Swiss Movement: Clocks Striking Thirteen

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors“Time”, someone once wrote, “is like the rumble of distant thunder at a picnic.” And so it was last week when Switzerland heard the distant thunder and severed its tie to the Euro in anticipation of the EU’s massive Quantitative Easing venture, which is intended to spark economic growth throughout the moribund European Union. The Swiss, quite correctly, anticipating a sharp drop in the value of the Euro decided not to go along for the ride and unhinged the Swiss Franc from the Euro zone currency. No longer would Switzerland maintain its artificial ratio of 1.20 Swiss Francs to the Euro.

Almost everyone is following the script written by European Central Bank (ECB) Chief, Mario Draghi, and cheering the decision of the ECB to begin an aggressive, all-out program to buy every month (with newly minted money) 60 billion Euros worth of government bond, agency and other debt as well as inflation-linked bonds and other bonds with maturities between two and thirty years  “for as long as it takes.” This infusion of money into the EU banking systems (which holds these assets) will, the thinking goes, provide vast new resources for banks to lend and, therefore, stimulate business growth.

As expected the Euro plunged in value while the Swiss franc, the US dollar, and equities in general, soared as investors dropped their Euros like hot potatoes. And that, of course, was the idea. The prospects are that the export of EU manufactured goods will pick up smartly (they are cheaper now relative to US and Swiss goods) at the expense of US and Swiss exports thereby jolting back to life EU economic growth. Norway, Japan and Austria all saw their currencies tick up over 100 basis points against the Euro as well.

Concern about deflation (constantly falling prices) clearly and properly (at this point in time) trumps fear of inflation, which by and large is nowhere to be found. We noted, above, that almost everyone is cheering. Almost, but not everyone.

People who probably never heard of Hyman Minsky are expressing concerns as though the late, famous, economics professor who taught at Brown University, UC California, Berkeley and Washington University in St. Louis, was whispering into their ears – Beware, too much cheap money sooner or later always becomes very costly.

Minsky argued that a phenomenon that invariably pushes economies toward crisis is the accumulation of very cheap debt by the non-government sector. That’s where the 60 billion of quantitative-easing Euro’s is intended to go every month. Sooner or later, Minsky argued, too many borrowers with too much cheap debt become dependent on asset values increasing sufficiently to refinance their debt and that is the stuff of bubbles and the crises they cause. We all do still remember 2008 don’t we?

So, while almost everyone is cheering the EU’s new Quantitative Easing program, we noticed a few voices across the pond that were not so sanguine about the massive infusion of capital that is about to be unleashed.

Not surprisingly, hints of concern and expressions of caution can be heard in Europe’s strongest and most conservative economy, Germany, which has the most to lose if American-style irrational exuberance causes another bubble to burst in the future.

Many in Germany fear that infusing massive quantities of cheap money into the weaker European economies will fuel asset bubbles, as Minsky predicted always happens. Whatever motivation exists in the weaker nations to pursue needed reforms will evaporate, they fear. Specifically, the Germans worry about Greece, France and Italy. The Germans know that if these or other nations stumble, they may be the only ones left standing to pick them back up.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the central bank’s loosening of monetary policy risked distracting Euro zone governments from much needed reforms and undermining an already fragile recovery.

“No matter what decision the ECB should take, we should not, as politicians, be diverted from putting in place the necessary conditions for recovery,” Ms Merkel said.

Merkel seemed unimpressed by an element of the central bank’s new policy that shifts most of the risk for the bond-buying program from the ECB to Europe’s 19 national central banks. Draghi in order to get Germany to go along with the EU’s aggressive quantitative easing program agreed to this weakening of the central bank’s role, recognizing that Germany did not want to assume responsibility for the potential losses of weaker euro zone states.

One expects that Merkel and other more conservative German thinkers worry that the “policy” to shift liability to Europe’s 19 national central banks might wind up being window dressing to sell the program, and if push came to shove most of the burden of rescue would fall upon Germany.

Clearly, Chancellor Merkel is not alone in feeling queasy about the EU’s journey down QE Lane. Conservative economist Hans Werner Sinn, head of Munich’s Ifo Institute for Economic Research, claimed the central bank’s actions were illegal because they went beyond monetary policy and strayed into state financing “through the printing presses”.

Peter Gauweiler, a well-known eurosceptic and Christian Social Union party leader, said he was already preparing to take the ECB to Germany’s constitutional court over quantitative easing. Gauweiler, who has launched a number of legal actions against the common currency, said Draghi’s risk sharing agreement with other Euro zone central banks should not divert attention from the broader “illegalities” of the program.

And of course, the sinking yields on the bonds of Euro zone countries also benefited the Portuguese and Greeks where yields on 30-year Portuguese government bonds dropped 23 basis points to 3.76 per cent, while equivalent Greek debt dropped 37 basis points to 7.62 per cent on the back of news that Greek debt could be included in the bond-buying program.

Nonetheless, the EU’s quantitative easing program may be too late to qualm fears in Greece, where today’s election just might turn the EU on its head. As we go to press, it seems all but certain that Syriza, the leftist, anti-austerity party will emerge as the winner of a hard fought election. The Greeks are frustrated with the EU and many want to return to the Drachma and dump the Euro all together. Some fear that could become a contagion that might spread to other countries with chronically weak economies. The specter of Greece’s exit from the Euro zone is no longer considered unthinkable. The Greek economy has shrunk more than 25% since 2008, unemployment hovers around 25%, and it is estimated that about twenty five percent of households live in poverty. More than 100,000 business have closed in Greece since 2008.

So this is, indeed, an historic time for the EU. Tens of billions of Euro’s are riding to the rescue of a doggedly lackluster economy on the continent. In all, a trillion new Euro’s are, over the next year, intended to prop up economic growth in Europe. Thanks to our own Federal Reserve, Quantitative Easing has become the new gold standard for lifting sagging economies out of their economic doldrums. Time, however, will tell whether all that glitters is really gold.

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The New Normal: The Best of Times and The Worst of Times.

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors

“…It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” (Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities). Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, editor of Le Figero back in 1839 coined an epigram for such contradictions, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”, the more things change, the more they remain the same. And so it is today.

As we in America and others in advanced democracies contemplate the incredible potential of the 21st century, Islamic zealots motivated by an archaic interpretation of their faith stampede headlong back to the 12th century, determined to drag everyone within their reach with them, sowing misery and despair wherever they go. And so it was in France this week, and Australia last week, and Canada and America in recent weeks, and in England and Spain in past weeks, and so it is and continues to be in Syria, and Iraq and Nigeria and Somalia and Yemen and Libya and Mali and Kenya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Zanzibar and Bali. It has become the growing norm across a wide and ever growing swath of no-longer governable geography.

Think of it. At a time when we in the west can seriously contemplate — robotic artificial hearts, the end of famine, self-driving automobiles, and automobiles that combust nothing to drive, life-saving elimination of (or the effect of) deadly mutations in the human genome, the elimination or control of most of mankind’s known diseases, practical mass-scale harnessing of solar energy — in short, an explosion in innovation unrivaled in all of human history, the world is, at the same time, traumatized as though caught in an ebb tide drawing us relentlessly back to the darkest periods in human history. This is not simply radical Islamist war against the West. Most of the war is being waged against other Muslims who do not subscribe to the tenets of radical Islam or who are simply caught up in the never-ending hatred between Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam.

In October 2013, New Yorker Magazine published a box score of the Islamic carnage that was rampant in just the prior month.

Kenya: Militants of the Somali jihadist group Al Shabaab attack the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, slaughtering visitors with grenades and machine guns, separating out some Muslims from non-Muslims, in a killing spree that ends three days later with an assault by the Kenyan military. Death toll: at least sixty men, women, and children, along with several soldiers and militants. Somalia: Al Shabaab car and suicide bombers blow up a restaurant in Mogadishu for the third time. Death toll: fifteen patrons and staff.  Pakistan:  Suicide bombers detonate themselves outside a Protestant church in Peshawar. Death toll: eighty-five. A remote-control bomb explodes on a bus carrying government employees near Peshawar. Death toll: nineteen. A remote-control bomb explodes in an old, crowded marketplace in Peshawar. Death toll: thirty-seven. Nigeria: Militants of the extremist group Boko Haram attack an agricultural college. Death toll: forty young male students, most of whom were sleeping when they were killed. Iraq: Car bombings, suicide bombings, revenge killings, and assassinations reach levels not seen for at least five years. Death toll: nine hundred and seventy-nine. Wounded toll: twenty-one hundred and thirty-three, most as the result of Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence.                                                                          Syria: Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels tighten their grip across northern Syria, intimidating local residents with public floggings and executions. Yemen: Militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula stage attacks on soldiers and police in southern Yemen. Death toll: at least thirty. Afghanistan: Sushmita Banerjee, the Indian wife of an Afghan man, who converted from Hinduism to Islam and wrote a memoir about life under the Taliban which was later made into a Bollywood movie, is abducted from her home in Paktika Province, taken to a Taliban safe house, and shot twenty-five times. Two suspects are arrested and claim that they killed her because she had written about the Taliban, and because she had installed an Internet connection in her house. Zanzibar: Attackers throw acid in the face of a Catholic priest as he leaves an Internet café, one month after two young British women were assaulted in the same way.

Then, of course, there was the recent horror in Pakistan. “God is great,” the Taliban militants shouted as they roared through the hallways of a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. Then, 14-year-old student Ahmed Faraz recalled, one of them took a harsher tone.” A lot of the children are under the benches,’ ” a Pakistani Taliban said, according to Ahmed. ” ‘Kill them.’ ” By the time the hours-long siege at Army Public School and Degree College ended early Tuesday evening, at least 145 people — 132 children, 10 school staff members and three soldiers — were dead.

This seemingly unprecedented carnage is, to a great extent, taking place as America is withdrawing from the Muslim world. After all, we withdrew from Iraq years ago, and we are in the process of withdrawing in Afghanistan.

Today, the chaos in Syria has become a stage for foreign fighters from all over the world, including from America even as America keeps its distance.    Much of Europe slept while their ever-growing Muslim populations grew and within those population there also grew an attraction to radical Islam.

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, some five million or 7.5% of the population, compared with Germany’s four million or 5% of the population, and the UK’s three million, also 5% of the population. If only 2% of their Muslim populations have become radicalized, that could equate to 240,000 Said and Cherif Kouachis’s who methodically massacred 12 people Wednesday at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, or Amedy Coulibaly’s who shot a policewoman to death south of Paris, and four Jewish French citizens at a Kosher grocery market in Paris.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once thought of as the source of all turmoil, remains the focus of U.S. foreign policy and a source of grievances for Muslims and naïve sycophants around the world. It is, however, but a sideshow. Nothing America or any of our allies do is going to end the violence.

The genesis of all the turmoil and chaos is, sadly, cultural. And anyone who believes we are not involved in a clash of cultures is simply meandering aimlessly and senselessly in a field (or nightmare) of dreams. The root cause of this worst of times is an internal, sectarian, tribal, political, and economic time warp that dominates the Islamic world.

At its very source are perverted ideas about the meaning of Islam in the modern world, not the world of the prophet 1300 years ago. We know, but do not talk about these ideas being promulgated in mosques and coffee shops and schools, and on the Internet and on satellite TV. Islamic fanatics who employ conspiracy theories, half-truths, deceptive editing, and lies manipulate all news from the outside world. The fits and starts and on again-off again stabs of U.S. foreign policy will have little or no effect on this type of deadly mischief.

Listen to the harangue of Abu Mohammad al Adnani, an ISIS “spokesman” who announced to all “lone wolves” wherever they reside: “Rig the roads with explosives for them. Attack their bases. Raid their homes. Cut off their heads. Do not let them feel secure. Hunt them wherever they may be. Turn their worldly life into fear and fire. Remove their families from their homes and thereafter low up their homes. Civilians should not be exempt from brutality. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling. Both of them are disbelievers. Both of them are considered to be waging war. Hinder those who want to harm your brothers. The best thing you can do is to strive to do your best and kill any disbeliever, whether he be French, American or from any of their allies.”

So sure, we must go after terrorists wherever we know they exist. That’s just a matter of self-defense. But it won’t win the war because terror is simply a tactic and you cannot wage war on a tactic.

As New Yorker Magazine pointed out — “War turned out to be far too blunt an instrument against the complexity, volatility, and durability of Islamist violence. Targeted kidnappings and killings are effective against the leadership but do nothing about the next generation of recruits, perhaps only galvanizing it.”  The reality is that this clash of cultures can only be won within the Islamic world by Muslims who look West, and who reject the notion that their future and their faith will be defined by the radical thinking that dominated a long-ago, by-gone, dark age. We can strike back with drones, or bombing runs or even boots on the ground, but this cultural madness can probably only be stopped by those within the Muslim world.

This view is the brainchild of Ed Husain the London-born author of “The Islamist,” an autobiographical account of his years as a young man in radical Islamist organizations and his turn to a more liberal version of Islam. Husain now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where his policy paper, “A Global Venture to Counter Violent Extremism,” recently was published online. Husain points out that a fund is needed to combat Islamist extremism, which he calls the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience. The goal is to raise two hundred million dollars over ten years, from governments and private donors, and to identify and finance grassroots groups around the Muslim world that will do the difficult work of opposing extremist ideas at home. These groups would take on the Islamists where they live, in mosques and community centers, in chat rooms and on social media. The American role would be very much in the background; citizens, organizations, and governments of key Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, would take the lead.  Done properly,” Husain writes, “within eight to ten years al-Qaeda’s theology and ideology can become as unattractive among young Muslims as communism became to East Germans.”

Religion, however, is not the same as political movements. As George Packer wrote in New Yorker Magazine, It is rooted in Islamic countries far more deeply and historically than Communism was in the Eastern bloc. To argue against Islamist extremism with young citizens of countries where people are overwhelmingly pious and the non-Islamist ruling regimes are dismal failures is a much tougher challenge than arguing against Marxism in countries where the failing regimes were Communist. But Husain—a living example of a convert to moderation—is surely right in pointing to the ideas of the Islamists, and not just their circumstances or tactics: “Unless such ideas are challenged and discredited, extremist groups will continue to regenerate no matter how many terrorists are killed.”

And so we are, indeed, living in the best of times and the worst of times. We won’t know whether the best or the worst will prevail for a long time. But the battle for the minds of men (and women) in the Muslim world will go on for a long time and, sadly, so will the bloodshed.

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Happy Holidays! We’ll be back After The First Of The Year.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsAs is our custom this time a year, we take off until the first week of the new year.  Steve and I want to thank all of our readers for their loyal interest in our weekly essays and for the many emails and comments you share with us.  We appreciate that your time is valuable, and we always strive to make our commentary worthy of your time.  We wish all of our subscribers peace, good health and happiness in 2015.  Your comments are always welcome and appreciated.

Peace and Happiness in the New Year!

Hal Gershowitz and Steve Porter

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EU’s Folly: Sanitizing Hamas

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIn an act of sheer buffoonery, reminiscent of the old English ballad, “The World Turned Upside Down,” the Luxembourg-based European Union General Court moved to cleanse Hamas of very bloody hands by opining that the Gaza-based thugocracy should no longer be classified as a terrorist organization. The august body of European jurists determined that Hamas just has a bad reputation because of bad PR. Specifically, the court found that the terrorist rap was simply “determined by news and Internet reports rather than by acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities.” We presume the Hamas kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last summer and countless other grotesqueries would also be considered acts determined by news and Internet reports. The world has, indeed turned upside down. You really can’t make this sort of stuff up.

Not to be up-staged by the court, the European Parliament decided, almost immediately thereafter, by a vote of 498 to 88 (with 111 abstentions) to support “in principle the recognition of Palestinian statehood” in tandem with revived peace negotiations. The EU Parliament also expressed “its strong support for the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states, with the secure State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security on the basis of the right of self-determination and full respect of international law.”

Well, who knew that after sixty-six years of rejection Israel and its Palestinian antagonists could finally live side-by-side in peace and security on the basis of self-determination and full respect of international law if only the nations of the world voted that it be so? Israel, of course, tried that once when it accepted exactly just such a plan in 1948, which its Arab neighbors rejected and, instead, invaded and started a war that cost the infant state about 1% of its entire population at the time (6,373 Israelis killed).

But let’s get back to the EU court’s procedural ruling (it is, theoretically, subject to appeal by EU members) that Hamas, essentially, may just have a PR problem. Let’s go to Hamas’s raison d’être – its charter.

The reader will recall that Hamas controls about 40% of the Palestinian population, and the worst kept secret in the region is that, given an opportunity, Hamas would rout Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) out of a political presence on the West Bank just as they violently purged Fatah from Gaza following the elections in Gaza in January of 2006. So just what does the Hamas Charter say about two states living side by side in peace and security. Let’s take a look.

Article Six: Peculiarity and Independence – 
”The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine…”

Article Eleven: “The Strategy of Hamas - “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf (a religious endowment) throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it. No Arab country nor the aggregate of all Arab countries, and no Arab King or President nor all of them in the aggregate, have that right, nor has that right any organization or the aggregate of all organizations, be they Palestinian or Arab, because Palestine is an Islamic Waqf throughout all generations and to the Day of Resurrection.”

The EU Parliament has endorsed the two-state solution (as has Israel) and urges the commencement of peace negotiations (which the Palestinians walked away from a year ago). So what are the prospects for fruitful peace negotiations? Again, let’s take a look at the Hamas charter.

Article Thirteen: Peaceful Solutions, - “[Peace] Initiatives and International Conferences
[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad…Peace initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement… There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility…”

So just who is responsible for the bloodshed and violence that is endemic to so much of the Middle East today? Perhaps, the Hamas Charter can throw some light on this question. Let’s take a look.

Article Twenty-Two: The Powers which Support the Enemy – ”…They (the Jews) also used the money to establish clandestine organizations which are spreading around the world, in order to destroy societies and carry out Zionist interests. Such organizations are: the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, B’nai B’rith and the like. All of them are destructive spying organizations… They obtained the Balfour Declaration and established the League of Nations in order to rule the world by means of that organization. They also stood behind World War II…They inspired the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council to replace the League of Nations, in order to rule the world by their intermediary. There was no war that broke out anywhere without their fingerprints on it.”

Well, we thought the likes of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Al Shabaab, Islamic Jihad Boko Haram, and all those other “militant” groups (the western press doesn’t call them terrorists anymore) were responsible for all the bloodshed. But no, according to the Hamas Charter it’s the Rotary Clubs, Lions clubs, B’nai B’rith and the Freemasons and other Zionist organizations that are the troublemakers.

But isn’t giving peace a chance a goal worth pursuing? Well, what does the Hamas wing of the Palestinian government have to say?

Article Thirty-Two: The Attempts to Isolate the Palestinian People –  “… (ever) leaving the circle of conflict with Israel is a major act of treason and it will bring curse on its perpetrators.”

So while Israel awaits Hamas’s next promised assault from the South, Hezbollah looms in waiting to the North. The reader will recall, once again, that at the conclusion of the 2006 warfare between Israel and Hezbollah (also the result of the murder and kidnapping of Israelis), the UN Security Council issued Resolution 1701 that required South Lebanon to be free of armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon. Yet, today, the consensus of military analysts in the West and in Israel is that Hezbollah has, since the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, replenished it’s largely depleted arsenal of about 10,000 rockets with an arsenal today of an estimated 80,000 rockets – all aimed at civilian communities throughout Israel.

The EU General Court and Parliament and one European country after another respond by sanitizing Hamas and passing resolutions endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian State with or without a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. American and European Universities and European communities imprudently sign on to the idiotic BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement to further isolate Israel.

The Western world, it seems, is tired of the conflict and, having no ability to influence the chaotic Arab world is largely focusing its displeasure on Israel. The world is, indeed, turning upside down.

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Senate CIA Report: To What Purpose?

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsYes, yes, we understand (and concur) that we have the right, indeed the need, to know what our government did in the name of security and national defense following 9/11. After all, it was in our name that the CIA did whatever it did following the devastating attacks on American soil that killed considerably more Americans than were killed at Pearl Harbor.

Torture as an instrument of policy is, of course, simply repugnant. It is — not to be trite — as un-American as un-American can be. If we tortured “detainees” we have the right to know that, and the need to stop such practices, as we, in fact, did over six years ago. Yet the report, or more correctly its detail and its timing, nags at our sense of judgment, if not our sense of propriety. Was so much of the gory detail really necessary, and was the timing of the report wise? Certainly we could and did, through Executive Order, bring an end to such practices as are described in the report without hanging out all of the sullied linen to dry.

And given the widespread and routine barbarity with which radical Islam confronts us today, was this the time to bombard worldwide media with stories of our excesses following 9/11? After all, we have rather routinely sequestered far less damning government information from public access for decades following various events of historical note. Just try to get all of the details the government still keeps under wraps concerning Watergate, or the Kennedy assassination, and what about the still secret memo that President Obama relied upon to justify killing, without a trial, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, an al-Qaeda propagandist from North Carolina, and Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. No, these and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pages of files arbitrarily classified as too sensitive for public release are vaulted in secret government archives.   But the gory details of the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation program — that Senator Feinstein demanded be made public. And to what purpose? The enhanced interrogation described in the Senate report ended at least six years ago.

NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who concurs with the decision to release the CIA report, nonetheless writes (this week) that he has sympathy for people who were charged with defending the nation’s security after that surprise attack. It was impossible to know what was coming next — for which they would be held accountable…”But (he goes on to write) it is hard to read the summaries of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report and not conclude that some officials and the C.I.A. took the slack we cut them after 9/11 — motivated by the fear of another attack — and used it in ways, and long past the emergency moment…”

 “Long past the emergency moment” – ponder that for a moment. Just when did that emergency moment fade into what Friedman calls “the long past”?

Al-Qaeda sent Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab, more familiarly known as the underwear bomber, on a mission to blow up himself and 289 other people on Northwest Airlines flight 253 over Detroit. That was eight years after 9/11.

Anwar al-Awlaki, operating from Yeman apparently convinced Nidal Malik Hasan to go on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood. He killed 13 Americans and wounded more than 30 others. That too, took place eight years after 9/11.

Faisal Shahzad went to the Waziristan region in Pakistan to learn bomb making and returned to the United States and came quite close to detonating a weapon of mass destruction near Times Square in New York City. That was ten years after 9/11.

Al-Qaeda also came close to blowing up an airliner over Chicago by delivering to UPS and FedX packages of printer toner cartridges loaded with plastic explosives scheduled for delivery at OHare on November 1st, 2010, again ten years after 9/11. The first package was intercepted in route to OHare at East Midlands Airport in Leicestershire England. The second package was discovered on a Federal Express plane at the FedEx depot at the Dubai airport at around 9 am on October 29. The plane was scheduled to fly to Newark Liberty International Airport  in New Jersey, and then on to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

So exactly when did “the emergency moment” that provided some slack for interrogators to, well, enhance their interrogations really end. Does anyone believe it is over now? Our point is not to justify torture in any form. We don’t. Nor is it to suggest that enhanced interrogation stopped these attacks. It didn’t. We simply recognize that extreme stress, during extreme times can cause extreme behavior by those charged with the awesome responsibility of stopping carnage directed at American citizens on American soil.

The process that produced the Senate report also troubles us. Judge Louis Freeh, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation notes in the Wall Street Journal as we go to press that President Bush was granted by Congress authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” (Emphasis added)

This joint congressional resolution, Freeh notes, has never been amended, was not a broad declaration of a “war on terror,” but rather a specific, targeted authorization to use force against the 9/11 terrorists and to prevent their future attacks.

Freeh reminds us that in the war-footing atmosphere following 9/11 “the RDI (Rendition, Detention and Interrogation) program, including the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, was fully briefed to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees. The Senate committee’s new report does not present any evidence that would support the notion that the CIA program was carried out for years without the concurrence of the House or Senate intelligence committees, or that any of the members were shocked to learn of the program after the fact.”

It is both disturbing and curious that none of the CIA directors nor their deputies nor, for that matter, any CIA employee who had briefed the Senate committee’s leadership (and who carried out the program) were interviewed by the Senate investigators. None! “Such a glaring investigative lapse”, Freeh opines, “cannot be fairly explained by the Democratic majority’s defense that it could make such crucial findings solely on the “paper record,” without interviewing the critical players. Nor does the committee’s other explanation for avoiding interviews make sense: The Democratic senators say they didn’t want to interfere with the Justice Department’s criminal inquiry into the RDI program, but that investigation ended in 2012 and found no basis for prosecutions. And no wonder: These public servants at the CIA had dutifully carried out mandates from the President and Congress.”

So we come back to the question with which we began this essay. To what purpose was this report written and released to the public at this time? If it was to stop enhanced interrogation should America be massively attacked again in the future it was probably an exercise in futility. Enhanced interrogation was stopped by executive order years ago. But when someone is tasked with stopping a massacre of Americans they will probably and willingly do what they have to do knowing they may suffer the consequences later. Saving lives may well trump the protocol of gentle and civil questioning.  Excesses, deplorable as they may be, have always and will always emerge in the fog of war or during a moment of emergency. The CIA is not populated with thugs as the Senate report might suggest to many. The agency is overwhelmingly populated by decent men and women who are tasked with the job of stopping incredibly indecent horrors.

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Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor: at the UN “fog descends to cloud all logic and moral clarity.”

  • Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors
  • UN Headquarters, New York, New York — We present, this week,   Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor’s address last week (unedited) to the UN general Assembly.
  • “Mr. President, I stand before the world as a proud representative of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I stand tall before you knowing that truth and morality are on my side.  And yet, I stand here knowing that today in this Assembly, truth will be turned on its head and morality cast aside. 
The fact of the matter is that when members of the international community speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a fog descends to cloud all logic and moral clarity.  The result isn’t realpolitik, its surrealpolitik.
  • The world’s unrelenting focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an injustice to tens of millions of victims of tyranny and terrorism in the Middle East. As we speak, Yazidis, Bahai, Kurds, Christians and Muslims are being executed and expelled by radical extremists at a rate of 1,000 people per month. How many resolutions did you pass last week to address this crisis?  And how many special sessions did you call for? The answer is zero. What does this say about international concern for human life?  Not much, but it speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of the international community.
  • I stand before you to speak the truth.  Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, less than half a percent are truly free – and they are all citizens of Israel. Israeli Arabs are some of the most educated Arabs in the world. They are our leading physicians and surgeons, they are elected to our parliament, and they serve as judges on our Supreme Court.  Millions of men and women in the Middle East would welcome these opportunities and freedoms. 
Nonetheless, nation after nation, will stand at this podium today and criticize Israel – the small island of democracy in a region plagued by tyranny and oppression.
  • Mr. President, 
Our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state.  It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. 
Sixty seven years ago this week, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Simple. The Jews said yes.  The Arabs said no. But they didn’t just say no.  Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon launched a war of annihilation against our newborn state. This is the historical truth that the Arabs are trying to distort. The Arabs’ historic mistake continues to be felt – in lives lost in war, lives lost to terrorism, and lives scarred by the Arab’s narrow political interests.
  • According to the United Nations, about 700,000 Palestinians were displaced in the war initiated by the Arabs themselves.  At the same time, some 850,000 Jews were forced to flee from Arab countries. 
Why is it, that 67 years later, the displacement of the Jews has been completely forgotten by this institution while the displacement of the Palestinians is the subject of an annual debate? The difference is that Israel did its utmost to integrate the Jewish refugees into society. The Arabs did just the opposite. 
The worst oppression of the Palestinian people takes place in Arab nations.  In most of the Arab world, Palestinians are denied citizenship and are aggressively discriminated against.  They are barred from owning land and prevented from entering certain professions. 
And yet none – not one – of these crimes are mentioned in the resolutions before you. 
If you were truly concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people there would be one, just one, resolution to address the thousands of Palestinians killed in Syria.
  • And if you were so truly concerned about the Palestinians there would be at least one resolution to denounce the treatment of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps. But there isn’t.  The reason is that today’s debate is not about speaking for peace or speaking for the Palestinian people – it is about speaking against Israel.  It is nothing but a hate and bashing festival against Israel.
  • Mr. President, The European nations claim to stand for Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – freedom, equality, and brotherhood – but nothing could be farther from the truth. 
I often hear European leaders proclaim that Israel has the right to exist in secure borders.   That’s very nice.  But I have to say – it makes about as much sense as me standing here and proclaiming Sweden’s right to exist in secure borders.
  • 
When it comes to matters of security, Israel learned the hard way that we cannot rely on others – certainly not Europe. In 1973, on Yom Kippur – the holiest day on the Jewish calendar – the surrounding Arab nations launched an attack against Israel. In the hours before the war began, Golda Meir, our Prime Minister then, made the difficult decision not to launch a preemptive strike.   The Israeli Government understood that if we launched a preemptive strike, we would lose the support of the international community. As the Arab armies advanced on every front, the situation in Israel grew dire. Our casualty count was growing and we were running dangerously low on weapons and ammunition.
  • In this, our hour of need, President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, agreed to send Galaxy planes loaded with tanks and ammunition to resupply our troops.  The only problem was that the Galaxy planes needed to refuel on route to Israel. 
The Arab States were closing in and our very existence was threatened – and yet, Europe was not even willing to let the planes refuel.  The U.S. stepped in once again and negotiated that the planes be allowed to refuel in the Azores.
  • The government and people of Israel will never forget that when our very existence was at stake, only one country came to our aid – the United States of America. Israel is tired of hollow promises from European leaders.  The Jewish people have a long memory.  We will never ever forget that you failed us in the 1940s.  You failed us in 1973.  And you are failing us again today. Every European parliament that voted to prematurely and unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state is giving the Palestinians exactly what they want – statehood without peace.  By handing them a state on a silver platter, you are rewarding unilateral actions and taking away any incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate or compromise or renounce violence.
  • You are sending the message that the Palestinian Authority can sit in a government with terrorists and incite violence against Israel without paying any price. The first E.U. member to officially recognize a Palestinian state was Sweden. One has to wonder why the Swedish Government was so anxious to take this step.  When it comes to other conflicts in our region, the Swedish Government calls for direct negotiations between the parties – but for the Palestinians, surprise, surprise, they roll out the red carpet. State Secretary Söder may think she is here to celebrate her government’s so-called historic recognition, when in reality it’s nothing more than an historic mistake.
  • The Swedish Government may host the Nobel Prize ceremony, but there is nothing noble about their cynical political campaign to appease the Arabs in order to get a seat on the Security Council.  Nations on the Security Council should have sense, sensitivity, and sensibility.  Well, the Swedish Government has shown no sense, no sensitivity and no sensibility.  Just nonsense. Israel learned the hard way that listening to the international community can bring about devastating consequences.
  • In 2005, we unilaterally dismantled every settlement and removed every citizen from the Gaza Strip. Did this bring us any closer to peace?  Not at all. It paved the way for Iran to send its terrorist proxies to establish a terror stronghold on our doorstep. I can assure you that we won’t make the same mistake again.  When it comes to our security, we cannot and will not rely on others – Israel must be able to defend itself by itself. 
Mr. President,
  • The State of Israel is the land of our forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It is the land where Moses led the Jewish people, where David built his palace, where Solomon built the Jewish Temple, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace. 
For thousands of years, Jews have lived continuously in the land of Israel.  We endured through the rise and fall of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman Empires.  And we endured through thousands of years of persecution, expulsions and crusades.  The bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land is unbreakable.
  • Nothing can change one simple truth – Israel is our home and Jerusalem is our eternal capital. 
At the same time, we recognize that Jerusalem has special meaning for other faiths.  Under Israeli sovereignty, all people – and I will repeat that, all people – regardless of religion and nationality can visit the city’s holy sites.  And we intend to keep it this way.  The only ones trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount are Palestinian leaders.  
President Abbas is telling his people that Jews are contaminating the Temple Mount.  He has called for days of rage and urged Palestinians to prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount using (quote) “all means” necessary.  These words are as irresponsible as they are unacceptable. 
You don’t have to be Catholic to visit the Vatican, you don’t have to be Jewish to visit the Western Wall, but some Palestinians would like to see the day when only Muslims can visit the Temple Mount.
  • You, the international community, are lending a hand to extremists and fanatics. You, who preach tolerance and religious freedom, should be ashamed.  Israel will never let this happen.  We will make sure that the holy places remain open to all people of all faiths for all time. 
Mr. President, No one wants peace more than Israel.  No one needs to explain the importance of peace to parents who have sent their child to defend our homeland.  No one knows the stakes of success or failure better than we Israelis do. The people of Israel have shed too many tears and buried too many sons and daughters. 
We are ready for peace, but we are not naïve. Israel’s security is paramount. Only a strong and secure Israel can achieve a comprehensive peace.
  • The past month should make it clear to anyone that Israel has immediate and pressing security needs. In recent weeks, Palestinian terrorists have shot and stabbed our citizens and twice driven their cars into crowds of pedestrians.  Just a few days ago, terrorists armed with axes and a gun savagely attacked Jewish worshipers during morning prayers.  We have reached the point when Israelis can’t even find sanctuary from terrorism in the sanctuary of a synagogue. These attacks didn’t emerge out of a vacuum.  They are the results of years of indoctrination and incitement.  A Jewish proverb teaches: “The instruments of both death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
  • As a Jew and as an Israeli, I know with utter certainly that when our enemies say they want to attack us, they mean it. Hamas’s genocidal charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews worldwide.  For years, Hamas and other terrorist groups have sent suicide bombers into our cities, launched rockets into our towns, and sent terrorists to kidnap and murder our citizens. 
And what about the Palestinian Authority?  It is leading a systemic campaign of incitement.  In schools, children are being taught that ‘Palestine’ will stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.  In mosques, religious leaders are spreading vicious libels accusing Jews of destroying Muslim holy sites.  In sports stadiums, teams are named after terrorists.  And in newspapers, cartoons urge Palestinians to commit terror attacks against Israelis. Children in most of the world grow up watching cartoons of Mickey Mouse singing and dancing.  Palestinian children also grow up watching Mickey Mouse, but on Palestinians national television, a twisted figure dressed as Mickey Mouse dances in an explosive belt and chants “Death to America and death to the Jews.”
  • I challenge you to stand up here today and do something constructive for a change.  Publically denounce the violence, denounce the incitement, and denounce the culture of hate. Most people believe that at its core, the conflict is a battle between Jews and Arabs or Israelis and Palestinians.  They are wrong.  The battle that we are witnessing is a battle between those who sanctify life and those who celebrate death. Following the savage attack in a Jerusalem synagogue, celebrations erupted in Palestinian towns and villages.  People were dancing in the street and distributing candy.  Young men posed with axes, loudspeakers at mosques called out congratulations, and the terrorists were hailed as “martyrs” and “heroes.” 
This isn’t the first time that we saw the Palestinians celebrate the murder of innocent civilians.  We saw them rejoice after every terrorist attack on Israeli civilians and they even took to the streets to celebrate the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center right here in New York City.
  • Imagine the type of state this society would produce.  Does the Middle East really need another terror-ocracy?  Some members of the international community are aiding and abetting its creation. 
Mr. President, As we came into the United Nations, we passed the flags of all 193 member States. If you take the time to count, you will discover that there are 15 flags with a crescent and 25 flags with a cross.  And then there is one flag with a Jewish Star of David.  Amidst all the nations of the world there is one state – just one small nation state for the Jewish people. 
And for some people, that is one too many. 
As I stand before you today I am reminded of all the years when Jewish people paid for the world’s ignorance and indifference in blood.  Those days are no more.
  • We will never apologize for being a free and independent people in our sovereign state. And we will never apologize for defending ourselves. To the nations that continue to allow prejudice to prevail over truth, I say “J’accuse.”
I accuse you of hypocrisy. I accuse you of duplicity. I accuse you of lending legitimacy to those who seek to destroy our State. I accuse you of speaking about Israel’s right of self-defense in theory, but denying it in practice. And I accuse you of demanding concessions from Israel, but asking nothing of the Palestinians. In the face of these offenses, the verdict is clear.  You are not for peace and you are not for the Palestinian people.  You are simply against Israel. Members of the international community have a choice to make. You can recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, or permit the Palestinian leadership to deny our history without consequence. You can publically proclaim that the so-called “claim of return” is a non-starter, or you can allow this claim to remain the major obstacle to any peace agreement. You can work to end Palestinian incitement, or stand by as hatred and extremism take root for generations to come. You can prematurely recognize a Palestinian state, or you can encourage the Palestinian Authority to break its pact with Hamas and return to direct negotiations. 
The choice is yours. You can continue to steer the Palestinians off course or pave the way to real and lasting peace..

Thank you, Mr. President.”

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BDS Movement, Boycott of Israeli Scholars and 1930’s Nazi Book Burning: At The End of The Day, It’s All The Same.

 Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSure, sure, we understand that there are differences. But we also understand the similarities. The worldwide, concerted effort to marginalize and delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel, its people, its institutions and its contributions to humanity is born of people committed to its destruction along with a mélange of their useful idiots on college campuses and within various ecclesiastical establishments. It is the shame of our time.

We are not misty-eyed chauvinists who feel compelled to embrace all Israeli policies and endorse all Israeli initiatives. But we recognize what is on the loose here (and abroad), and it is eerily reminiscent of 1934 Nuremberg, as well as the academic assaults against Jews in Vienna in the 30’s. That particular grotesquerie started in Nazi Germany with an anti-Jewish boycott on April 1st 1933 in Geisenheim. It succeeded. A gullible public largely assumed where there was smoke there was fire, and either joined with the instigators or simply tolerated them. It was political correctness on the rampage — Nazi style.

The BDS movement ( Boycott, Divest and Sanction), the boycott of Israeli scholars, the harassment of Jews all over Europe and, yes, even the physical attacks on Jewish institutions and citizens are all part and parcel of the same pathology.  We’ve been there before.  It is not a place any sane person should want to go again.

On a growing number of campuses in America today (UCLA being the latest) political correctness, and the appeal of joining the impassioned but largely ignorant crowd trumps critical thinking and common sense. Small wonder we’re graduating class after class of very expensively educated young American students who are quipped with no skills of use to society. Their inability to search, analyze and make well-informed judgments has been honed by a well-paid, tenured, professorial class who, themselves, are too quick to embrace, indeed promote, ill-founded pseudo-populist movements.

The earliest manifestations of the current boycott movement had its genesis back in 2001 during the anti-Israel, anti Semitic, so-called UN Conference Against Racism in Durban. It may as well have been held in Nuremberg as homage to the original fathers of group hate. The Durban conference labeled Israel an “apartheid state,” a charge so outrageous, so demonstrably false that those who embrace such calumny must be recognized for what they are – malevolent demagogues of the first order. Arabs serve in Israel’s Knesset, are among the most respected physicians in many leading hospitals, serve and even command troops in the IDF, and serve on Israel’s Supreme Court. Indeed, the policeman murdered while trying to protect worshippers during the synagogue massacre last week was an Israeli Druze Arab. He was accorded highest and somber military honors as the entire nation grieved for his sacrifice.

The current BDS iteration to delegitimize Israel started back in July of 2005, by 171 Palestinian NGO’s that saw in the anti-apartheid campaigns of South Africa a promising technique for attacking Israel. It is as disingenuous as was the Nazi campaigns of an earlier and darker era.

In September 2014, over 620 academics, signed an online petition, which states that the undersigned “vigorously support free speech and free debate but we oppose faculty or student boycotts of Israel’s academic institutions, scholars and students.” The petition states that the BDS movement “violates the very principle of academic freedom” and charges that it engages in “accusations and narratives” that are derived from “overstatements, cherry picked evidence, outright falsehood” or “disputed or highly biased data.”

But let us not be bogged down by facts. The cornerstone of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa was boycott and divestment, and that has become the rallying cry of those who want to delegitimize and marginalize (if not destroy) the Jewish State. Their activity is not pro-Palestinian. It is simply anti-Israel. They insist that Israel: (1) dismantle the barrier that brought a stop to weekly bus and restaurant bombings during the second Intifada, (2) retreat to indefensible, pre-June 5th 1967 borders, and (3) agree to the right of return of all who call themselves Palestinian refugees. In short, they really want Israel to commit suicide.

They are not so much pro-Palestinian as they are anti-Israel. An apt case-in-point is that of SodaStream, which operates a West Bank plant. The firm attracted international attention when Actress Scarlett Johansson bravely split with Oxfam International after the U.K.-based charity criticized her role appearing in company-sponsored commercials. SodaStream employs 1300 people at its West Bank plant of which 950 are well-paid Palestinian and Israeli Arabs. SodaStream has decided to relocate its plant elsewhere. The company will move on and continue to prosper. Its Arab employees may not, although the company is committed to securing, if it can, work permits for its Palestinian employees.

The BDS movement is not about Palestinian rights. It is about denying Israel’s legitimacy. It is a tactic in the war against Israel. Omar Barghouti, a senior leader of the BDS movement, has repeatedly expressed his opposition to Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people even within the 1967 borders. Thus, the real leadership of the BDS movement is opposed not only to Israel’s presence on the West Bank, but also to its very existence.

Richard Goldstone, a former South African Judge and leader in the fight against apartheid and certainly no Israel sycophant, summed it up quite well.

“One particularly pernicious and enduring canard that is surfacing again is that Israel pursues “apartheid” policies…It is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations…I know all too well the cruelty of South Africa’s abhorrent apartheid system… In Israel, there is no apartheid…Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute…Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment… But until there is a two-state peace, or at least as long as Israel’s citizens remain under threat of attacks from the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will see roadblocks and similar measures as necessary for self-defense, even as Palestinians feel oppressed. As things stand, attacks from one side are met by counterattacks from the other. And the deep disputes, claims and counterclaims are only hardened when the offensive analogy of “apartheid” is invoked…The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks… Of course, the Palestinian people have national aspirations and human rights that all must respect. But those who conflate the situations in Israel and the West Bank and liken both to the old South Africa do a disservice to all who hope for justice and peace…”

Perhaps, it is time for thinking Americans to do some boycotting of their own. Perhaps, it is time to stop sending tuition money, alumni money and endowment money to so-called institutions of high learning that engage in such low judgment.

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Israel and the Palestinians: Waiting For Godot

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsJerusalem, Israel – November 16th 2014 – Traveling once again through this land, we are reminded of David Ben Gurion’s famous musing, “In this land, anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”

Then again, miracles can take a long time coming, and waiting for another miracle in this region can be like, well, waiting for Godot. Eerily similar to Samuel Beckett’s 1953 brilliant (though often misunderstood) masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, there does, indeed, seem to be a certain futility about this intractable and dangerous Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

And so the parties to the stalemate go about their business. The Palestinians, it seems, devote the totality of their energy to undoing a reality that was born two-thirds of a century ago, a reality they call the Nakbah, or the Catastrophe. They are strongly motivated by a sense of injustice — an injustice that has become their obsession.   The Israelis, on the other hand, have been propelled by their unbridled freedom — freedom to discover, to create, to invent, to innovate and the freedom to grow.

The Palestinian sense of ire was (and is) not without cause. There were certain to be winners and losers on both sides, when this swath of land that had no true national identification for nearly half a millennia was partitioned by the United Nations sixty-six years ago. And even today the greater Middle East is in turmoil largely as a result of the disarray created when the Ottoman Empire (Caliphate) collapsed nearly 100 years ago, and the land was then sliced and diced at the whims of the victors of the Great War.

A coterie of nations in the immediate region was created during the 20th Century. In fact, all of the nations in what we think of as the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq) are creations of England and France. Only Israel, of course, was created by the United Nations.

Today, there is no meaningful dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and the resulting vacuum best serves the interests of the rejectionists on both sides. The second Intifada, which began in 2000 and lasted for five years, effectively ended nearly all routine contact between Israelis and Palestinians. Prior to the second Intifada more than 200,000 Palestinians entered into Israel everyday and worked among Israelis. There was contact between the two peoples. Now, there is virtually none, except among the Palestinian Authority security forces and their Israeli counterparts. They do work together to try to keep a lid on what is boiling beneath the surface. Formal peace talks are moribund. No one is talking, and almost no one seems interested in talking. Israelis and Palestinians are, today, living in parallel universes.

I am reminded of a meeting I had on the West Bank during the first Intifada with the late Elias Freij, the Palestinian Mayor of Bethlehem. I was doing research for my novel, Heirs of Eden, and he agreed to meet with me in his office during a very trying and tense time. Mayor Freij, a man of peace, described what he called the two great tragedies of the Israeli-Arab conflict. He described the first tragedy as an Arab tragedy — the Arab refusal to accept the UN partition plan that would have created an Arab and Jewish State living side by side. The second tragedy, he believed, was an Israeli tragedy – the decision in ‘67 to hold onto essentially all the land Israel possessed following the six-day war, and Israel’s concurrent total lack of interest in pursuing negotiations with Palestinian leaders to establish a meaningful and (Freij believed) achievable and constructive peace between the two peoples. Ironically, two of the three Arab belligerents in the ’67 War have established peace with Israel (Egypt and Jordan) and the third (Syria) is rapidly disintegrating into who knows what. Violent extremism over the issue of Palestine has, over the intervening years, coalesced into a variety of violent and well-armed factions, most notably Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

The Palestinians seem locked in a tragic time warp. Israel, meanwhile, has evolved, during its nearly seven decades of independence, into a success story of historic proportions. The young country excels in just about everything. It’s people and institutions are among the world’s leaders in science, basic research, agriculture, high-tech innovation, medicine, economics, literature, every aspect of art and even aerospace. Prominent military analysts in America rate the Israeli Air Force as the best in the world, and its Army as one of the best in the world and the best in the Middle East.

With few exceptions, every high school graduate (men and women) is required to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) – three years for the men and two years for women. It is a rite of passage in Israel and the IDF is uniformly viewed as one of Israel’s most important and uniformly respected institutions. The young men and women of the IDF are the pride of the nation and they, in turn, take great pride in their country.   Their sense of duty is palpable.

Sad narratives fill the air in this part of the world. Israel is referred to as an occupying nation. The notion is widely accepted here and, indeed, throughout much of the world, even though the circumstances of Israel’s presence in the territory in which it maintains a presence do not conform to the definition of “occupation” as defined by the 1949 Geneva Convention. The UN and its constituent affiliates have simply redefined “occupation” (after the fact) to encompass Israel’s presence on the West Bank (and previously in Gaza). When Jordan controlled the West Bank following the end of the British Mandate period and up until the ’67 War, no one thought of that territory as being “occupied” by Jordan, nor did anyone ever think of Egypt as “occupying” the Gaza Strip. And, indeed, neither Jordan nor Egypt was an occupying power as defined by the Geneva Convention.

And, of course, there are even more toxic narratives. There is the narrative Arafat promoted that Israeli’s (Jews) have no historical or cultural ties to the Middle East, or that the Holocaust that annihilated so much of European Jewry was a Zionist fiction. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Kahmenei, has weighed in on the conflict with his version of a final solution to the conflict. Israel he has written must be annihilated. Its fate should be decided by referendum including all of the people involved — with the exception, of course, of the Israelis.

The timing of the Ayatollah’s tweeted message is curious and, perhaps, revealing having been released precisely two weeks before the deadline for agreement between the so-called P5 + 1 and Iran on limiting Iran’s nuclear development to non-military purposes. It seems, to us, very likely that he chose this incredibly delicate time to issue such an inflammatory and unwelcome statement to send a message. If so, it was a very troubling message indeed.

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians continues to be elusive. And just as there are those on both sides who are dedicated to keeping peace elusive, there are those who will keep searching for a way. Meanwhile, like Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, we wait.

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Republican Midterm Rout: Historic Opportunity or Passing Footnote.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIt was quite an evening. Republicans won every winable seat and a few that were considered unwinable. As the evening drew to a close last night, Republicans held 52 Senate seats with two more (Alaska and Louisiana) likely to fall into the fold, and even the Democrats presumed-safe Virginia seat tottering on the brink of going Republican. To add insult to injury, Republicans added at least 10 more house seats to their already substantial majority in the US House of Representatives, giving the GOP their biggest House majority since 1946.

Republicans bagged governorships in one key state after another including Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and even Maryland where Real Clear Politics declared the State a “Strong Democrat Hold” in their last pre-election forecast. Nate Silver, the nation’s most vaunted prognosticator gave Maryland Democrat Anthony Brown a 94% likelihood of trouncing Republican Larry Hogan, predicting Brown would win by nearly 10 points. Instead Hogan with what the press called “a shoestring budget” scored the most stunning upset in the nation in taking 54% of the Maryland vote. Forty-six years earlier (1968) Hogan’s father (also Larry Hogan) scored the nation’s biggest Congressional upset defeating Democrat Hervey Machen in Maryland’s 5th congressional district. Hogan, we believe, is one of a new crop of young, energetic Republicans that, hopefully, will help rebrand the GOP. In the interest of full disclosure, this essayist and Hogan’s father were business partners, close friends and I had the privilege of being a senior member of the campaign team that produced that stunning 1968 upset.

Given the low voter turn out (about 35%) the dollars spent per vote in this election was, well, ludicrous. The top ten Senate races cost an estimated $700 million – just for the top ten races! Nearly $500 million was spent on the top Senate races and just under $300 million was spent on the top House races, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Contrary to popular perception, the Democratic Senate and House Majority PACs, run by allies of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, have spent more than any other outside groups — $47.4 million and $29.5 million, respectively. The Karl Rove-led group American Crossroads spent the most on the GOP side — $21.7 million, followed by the conservative Freedom Partners Action Fund and the Ending Spending Action Fund, which have spent $21.5 billion and $21.3 million.

The depth and width of the Republican sweep was breathtaking. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback survived a race in which he was thought to be very vulnerable. Every race that could have gone the Republican’s way simply did. Republican Sen. Pat Roberts beat back a strong challenge from Independent Greg Orman, and Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito pocketed the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, “It’s the first time in 60 years we have sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate,” Capito said. In fact it’s the first time West Virginia has ever sent a women to the US Senate.

In Arkansas, former President Bill Clinton’s six trips to campaign for Democrat Mark Pryor came to naught with Republican Tom Cotton taking the Razorback State. In Colorado, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner trounced Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, and in North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis unseated incumbent Kay Hagan. Even powerful Tom Harken’s seat was lost to a Republican newcomer, Joni Ernst. Democratic hopes were dashed almost everywhere, with Republican David Perdue besting Democrat Michelle Nunn in Georgia, and Charlie Baker sending Democrat Martha Coakley packing in Massachusetts of all places.

But just what does it all mean? Possibly quite a lot…and possibly not much at all. It all depends on how the Republicans use their new-found mandate, or whether they use it at all. Do the Republicans really even have a mandate? That’s an easy question with an easy answer. They most certainly do. And if there was any doubt about that, President Obama put that to rest in a curious, carefully scripted statement on the eve of the election. “I’m not on the ballot,” the President said, “But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.” Well, fair enough. If that is, indeed, the case, those policies, “every single one of them” are subject to a huge second thought.

Actually, we believe the election was mostly a huge protest about a government that isn’t working as much as it was about a President (or his policies) that isn’t working.  Exit polls conducted by the Gallop Organization suggest that “fixing itself” is what most voters expect Congress to do. Only about 20% of voters claimed that the economy was their primary concern. While President Obama was an albatross around the necks of nearly every Democratic candidate, mostly it seemed to be his lack of leadership more than his policies that were driving voters to distraction. Voters want the machinery of government to start working again.

The country wants to see Washington act to create robust economic growth once again. They are unimpressed that the unemployment rate is going down, while earnings fail to go up. They know that that just means that more people are working, but earning less for their labor. They don’t like the drift toward America becoming a part-time work economy. They don’t like immigration policy being all talk and no action. And they want decisions on energy policy including some resolution of the Keystone pipeline spectacle. They want healthcare policies that create manageable costs without requiring families to juggle higher deductibles to produce affordable costs. And most of all they are desperate to see an end to gridlock in Washington.

Voters will largely look to the new Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell to unclog Washington. McConnell trounced Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by a whopping 15 points. He has a mandate as he begins his sixth term in the Senate. McConnell understands what voters expect of him.

“We do have an obligation to work together on issues on which we agree,” he told supporters in Louisville. “I think I’ve shown that to be true in critical times in the past. I hope the president gives me the chance to show it again.”

He added: “Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.”

Make no mistake about it — more than anything, the electorate feels we have a terribly dysfunctional government, and two years from now if they still feel that way, the wave of 2014 will turn into the riptide of 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Midterm Election 2014: We Have A Republic…If We Can Keep It.

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors We, of course, are paraphrasing Franklin.

When asked by a Mrs. Powell, a woman in the gathered crowd following the Constitutional Convention in 1787 whether we had a Republic or a Monarchy, Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” This bit of historical banter is not apocryphal. It was actually recorded by Constitution signer James McHenry in his diary that very moment on that very day.

Oh, how we wish Ben Franklin or any of those other incredible thinkers were around today to shake us from our self-destructive complacency.

We leave partisanship at the proverbial door as we pen this essay. Our republic, more than anything else, is what is at stake in this, and every other midterm election. And that is what we will address today.

Our Founders really had three choices when they convened to construct a new order from the ashes of British colonialism on this continent. They could have constructed an American monarchy, a democracy or a republic. They wisely chose a republican form of government (not to be confused with the political party of the same name) because they understood that it was the only construct that had a chance of serving the new nation well into the future.

A monarchy, they knew, would be of no redeeming value in America (although there were those who supported such a notion). After all, we had just suffered at least 25,000 dead or wounded in the revolution (a toll that to this day is second only to the American Civil War relative to population). We hadn’t thrown off the shackles of British monarchy to create an American monarchy.

Democracies had been tried and had never succeeded. Indeed, pure democracies have had horribly unintended consequences. The Federalist papers, especially Federalist 10, strongly warn against the tyranny to which pure democracies are almost certain to evolve. Indeed, a lynch mob is a pretty good example of pure democracy.

What emerged at Philadelphia in 1787 was a fledging republican form of government that changed the world, as they knew it, and bequeathed to us a nation full of challenge and promise, as we know it.

But there is one catch. It was what Franklin was alluding to when he told Mrs. Powell that we had a republic if we could keep it. Under this new republic the people would not vote for or against a single law at the national level. Instead, they would vote for people who would do that for them. The quality of our republic, he was telling Mrs. Powell, would be no better than the quality of the people the nation sent to represent them. That’s the very essence of a republic.

Power in America was to reside in a body of citizens (us) who elect others to exercise that power, according to law, on our behalf. Indeed, our most fundamental law, our constitution, guarantees numerous individual rights (liberties, if you will) that cannot be taken away or abridged — not even by our elected representatives. Our individual States are also republican in nature as Article IV of the federal constitution “guarantees to every State in this union, a republican form of government.”

James Madison wrote in Federalist10: “… democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they are violent in their deaths.” Fisher Ames who served in Congress during both of the Washington Administrations termed democracy “a government by the passions of the multitude, or, no less correctly, according to the vices and ambitions of their leaders.”

So our founders very wisely constructed a brilliant republican form of government that rested on a foundation of law embodied in the new and incredible Constitution of this very new nation. School children should probably be reminded of Franklin’s admonition to Mrs. Powell each and every day – “you have a republic, if you can keep it.”

So just what was Franklin’s point, or more succinctly, what is our point. Well, here’s the thing.   There is nothing magic about our Constitution or its ability to protect our republic. It is just a piece of paper if we, as a people, are not devoted to, indeed insistent upon, caring fiercely about the quality of the thinking and the intelligence of the people we send to Washington every two years.

As American citizens we have only begun to discharge our responsibility when we vote. And if we don’t vote, we deserve the government we get. The health of this republic is largely dependent upon the people being both informed about, and involved in, the issues of the day.

The issues of the day, this day, are all but overwhelming. Statistically, the economy looks better than it did a year ago, but few people are breathing a sigh of relief. Americans, according to the Gallop Organization, are showing little confidence in the future. There seems to be an almost pervasive dissatisfaction, if not dislike, of our elected representatives by the people.

According to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and NPR, Americans want more effective government but a quarter of us believe that the federal government is a major threat to our personal rights and freedoms, half of us believe it is at least some threat and six out of 10 of us believe that the federal government does what is right only some of the time, and another 10 percent of us say it never does what is right.  Indeed, we Americans give our elected representatives in Washington a meager 9% approval rating.  Wow. Even Muammar Gaddafi, the butcher of Libya, did better with a 14% approval rating the last time we checked.

John Boehner, Speaker of House of Representatives seems unable to control the far right of his Party, which has resulted in the far right, in effect, controlling the House of Representatives. This is ironic, given that more moderate Republicans have pummeled Tea Party candidates in primary after primary this year. Republican voters turned their backs on Tea Party challengers in Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kansas and Tennessee.

On the Senate side, Majority Leader Harry Reid, does, indeed, control his party, but has used his power recklessly; refusing to allow the Senate to be the more deliberative body the Founders intended it to be — especially when those who wish to deliberate are Republicans. Reid has quashed open debate and deep-sixed the Senate’s long-standing amendment process to an extent that makes a joke of the Senate’s role as America’s essential deliberative body.

Even Democratic challenger Rick Weiland from South Dakota vowed to vote against Reid if he (Weiland) makes it to the Senate. “Harry Reid (and Mitch McConnell) have given us the most dysfunctional government in a generation and they need to step aside,” Weiland said during a recent debate. “They have both failed the American people and it’s time for new leadership,” the gutsy Democrat said.

Absolute control over the Congress of the United States will be determined in just a few days. Think about that. All 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives will be selected Tuesday as will 36 out of 100 Senators. If the last midterm election (2010) is prologue to what will happen Tuesday, less than 40% of us will show up to determine who in Washington will exercise power on our behalf. What in the world is wrong with us?

Such widespread and pervasive complacency – such failure to exercise our right and our responsibility to vote is, if we might borrow from President Obama’s lexicon, just doing stupid stuff.

HEIRS OF EDEN available at Amazon.com,  on Kindle, Nook, Apple e-books and Ingram Books.

 

Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.