t repay them.

By any reasonable assessment, the Troubled Asset Relief Program has been a miserable failure and a complete waste of taxpayer money. The basis used to ram the bill through Congress was the purchase of the toxic assets off of bank’s books. Not one dollar has been used for this purpose. The main purpose for passing the $700 billion bailout was to restore confidence in the markets.

On October 3 when the TARP was signed into law, the S&P 500 was at 1,114. Today, it is 887. The 20 percent decline in the markets in six weeks doesn’t show much confidence in Paulson’s acts. Paulson changing course every few days has shown the world that he is “winging it.” He has floundered from buying toxic assets to jamming capital down the throats of banks to his current plan to support consumer debt. Did Paulson lie to Congress about buying toxic assets? Read more ..

Inside Palestine

Arabs Unable to Influence Israeli Policies in Jerusalem Because They Will Not Vote

November 24th 2008

Israel Topics - Arab Vendor

On November 11, 2008, Nir Barkat was elected mayor of Jerusalem. Not participating in the mayoral election, once again, was Jerusalem's Arab population. As permanent residents of the city, Jerusalem's Arabs are entitled to vote in municipal elections, although the overwhelming majority of the Arab population boycott these elections.

Since 1967, various Palestinian Authority associations (now run both by Fatah and Hamas) have demanded that the Jerusalem Arabs refrain from voting in these elections. According to these groups, any voting in Israeli government elections on the part of the Arabs will signify their approval of the Israeli "occupation" of what they claim is Palestinian territory. East Jerusalem, of course, is one of these highly contested areas. Read more ..

America’s Economic Collapse

Could General Electric Collapse?

November 17th 2008

Corporate Logos - General Electric

General Electric, the legendary American institution, founded in 1878 by Thomas Edison, is in deep trouble. Its PR machine has been in constant spin mode as the company sinks deeper into fiscal despair. GE is one of the few major companies in the U.S. that still retains an AAA rating. Considering Moody’s and S&P’s track record rating companies and financial instruments, not a few observers feel that an AAA rating is not worth the paper it is written on.

One look at GE’s balance sheet will convince an inquirer that the firm indeed does not deserve an AAA rating. AAA companies do not need to take the desperate actions that GE has taken in the last few months. Something is seriously wrong at GE.

The stock reached $53 at its peak in 2000 and has virtually crashed to below $17 this past week, the lowest level since the mid-1990s. CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who took over from icon Jack Welch in 2001, has made his mark by managing the company to a 68 percent decline in its stock price. No one at CNBC seems willing to take a hard look at GE’s financial statements or ask the CEO tough questions, because Mr. Immelt signs their paychecks. While shareholders have taken a bath, Mr. Immelt, a Harvard MBA, raked in $72.2 million of compensation between 2002 and 2007. A company that is known for its "pay for performance" mantra evidently does not hold its CEO to the same standards.


Edge on the Election

The Ghosts of the Past Haunted--and Inspired--this Election

November 10th 2008

Politics - Voting

When this campaign began so many months and $4.3 billion ago, many pollsters and pundits predicted that Election Day would be the final round of the battle of the New York titans, pitting Hillary Rodham Clinton against Rudy Giuliani. Back then, when we thought about waking up at 3 AM, we usually associated it with an unwelcome run to the john, not the test – as described in Hillary Clinton’s campaign commercial – of who was ready to lead the nation.

If we imagined a ceiling with 17 million cracks in it, we assumed it would shatter, especially if the ceiling was glass; when we worried about meltdowns, it was because our kids were overprogrammed or undersupervised, not because our financial markets were overstretched and under-scrutinized; and when we talked about Joe the plumber we grumbled about the guy who charged too much and came too slowly not some idealized version of the people’s wisdom incarnate.

In those days when we thought about the largest state in the union, we wondered what its connection was with baked Alaska, we did not think about the half-baked ideas of the governor from Alaska and the conventional wisdom in Washington described Joe Biden as a blow-dried, blowhard politician, (who barely won 11,000 votes when he ran in the 2008 primaries) rather than the ultimate democratic ideal, a working class kid from Scranton conjured into Beltway foreign policy guru. The most famous Barak in the world was Ehud, the Israeli Defense minister, and –dare I say it -- the most famous Hussein was either Saddam or the late King of Jordan. Moreover, most Americans agreed that the most decent, nonpartisan, moderate member of the United States senate was… John McCain. Read more ..

America's Economic Collapse

Wachovia Shows Why No Bank's Books Should be Trusted

November 3rd 2008

Corporate Logos - Wachovia Logo

Often when people have near-death experiences, they resolve to change their ways. That's not the case with the folks running Wachovia Corp., which experienced the financial equivalent.

In their starry-eyed world, Wachovia's net assets still were worth $50 billion as of Sept. 30, according to the balance sheet the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank released last week. Never mind that on Oct. 2 Wachovia's board approved Wells Fargo & Co.'s offer to buy the company for $14.8 billion in stock, saving it from the clutches of Citigroup Inc. and the undertakers at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Taken literally, the timeline suggests two scenarios. Either Wells Fargo is getting about $35 billion of stuff for free. Or the value of Wachovia's equity plunged $35 billion during the first two days of October. Neither of those happened, of course.

The reality is that Wachovia's management, including Chief Executive Officer Robert Steel, still won't admit the company's balance sheet is a farce and has been for a long time. More worrisome though is that nobody with any authority is calling them on it, even today. That includes Wachovia's auditor, KPMG LLP, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission, and banking regulators such as the Federal Reserve and FDIC.   Read more ..

Election Edge

Should Anyone Care About Barack Obama's Past Associations?

October 27th 2008

Presidential - Barack Obama

Past is prologue, or so we often say.

But the consensus among the intelligentsia seems to be that this aphorism does not apply to Barack Obama—at least not when names like William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright come up. Should it?

Let’s be clear that many esteemed politicians at one point or another in their careers have unlovely associations. Harry S. Truman was a loyal henchman of Kansas City’s Pendergast machine in its heyday and never renounced it. Boss Tom’s creative voting manipulations (which ACORN would envy) launched Truman into the U.S. Senate. (Of course, in those days the other side was also creative.) Franklin D. Roosevelt made peace with New York City’s Tammany Hall. As Governor of New York, needing its support for his 1932 presidential run, he desperately tried to avoid prosecution of its multiple corrupt practices.

Roosevelt and Truman almost surely would not have established relationships with Ayers and Wright. Does that say something about Obama, or about ourselves in the present day?

Rev. Wright is a bitter and polemical black nationalist, who demonstrated in his National Press Club appearance that his “God damn America” line had not been taken out of context. I doubt that Barack Obama bought into his worldview. I suspect that an aspiring young politician looking for a church to affiliate with saw Wright’s large and influential black Chicago congregation as ideal place for networking. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

France's War with Jihadism--More Than Most Know

October 20th 2008

Islamic Topics - French Muslim protesters
French Islamic Protestors

France's war with the jihadis is more intense than most Americans or even most Europeans would imagine.

With French troops engaging the Taliban in Afghanistan often coming under attack, jihadist cells have started targeting France as well as French presence in the Sahel, the north African Sahara. Now active jihadist cells are indeed deploying inside France just as they are inside many other Western European countries.

In a recent interview with Parisian daily Le Figaro, French Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, provided significant revelations about France’s vulnerabilities and response. Added to information provided by other French defense and counterterrorism officials and legislators, the picture undeniably affirms that France now joins Britain and other western European countries as pivotal points in the scheme of international jihad. Read more ..

America's Economic Collapse

Peering Inside the Bailout Bill

October 13th 2008

Economy - Secretary Paulson
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson

During the early negotiations, a number of particularly bad policy options were added to the original Treasury proposal -- the final agreement appears to drop all of them

Administration and congressional negotiators reached agreement early September 28 on a package of actions to address the alarming financial situation facing the U.S. economy. Although several drafts of legislative language have been circulating, it is not yet possible to provide an overall assessment until the agreement’s final language is examined carefully.

The devil is always in the details, and so it is wise to look at the details. But several concerns and questions arose with earlier versions of a proposed package during week of September 21-27. So far, it appears that the negotiated agreement addresses these concerns in the following ways:

The agreement creates a new Office of Financial Stability within Treasury that is empowered both to purchase troubled assets from financial institutions and other bodies and to use other methods to address the current financial situation. This office would be immediately empowered to purchase up to $250 billion worth of troubled assets at any one time. If necessary, the Secretary of the Treasury could increase that amount by an additional $100 billion after notifying Congress that this additional sum is necessary. Read more ..

Election Edge

Obama Stuck at Just 60 Percent of Jewish Vote

October 6th 2008

Presidential - Barack Obama AIPAC
Barack Obama at AIPAC

Barack Obama has hit a wall of Jewish indecision that could be decisive as both candidates look toward the pivotal Florida vote. The American Jewish Committee survey, published Thursday, shows the Democratic presidential nominee still hovering around 60 percent among Jewish voters. His big problem: the undecideds.

The U.S. senator from Illinois scored 57 percent, compared to 30 percent of respondents who said they would vote for his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). That’s consistent with two other major polls taken since May.

If Obama’s figure holds, he would finish about 15 points behind the 75 percent of the Jewish vote that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won in 2004, according to exit polls.

"He seems to have reached a plateau," said David Singer, the AJC's research director. He noted that Jews among the party faithful are strongly supportive of their respective candidates, with 81 percent of Jewish Democrats backing Obama and 84 percent of Jewish Republicans backing McCain.   Read more ..

The Rocky Mideast Roadmap

Olmert Resigns, But Peace Process Trudges On With Livni

September 29th 2008

Israel Topics - Livni
Tzipi Livni

Ehud Olmert's decision to resign as prime minister will naturally cause a delay in negotiations with the Palestinians as Israel's democratic process works toward the creation of a new government. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won the Kadima Party primary and has now been asked to form a government. Livni has been the lead negotiator for nearly a year and has developed a very good working relationship with her Palestinian interlocutors. If Livni forms a government, she can be expected to quickly return to the talks with the Palestinians. If she is unable to do so, elections will be called and the campaign will indeed preoccupy Israeli leaders.

This is the nature of democracy. American leaders are also distracted by the presidential campaign, but everyone knows once it is over, the new administration will turn its attention to the Middle East. After Israeli elections, the new prime minister will also return to the bargaining table. Read more ..

Election Edge

The Phantom Menace: Obama and Co. Fight Their Own Shadow

September 22nd 2008

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

Senator Barack Obama’s triumph over Senator Clinton in the Democratic primaries will undoubtedly go down as one of the most shocking upsets in American electoral history. Obama, a dark horse (no pun intended) with no national track record, was able to beat the formidable Clinton machine because he was a phantom. He confounded his rivals because he provided little of substance for them to stick their swords into. Because he lacked a track record, he could switch directions easily without seeming incongruous. He was flexible, and could not be locked in or nailed down on anything.

Along comes Governor Palin, who, like Obama, is also an unknown. Like Obama, she has a razor thin track record on any issues of substance; and her appearance on the national stage came almost out of nowhere. Thus far, her very presence has sucked the air out of Obama’s sails. He finds himself at a loss for words, veering sharply off script into ad hominem attacks that are so very uncharacteristic of him. Yet he finds that Governor Palin is proving somewhat difficult to impale.

Meanwhile, Governor Palin has contented herself with making her points, and then stepping back with a confident smug. Thus far, she has stayed firmly on message. Borrowing a chapter from Obama’s play book, she has resisted the urge to respond to her detractors, refute the rumors, or even humor her critics in any way. Instead she has merely basked in the glow of her ascension, and allowed her charisma and charm to speak for itself. Read more ..

Edge on Iran

Israel Ponders "Special Action" Against Iranian President Ahmadinejad's Deadly Threats

September 15th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Joe Griebowski headshot
Joseph Grieboski

An Israeli special operations hero, Rafi Eitan, currently Minister of Pensioner Affairs but nonethelsss a member of Israeli’s inner cabinet of ministers with security responsibilities, suggested to German magazine Der Spiegel that Israel could capture Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over threats he has made against Israel.

Eitan is no stranger to such operations. In a daring 1960 mission, Eitan and his team went to Argentina to kidnap Adolf Eichmann—the lynchpin of the “Final Solution”—and take him to Israel where he was tried and found guilty of atrocious crimes against the Jewish people during WWII. Eitan said he was expressing his personal opinion in raising the abduction option.

BBC reports Eitan as arguing that the Iranian leader had threatened genocide and should therefore be brought for trial to The Hague, the seat of the international war crimes tribunal.

"And all options are open in terms of how he should be brought," he was quoted as saying on Tuesday by the Associated Press news agency. When asked if kidnapping was acceptable, Eitan replied: "Yes. Any way to bring him for trial in The Hague is a possibility." Eitan refused to backtrack on his statements, saying they were not the result of a slip of the tongue. Read more ..

China's Global Quest for Energy

Rocky U.S. Relationship with Venezuela is Playing into China's Energy Policy Despite The Ocean Between Them

September 8th 2008

Asia Topics - Chavez-HuJintao
Hugo Chavez meets with Hu Jintao

The U.S. rocky relationship with Venezuela is playing into China’s hands, perhaps better than Beijing expected.

Venezuela exports approximately 60 percent of its oil to the U.S. However, since Hugo Chavez came into power in Venezuela in 1999, the U.S. and Venezuela have maintained a tense relationship, paving a path of continuous energy deals with China. Both China and Venezuela have been striking "International cooperation deals" that would not only not only provide increased oil exports to China, but also bolster Venezuela’s economy and oil infrastructure. In 2004, Chavez, who has visited China at least five times since 1999, signed such eight agreements on energy cooperation with the Asian country. According to China Daily, Venezuela currently ships nearly 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil and fuel to China. 80,000 of this is crude oil, which is up from 39,000 bpd the year before.

In addition to various business arrangements between Venezuela’s state-run oil company and China Petroleum that include purchasing Venezuelan fuel oil and power plant fuel, Chinese companies are seeking to invest in oil exploration and production in the country. In return Chavez expects and is receiving Chinese assistance in the areas of telecommunications, food production and culture.

The list of joint project is long, including not only oil sales from existing supply, but also the exploration and development of new fields and the development of older fields. In fact, Chavez visited China in December 2004, where he declared that Venezuela was ready to help China establish its own strategic petroleum reserve. He also spoke “of a budding strategic alliance between the two countries, and signed an agreement that would allow Chinese companies to gain developmental rights to 15 oil fields in eastern Venezuela. Although this would appear to be an excellent opportunity for China, there are still a number of hurdles to overcome before the full export potential can be realized. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Believe It or Not, Mugabe Still has Supporters

September 1st 2008

Africa Topics - Robert Mugabe headshot
Robert Mugabe

The world cannot understand how Robert Mugabe has support left in Zimbabwe. After violence and intimidation against his opponents he was able to steal a victory, but at great cost. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Mugabe garnered over 40 percent of the vote in the first round of the elections, when voting was relatively fair.

Certainly Mugabe still has much support and respect left from when he was leader of the Chimurenga, the guerrilla struggle against the white minority regime that had taken half the land in the country and reserved it for the whites. But many former leaders of revolutionary struggles either fell from power or saw their time was up and resigned. So why does Mugabe still have enough support to hold on?

One answer is the struggle over the land. Land has been central to Zimbabwean politics for centuries. Cecil Rhodes invaded not only for gold but also for land. Earlier the Shona and Ndebele had been fighting over the land. In the late 20th century, Ian Smith's settler government declared independence from Britain and fought for years to keep the land. Guerrillas from Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) fought over the land. That struggle is still being waged. Read more ..

Inside Pakistan

Pakistan Descends into "Confusion and Madness" as Islamic Extremist Grip Tightens

August 25th 2008

Islamic Topics - Pakistan - Islamic extremism
Islamic Protest in Pakistan

“Utter confusion and madness” was how one Pakistani source recently described the situation in his country to me. The country has been plunged into further turmoil.

President Musharraf has finally resigned ahead of plans to impeach him. Suicide bombers struck a military installation in one of the deadliest attacks in the country’s history. And the existence of the new, moderate, secular Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led coalition government remains fragile. Meanwhile, the Talibanisation of Pakistan continues apace. Benazir Bhutto may have been right when she warned in her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West, published after her murder: "Pakistan today is the most dangerous place in the world. Pakistan faces the threat of both Talibanisation and Balkanisation, which are gaining in strength." Read more ..

Inside the Middle East

Syria Playing Coy, Gesturing Between Iran and the West—But Stalling

August 11th 2008

Arab Topics - Bashar Assad headshot
Syrian President Bashar Assad

A fourth round of indirect talks between Syrian and Israeli representatives was recently concluded in Istanbul. As the Turkish mediators kept themselves in shape conveying messages between the hotel rooms of the two countries' delegations, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was keen to stress the urgency of the hour.

The time was approaching, the prime minister said, when gestures would no longer be enough. Rather, it would soon be time for the Syrians to make their choice between the "Iranian grip" and their partnership in the "axis of evil," and rejoining the "family of nations" in pursuit of peace and "economic development."

Actions and statements from Syria and its allies, however, convey a distinctly less pressing sense of the negotiations. More indirect contacts have been tentatively scheduled for later this month, but for the Syrians, the already considerable benefits derived from the very act of talking are more important than the talks themselves. Damascus's allies in Iran have also given no sign of real concern that their most important Arab allies are about to jump ship. Read more ..

Inside Palestine

Tit For Tat, Palestinian Style as Hamas and Fatah Battle

August 4th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Micah Halpern headshot

There are murders, mass arrests and a leading newspaper has been shut down. Tensions that had been simmering below the surface are now out in the open and they are boiling over. Hamas and Fatah are not only out for blood, they are out for power and control.

Gaza and tension go together like America and apple pie. They are inseparable. Even when the tension was not obviously manifest, even when it was not visible to the naked, untrained, non-Palestinian eye, it was palpable, it could be felt by the locals. An outsider's first peek at the rising tensions came when five Hamas military members were killed in a parking lot explosion in Gaza - and Hamas immediately pointed the finger of blame at Fatah.

And where Gaza goes, the West Bank is sure to follow. Here too, tensions, violence, acts of intimidation and menacing threats are emerging and hitting the streets and byways. Hamas began by arresting members of Fatah in Gaza. Fatah followed by arresting Hamas members in the West Bank. Now it is a game of Tit for Tat, Palestinian style. And for the players in the West Bank and Gaza Tit for Tat is a war game.

The game has just been taken up a notch. Murders, arrests, finger pointing, newspaper closings - those are the old components of the game. A new component has just been unleashed, it is the Palestinian propaganda machine. When it comes to Palestinian propaganda, Fatah is at a distinct disadvantage, Hamas is master.

It was one year ago that Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza. Seven months earlier Hamas defeated Fatah in a parliamentary election. Hamas is using that imagery to convince the Palestinians of their superiority and right to rule. Hamas is using that imagery to instill fear in the hearts of Fatah and all other Palestinians. It is the imagery of victory and defeat. Read more ..

Kicking Our Oil Addiction

Breaking Oil’s Monopoly in the Transportation Sector

July 28th 2008

Energy / Environment - Traffic

Ten years ago, Osama bin Laden set a target price for oil at $144 a barrel. At the time, crude oil prices stood at $12 a barrel and his figure, aimed to compensate the Muslims for what he called “the biggest theft in the history of the world,” sounded delusional.

Four years ago, just prior to the U.S. elections, when oil prices stood at $38, bin Laden explained his economic warfare strategy: “We bled Russia for ten years until it went bankrupt and forced to withdraw in defeat. We are continuing the same policy to make America bleed profusely to the point of bankruptcy.” Reputable energy analysis outfits held a completely opposite view on the future of oil. A 2005 report by Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) held that by 2010 global oil supply would rise by as much as 16 million barrels per day (mbd). “We expect supply to outstrip demand growth in the next few years, which would take the pressure off prices around 2007-2008,” wrote the report’s authors. As we know, this never happened. Read more ..

Edge on Argentina

Argentina's "Soybean Debacle" Leads to Fallen Star for President Kirchner and New National Heroes

July 21st 2008

Contributors / Staff - Eduardo Szklarz
Eduardo Szklarz

Argentinian president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner endured a dramatic defeat last week after her own vice-president cast the deciding vote in the Senate to reject a steep tax increase on soy exports that had triggered months of noisy anti-government protests by farmers.

Vice-president Julio Cobos's emotional vote against the government move to ratify the tax increase broke a deadlocked Senate vote after nearly 18 grueling hours of debate.

"This is the most difficult day of my life," Mr. Cobos told a hushed Senate chamber. "But I can't support [this Bill]. The president will understand." Mr. Cobos is a member of a group from the opposition Radical Civic Union party that backs the ruling Peronist party. Ms Fernandez brought him in as her running mate last year in a bid to demonstrate broad political support for her candidacy.

The Soybean Debacle is the gravest setback to President Kirchner and her husband, former President Néstor Kirchner, since 2003 when Mr. Kirchner came to power. The unexpected decision of the Senate to reject grain export tax increases carved an indelible line in their conflict with the farmers and dampered the couple’s so-called aspirations of political hegemony.

More than 300,000 people attended rival rallies for and against the export taxes in the capital on Tuesday. Hundreds of farmers who followed the debate on big-screen televisions set up in a Buenos Aires park erupted in cheers after Mr. Cobos announced his vote. Prior to the dramatic vote, Congress had been viewed as a rubber stamp for the Kirchners. While opponents roared their approval, hundreds of government supporters who had gathered outside Congress fell into subdued and silent rejection. Read more ..

Inside the Mideast

New Funding for Israel Shows Essential Congressional and Presidential Leadership

July 14th 2008

Politics - Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

In this time of heightened anxiety and uncertainty in the Middle East, Congress has taken a crucial step toward ensuring the safety and security of our nation's closest ally in the region. Earlier this month, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved, and President Bush signed into law, funding that increases Israel's total security aid for fiscal year 2009 to $2.55 billion.

The funding-$170 million in additional security assistance to Israel-is in line with America's new 10-year, $30 billion aid agreement with the Jewish state and was included as part of the Supplemental Appropriations Acts of Fiscal Years 2008 and 2009.

Aid to Israel is not normally included in the supplemental. But with Congress expected to enact a Continuing Resolution at the end of this fiscal year-which will keep all federal programs, including aid to Israel, at fiscal year 2008 levels-bipartisan Congressional leaders acted to lock in the critical aid increase to Israel as soon as possible.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) were at the forefront of this effort. One month ago at AIPAC's Policy Conference, Pelosi announced her intention to ensure that Israel received the full increase in aid called for under the new 10-year plan by including the additional funds in the supplemental. Read more ..

Edge on Asia

Vietnam Becomes a Regional Player with U.S. Help

July 7th 2008

Politics - Vietnam - woman with bandanna

On July 1, 2008  the United States handed over the presidency of the UN Security Council to Vietnam. Exactly one week earlier, on June 24, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung paid an official visit to the White House. This has become somewhat of an annual ritual since 2005, when Phan Van Khai became the first Vietnamese head of government to be welcomed there since the Vietnam War. Although the timing of the two events was coincidental, they show that Washington and Hanoi are growing closer—and that Vietnam is becoming a major global player. Now, it seems, would be a good time to forge stronger ties with our former adversary.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal Asia in late May 2008, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) made the case for engaging Vietnam:

“The next American president will inherit a set of alliances and friendships in Asia that are already in good shape... Our core alliances with Japan, South Korea, and Australia have never been stronger; relations with old friends in Southeast Asia like Singapore are excellent; and promising partnerships have been forged in recent years with friends like India, Vietnam, and Indonesia. The next president must expand on these achievements with an ambitious, focused agenda to further strengthen and deepen these relationships. Putting our alliances first, and bringing our friends into greater partnership in the management of both regional and global affairs, is key to meeting the collective challenges we face in a changing Asia and a changing world.” Read more ..

The Oil Weapon

Thinking Outside the Barrel About OPEC and the Oil Weapon

June 30th 2008

Energy / Environment - Arab Oil Derick

About 10 years ago, al-Qaeda's leader, Usama bin Laden, stated that his target price for oil was $144 a barrel, and that the American people, who allegedly robbed the Muslim people of their oil, owe every Muslim $30,000 in back payments.

At the time, $144 a barrel seemed farfetched. As of this writing, bin Laden was a mere $8 per barrel short of his target. Indeed, the economic warfare component of the global campaign against the West has undeniably been a resounding success for the jihadist movement. This has deep implications for the West and its ability to prevail in the long war of the 21st century.

The U.S., deeply embroiled in a struggle against radical Islam, nuclear proliferation, and totalitarianism, now faces difficult realities. Relations with the Muslim world are at an all-time low, but more than 70 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and over a third of the production are concentrated in Muslim countries. The theocratic and dictatorial regimes that most strongly resist America's efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East are the dominant forces in the world oil economy. While the U.S. economy bleeds, oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran—both sponsors of radical Islam—have enjoyed staggering windfalls. In 2006, the United States spent about $260 billion on foreign crude oil and refined petroleum products. This year, the figure could surpass $500 billion, the equivalent of our defense budget. As bin Laden had hoped, Muslim oil producers are taxing every American man, woman, and child. Read more ..

Inside Europe

Irish Voters Place European Integration at Risk, Cause Rifts Aong European Leaders

June 23rd 2008

Europe Topics - Irish EU Vote No
Photo Credit: AFP

The future of the European Union was thrown into crisis in recent days after voters in Ireland rejected plans to transfer more power to Brussels.  The Czech Republic followed the Irish rejection by declaring that it too was having problems ratifying the new treaty designed to streamline decision-making among EU nations. Some diplomats pronounced the treaty “dead.”

Irish voters sunk the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum by 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent – with 862,415 people opposed and 752,451 in favor – vetoing a deal that required approval by all 27 EU countries. The rejection transforms the upcoming EU summit in Brussels into a crisis-management exercise, overshadowing efforts to tackle soaring food and energy costs.

While political leaders across Europe were shaking their heads in frustration at the Irish voters' veto, many of their citizens were not. Ordinary Spaniards, Dutch, French and Britons, who wish they could get the same chance, indicated that they would also say "no" to the cold, distant heart of Europe. The emotional disconnect between European Union leaders and their nearly 495 million constituents has never been more evident than with the results of the votes in Ireland, long considered one of the most pro-European populations.  Read more ..

The Oil Weapon

The New World Order of Oil Users and Suppliers

June 16th 2008

Energy / Environment - Oil Refinery
Yanbo Petroleum Complex in Saudi Arabia

As nations become increasingly dependent on oil, it becomes strategically imperative for them to secure their access to the Middle East. This means building strong alliances with the region’s suppliers, providing them with diplomatic support and military aid, and often turning a blind eye to their human rights transgressions.

Since the famous 1945 meeting between U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Saudi King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud aboard the USS Quincy in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake, it was the U.S. that served as the guarantor of security and stability in the Persian Gulf. In fact, the use of military power to ensure free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf has been a tenet of U.S. national security strategy. According to the Carter Doctrine, put forth by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, any effort by a hostile power to block the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to the U.S. will be viewed as an attack on America’s vital interests and will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force. Since the policy’s inception, the U.S. has exercised the Carter Doctrine several times.

When Iranian forces attacked Kuwaiti tankers during the Iran-Iraq War, President Ronald Reagan authorized “reflagging” and provided them with U.S. Navy protection. Then, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, President George H.W. Bush authorized military action aimed to defend Saudi Arabia’s oil fields and restore Kuwait’s sovereignty. In the decade between the Gulf War and the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. strengthened its military presence in the region, building bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. At a cost of $50 billion to $60 billion per year the U.S. patrolled the waters of the Gulf, imposed a no-fly zone in Iraq, and provided training and equipment to the region's militaries. Read more ..

The Next Mideast War

Why Palestinian Groups Keep Agreeing to Ceasefires--It's all Semantic

June 9th 2008

World Citizens - Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard

In an effort to stop the nearly daily onslaught of rockets from Gaza, Israeli officials have discussed the possibility of a cease-fire with the Hamas terrorists bombarding the Israeli civilian population. Egypt and others have also tried to mediate a cessation of terror that would allow Israel to end its counterterror measures. Rather than agree to a simple cease-fire, however, Hamas, has engaged in verbal gymnastics to suggest it will adopt a policy that will, at best, offer a temporary respite while the organization continues to build up its arsenal to pursue its long-term goal of destroying Israel.

The latest example of this Hamas tactic is the proposal in May 2008 to accept a “tahdiyah,” or period of calm. Earlier, in June 2003, Islamic Jihad and Hamas agreed to a hudna in response to demands from then Palestinian Authority prime minister Mahmoud Abbas to stop their attacks on Israel so he could fulfill his obligations under the Middle East road map. The agreement was interpreted in the Western media as the declaration of a cease-fire, which was hailed as a step forward in the peace process. Violence continued after the supposed cease-fire, however, and Israeli intelligence found evidence the Palestinians exploited the situation to reorganize their forces. They recruited suicide bombers, increased the rate of production of Qassam rockets, and sought to extend their range.

Over the last five years since the declaration of the hudna, attacks on Israel increased and Hamas succeeded in smuggling in more weapons with longer ranges. While any cessation of violence against Israeli civilians is to be welcomed, it is important to understand the cease-fire the radical Islamic groups are contemplating in the Muslim context.
The media and some political leaders portray a hudna as a truce or a cease-fire designed to bring peace. Though the term hudna does refer to a temporary cession of hostilities, it has historically been used as a tactic aimed at allowing the party declaring the hudna to regroup while tricking an enemy into lowering its guard. Read more ..

Election Edge

John Hagee--Grappling with God and the Holocaust

June 2nd 2008

Contributors / Staff - Joel Mowbray
Joel Mowbray

Rev. John Hagee, the fiercely pro-Israel evangelical leader who until recently was supporting U.S. presidential candidate John McCain, is being branded not just an anti-Semite, but one tagged by the media with the worst association possible: Hitler.

Granted, Hagee himself raised the specter of Hitler in a sermon, reportedly from a decade ago but recently dredged up by a left-wing blogger, in which Hagee said that God sent Hitler and "allowed" the Holocaust to happen "because God said, ‘My top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.’"

Far from the ugly media-driven perception that Hagee was justifying or even somehow praising the Holocaust as Heaven-sent, he was actually trying to answer the question that countless rabbis and survivors have grappled with ever since. How could there be both an all-powerful God and the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust?

While anyone could rightly be outraged at his theology or even his apparent hubris in purporting to know God's motives, it cannot be said that Hagee is anti-Semitic. The charge, in fact, is completely counter to what is most beautiful about Rev. Hagee's ministry—that he has been so dedicated to combating Christian anti-Semitism. Read more ..

Persecution in Iran

Iran Arrests National Baha’i Leaders in Dawn Raids

May 26th 2008

Unknown - National Baha'i Leaders

The six leaders are being held at Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison.
The names of the arrested in the photo are, in the front row
seated from the left, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie.
Standing from the left are Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm,
Jamaloddin Khanjani, and Afif Naeimi. On the far right is
Mahvash Sabet, detained since March.


For Baha’is around the world, May 14 came as a chilling reminder of how bad things can become for their community in Iran. In dawn raids that dragged on for hours, Intelligence Ministry officers arrested six of the seven members of Iran’s national Baha’i leadership, the worst assault on Baha’is in almost 30 years. The seventh leader has been in detention since March 5. No one knows why.

The last major round-up and detentions of national Baha’i leaders came in the early 1980s. In 1980, all nine members of the national leadership were abducted and then disappeared.

“The manner in which the six individuals were taken from their homes (is) frighteningly similar, and we are concerned for their safety as well as about further persecution of the Iranian Baha’i community,” said Kit Bigelow, director of external affairs for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the U.S.

Baha’is in Iran are already feeling the shock waves of losing their main administrators: even days after the arrests, the outside world could glean few details about why or how the arrests had happened. Some government agents present at the arrests indicated that the six leaders would be taken to Evin Prison--a fact the Baha'i community initially publicized. But at the end of May, the community discovered with dismay that their leaders' whereabouts are still unknown, including that of the seventh missing since March. Officials are giving relatives conflicting stories. In such cases, relatives often have to move from court to court to learn the location of their loved ones.

Baha’is have no official clergy, and since their spiritual assemblies were outlawed after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, they have relied on electing national and local committees as leaders of the faith. With all seven national leaders in detention now, Iran has succeeded in severely disrupting the life and communication of its Baha’i community. Read more ..

UNRWA: Refuge for Rejection

Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries Receive No UN Help While Palestinians Get Millions

May 19th 2008

 - Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard

For the last 60 years, the issue of Palestinian refugees has been held out as one of the principal obstacles to peace. In truth, the problem could have been resolved years ago if the Arab states had not preferred to use them as pawns in the conflict with Israel.

The United Nations took up the refugee issue and adopted Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948. This called upon the Arab states and Israel to resolve all outstanding issues through negotiations either directly, or with the help of the Palestine Conciliation Commission established by this resolution. Furthermore, Point 11 resolves:

"that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which under principles of international law or in equity should be made good by Governments or authorities responsible. Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation..." (emphasis added).

The emphasized words demonstrate that the UN recognized that Israel could not be expected to repatriate a hostile population that might endanger its security. The solution to the problem, like all previous refugee problems, would require at least some Palestinians to be resettled in Arab lands. Furthermore, the resolution uses the word "should" instead of "shall," which, in legal terms, is not mandatory language.

The resolution met most of Israel’s concerns regarding the refugees, whom they regarded as a potential fifth-column if allowed to return unconditionally. The Israelis considered the settlement of the refugee issue a negotiable part of an overall peace settlement.

As President Chaim Weizmann explained: "We are anxious to help such resettlement provided that real peace is established and the Arab states do their part of the job. The solution of the Arab problem can be achieved only through an all-around Middle East development scheme, toward which the United Nations, the Arab states and Israel will make their respective contributions." Read more ..

Edge on Healthcare

McCain is Right on Health Care

May 12th 2008

Headshots Contribs - Star Parker right crop
Star Parker

A gold star goes to John McCain for his just-released plan for reforming American health care.

Analysts will pick apart details and surely find shortcomings, but directionally, McCain's approach is on the money. Contrary to the vaporous rhetoric of change offered by the Democrats, he proposes real structural health care reform.

The plan boldly takes on key problems in how we deliver health care that contribute to out-of-control cost escalation. According to a recent University of Minnesota study, health insurance premiums have increased over recent years ten times faster than personal incomes—by 30 percent from 2001 to 2005.

The key salvo is aimed at the central pillar of our health care system—tax-subsidized employer-provided health care. About 70 percent of Americans obtain their health care at their place of work.

McCain's plan offers a $5,000 tax credit to families and $2,500 to individuals to purchase health care on their own. This would end the inherent inequity of some people receiving tax-free health care from their employers, while others who are on their own or working for small businesses purchase it with after-tax dollars. Read more ..

Election Edge

Is Pastor Wright Really Reaching Out to Jewish Voters?

May 5th 2008

Headshot - Barack Obama headshot
Barack Obama

In a series of speeches otherwise notable for their defiant tone against his real and perceived enemies, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. sounded some conciliatory notes toward Jews, casting them as fellow strugglers against inequity and for peace. But an outburst in a question-and-answer session and an analysis of what lies behind his remarks reveals that the Jewish community may still have reason to be less than comfortable with the former pastor to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Wright launched a media blitz this week just as Obama entered the final stretch of his bid to become the Democratic nominee for president.
The media has highlighted inflammatory passages from Wright's past sermons in which he suggests that white racism remains pervasive and U.S. foreign policy helped bring about terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. These remarks have dogged Obama's campaign.
The Wright factor may have contributed to his defeat in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, where he lost to U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), 55 percent to 45 percent. In the Jewish community, where the pastor issue has come up repeatedly, Clinton beat Obama 62 percent to 38 percent, according to exit polls.

The candidate has sought to distance himself from his former pastor, calling Wright's rhetoric "offensive." On Tuesday, campaigning in North Carolina ahead of next week's primary, Obama delivered his sharpest denunciation to date of the the preacher he once said nurtured his Christian identity. Read more ..

Inside the Catholic Church

Pope Benedict Uplifts American Catholics While Coping with Controversy and Conflict in the Church on US Visit

April 28th 2008

Unknown - Pope Benedict
Pope Benedict

The April 15-20 visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States offered Americans, and the rest of the world, grist for further evaluation of the pontiff not only as a man but also as a messenger. Caricatures of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became the current Pope, have abounded. As prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican office that oversees the orthodoxy of priests, prelates, and theologians, he was called “the Pope’s Rottweiler,” “Inquisitor,” and even “Nazi.”  As pontiff, he has been called “panzer Pope” and “enforcer” among other epithets.

Benedict is the third pontiff to tread American soil and succeeded in projecting a much more avuncular appearance than his detractors had suggested. That said, he may not have delivered as much as some of his detractors, and fans, had wished.

Brennan Pursell, author of Benedict of Bavaria and associate professor at DeSales University, Pennsylvania, offered in an interview some insights into the Pope and his message to the United States. Pursell said Benedict, as Pope, is consistent with his life story and a life teaching theology and philosophy. He has served variously as parish priest, professor, academic administrator, Cardinal-Archbishop, and personal advisor to Pope John Paul II. When Pursell was asked whether the man who was Cardinal Ratzinger is different from the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI, he quoted Hans Kung, a former Catholic theologian and colleague, as saying “Oh no, there is only one Ratzinger. He now has a different role.” Read more ..

Zimbabwe on the Edge

Zimbabwe Election Stalled Aftermath Reflects a Defeated Ruler Unwilling to Relinquish Power

April 21st 2008

Robert Mugabe headshot
Robert Mugabe

To listen to Robert Mugabe's latest rant on western imperialism, one would think history has not shaken the 84-year-old liberator-turned-dictator of Zimbabwe.

"We need to maintain utmost vigilance in the face of vicious British machinations," he told a crowd of thousands in Harare's Gwanzura stadium on April 18, Zimbabwe's Independence Day.  Banners at the stadium further warned against "sell-outs" to Britain.

In reality, Mugabe is facing perhaps the strongest challenge to his power since he took over from white minority rule in 1980.  In national elections held March 29—and still under dispute--Zimbabwe's opposition won control of the nation's 210-seat parliament, winning 107 seats to the ruling party ZANU-PF's 97.

Mugabe has now completely lost any remaining legitimacy he held in Zimbabwe and the world. Zimbabwe's tenacious and beleaguered opposition movement has new hope: "Don't forget we have won," wrote Sokwanele, a civil rights coalition, as it urged Zimbabweans to continue pressing for peaceful, democratic renewal. Under this new calculus, the question now is how long Zimbabweans will wait for Mugabe to go.

Mugabe is beyond caring what the world thinks, and that attitude rippled even in Washington circles. Just as an example, His ambassador to the United States agreed to speak at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, on April 15, then blew off the event as reporters and others waited for his arrival. His staff made little effort to inform anyone that he was “out of town.” Read more ..

America’s Cultural Divide

A Dangerous Conservative Attempt to Rescue Joe McCarthy

April 14th 2008

Ronald Kessler
Ronald Kessler

A dangerous movement has been growing among conservative writers to vindicate the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy and his campaign to expose Soviet spies in the U.S. government. The FBI agents who were actually chasing those spies have told me that McCarthy hurt their efforts because he trumped up charges, unfairly besmirched honorable Americans, and gave hunting spies a bad name.

To be sure, intercepts of secret Soviet communications that were part of the VENONA program eventually revealed that Soviet espionage operatives in the government numbered in the hundreds—far more than was thought in the 1950s. In that sense, McCarthy was right, but so were dozens of other anti-Communists of the time like FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The problem was that the people McCarthy tarnished as Communists or Communist sympathizers were not the real spies. Often, the information McCarthy used came from FBI files, which were full of rumor and third-hand accounts.

Several months before he died, I interviewed Robert J. Lamphere Jr., who participated in all the FBI's major spy cases during the McCarthy period. Beginning in 1948, Lamphere also was the FBI liaison to the U.S. Army's Signal Intelligence Service's VENONA program and used leads from the intercepts to work cases involving Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby. For my book "The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI," Lamphere told me that agents who worked counterintelligence were aghast that Hoover initially supported McCarthy.

"McCarthyism did all kinds of harm because he was pushing something that wasn't so," Lamphere told me. The VENONA intercepts showed that over several decades, "There were a lot of spies in the government, but not all in the State Department," Lamphere said. However, "The problem was that McCarthy lied about his information and figures. He made charges against people that weren't true. McCarthyism harmed the counterintelligence effort against the Soviet threat because of the revulsion it caused. All along, Hoover was helping him." Read more ..

Inside Hamas

Hamas Rule Brings Stability To Gaza Life, But Also Fear

April 7th 2008

Hamas Wall
photo courtesy Soman

Ibrahim Al-Najar used to operate his own egg distribution business in Gaza City until about a year ago, when he was beaten and robbed at gunpoint.

“Masked gunmen surrounded our truck, forced us to the ground and stole our profits,” said Ibrahim, 21, who is married with two children.

Ibrahim had had enough. Politically independent until then, he sold his business and joined Hamas’ security forces. “At least now I know that my family is safe,” Ibrahim stated while patroling the closed presidential compound in the Gaza Strip.

Since Hamas violently ousted the Palestinian Fatah faction from the strip in June 2007, the Islamist group has established a security presence that has brought Gaza residents a level of security unseen during the days of Fatah, despite Gaza’s crumbling judicial system. This helps account for the popularity of Hamas -- designated as terrorists by Israel, the United States, and the European Union -- in the Gaza Strip.

“Before the coup, I kept an automatic weapon in the shop. Now I feel safer,” said Osama, 42, a grocer in Gaza City. “The security is also psychological because when Israel attacks, Hamas fights back.” Read more ..

Enabling the Disabled

The ADA Restoration Act and Restoring Freedom for Many

March 31st 2008

Joyce Bender headshot

Joyce Bender

In 1990, on a beautiful morning at the White House, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in front of thousands of people with disabilities, and their advocates and friends. We all remember the words of President George H. W. Bush as he signed the bill that would provide Americans with disabilities the same rights as the non-disabled, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

Sadly, since that day, those words have not come true in all areas, and one of those areas is employment. Seventeen years later, we still have an unemployment rate of over 50% for Americans with significant disabilities. This is a national tragedy.

The ADA has been weakened over the past several years by Supreme Court rulings that do not make sense. Read more ..

The Expanding Nuclear Club

New Nuclear Concessions to India Imperil Global Non-Proliferation

March 24th 2008

Joe Griebowski headshot
Joseph Grieboski

A little over a year ago, the U.S. Congress voted to approve the Hyde Act which changed long-standing U.S. nuclear non-proliferation laws, to allow the transfer of nuclear material and technology to India. Since then, the United States has made yet additional dangerous concessions to India. Now the India nuclear deal has become worse for everyone’s international nuclear stability.
For 30 years, until last year's Congressional vote, nuclear trade was reserved only for countries in good standing under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), our first line of defense against the spread of nuclear weapons. Countries that remained outside the NPT simply could not benefit from nuclear trade under U.S. and international rules. India, which misused international assistance intended for peaceful purposes to develop its own nuclear weapons and which is one of only three countries that never signed the NPT, was no exception.
If the final steps are implemented, including the 45-country Nuclear Suppliers Group changing its international rules and the U.S. Congress approving the U.S.-Indian nuclear trade implementation agreement, India will get all the nuclear benefits it needs without any of the legally-binding obligations to nonproliferation. Read more ..

Election Edge

Barack Obama's Dirty Secret--Will it Implode his Candidacy?

March 17th 2008

Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

Arriving in Washington DC during the 1980s, my most difficult challenge was finding a church home. Having grown up in the Pentecostal and Methodist faiths, Sunday worship was a staple of my weekly routine. For almost 10 years, I canvassed the nation’s capitol seeking a church that would nourish my fleshly failings and remind me of what our creator expects of us as human beings. What was consistent in going from pulpit to pulpit was that ministers were more interested in political rhetoric, the endorsement of political candidates, and the denouncing of some government or community proposal, than the gospel. For many years, It was quite disheartening to find that ministers were not teaching or preaching the word of God, but that their sermons were becoming political rallies. I was stunned at the blame cast upon the White man, the racial divisiveness, and all the things that seemed to divide and separate us from our neighbor.

Then in 1995, I attended First Baptist Church in DC where the Rev. Frank Tucker presided and my spirit finally found what it was seeking. I will never forget meeting with the Pastor prior to joining and expressing my feelings about what I was looking for in a church. I made it clear that my interest was in the word of God and not political rallies, condemnation of America, or various politicians occupying the pulpit on Sunday. He shared my concerns and promised that this wasn’t the case at his church. In my 13 years of being a member of Pastor Tucker’s church, he's never disappointed my spiritual yearning. Throughout the years I've taken Whites, Muslims, Jews, and people of all walks of life to worship with me and they all have left feeling that they could join the pastor's congregation.


The struggle for the Caribbean Basin

Three Big Wins for Haiti

March 12th 2008

Mendelson Forman headshot
Johanna Mendelson Forman

Anyone visiting Port au Prince today will note that public safety has returned to this city of more than two million people. A democratically elected government is in place, as are local government officials. President Rene Preval has created one of the most inclusive governments in recent history four years after his predecessor Jean Bertrand Aristide was forced to step down as president. There is even an ongoing dialogue with the Dominican Republic on border management and migration.

Much of the credit for this stability goes to the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, that together with the Preval government, remain a moderating force in stabilizing Haiti. Its presence, guaranteed by a Security Council Mandate, unfortunately will expire in October 2008. It should be renewed.

This seventh UN intervention in Haiti in just over a decade has also created a new consensus about the role of the international community in the country. No one wants it to fail: not the U.S., the Canadians (the second largest donors), nor the multilateral agencies that support the recovery. Further, Brazil’s lead in peacekeeping has united Latin Americans around a hemispheric security threat.

But Haitians also want to be the masters of their fate. They must be part of the decision-making process. Although Haiti’s government is reconciled to a UN presence to provide security, it is also committed to creating and supporting a new, robust police force of more than 14,000 persons by 2011. We may very well see results, but it will take at least three years. In the meantime, the presence of the UN until that time will help maintain the security environment. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Monopoly Just a Game... until it Considered "Jerusalem Comma Israel"

March 3rd 2008

Micah Halpern headshot
Micah Halpern

There are war games. There are diplomatic games. There are mind games. And there are just plain - games. Monopoly, the most popular game in the world, produced by Hasbro, one of the most successful game sellers in the world, used to be just a game, a fun, simple, wildly popular game.

And then Hasbro decided to take the game one step further. Hasbro already had the Banking Edition, the SquarePants Edition, the Junior Disney Princess Edition, but they did not yet have the World Edition. So Hasbro came up with a plan to invite fan participation and create Monopoly Here and Now: The World Edition. The invitation went out from headquarters in Pawtucket, Rhode Island to the entire online world - vote for you favorite city anywhere in the world and the cities with the most votes will win spots around the coveted Monopoly board.

That's when the fun stopped. That's when true competition stepped in. That's when Hasbro - unwittingly - stepped out of the realm of gamesmanship and into the real world of politics and diplomacy. Problem was, votes came in for the city of Jerusalem, Israel. Problem is, the Arab world does not believe that Jerusalem belongs to Israel, the Palestinians want Jerusalem for their own capital city one day. The problem was solved by an independent-thinking Hasbro employee in the London office. Just take out the comma and the word Israel. London remained London comma England, Paris remained Paris comma France, Istanbul a frontrunner for first place remained Istanbul comma Turkey and Jerusalem was left to stand alone. And that did not sit well with Israel's friends. Read more ..

Election Edge

Super-Delegates Means It's About to Get Real Ugly in Democratic Race

February 20th 2008

Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

Before the primary season began the Democratic Party reached an agreement with its potential presidential candidates that they would not campaign in Florida or Michigan and that the delegates from those states would be meaningless. All the candidates agreed, which in effect, made the Florida and Michigan primaries moot because none of the delegates could be used by the candidates vying for the nomination. The Clinton campaign was the main advocate for this “ban” because at the time they felt they were invincible and would have little competition from the field. A few months later Super Tuesday arrived.


Super Tuesday was Hillary Clinton’s chance to wipe Senator Barack Obama out of the picture, but what happened was shocking and humiliating to the once unstoppable and formidable candidate. After the votes were tallied Clinton’s campaign had to face the realization that despite winning the big states (California and New York) she was still in a horse race that was neck in neck with the upstart from Illinois.


The result of Super Tuesday was a loss of momentum over the coming weeks which led to less money raised, less positive talk in the news, less volunteer sign-ups, and less energy than her rival. And then she shook up her campaign by removing (or forcing the resignation of) her deputy campaign manager. The cold hard truth is that Clinton is in danger of losing the nomination despite going against her word and campaigning (and winning the non-races) in Florida and Michigan. Now, out of desperation, the Clinton campaign is lobbying the Democratic Party to reverse its prior decision and count the Florida and Michigan delegates in the final delegate count, despite their earlier disqualification. Read more ..

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