23 April 2014

Five Fun Filled Links!

I know I've been away for a while (for a few personal reasons), so I want to first take a moment to wish everyone a happy holiday season.

Just a quick way to get back into my writing -- a few fun links that are worth checking out, not here in any particular order.

13 Most Ridiculous Predictions Made on Earth Day, 1970 — Jon Gabriel
People have asked me if I believe in global warming, now "climate change" - truthfully, yes and no. Yes, because I came across an interesting theory that the world was in a mini-ice age approximately in the 1700s and we're now coming out of it. No, it's not a big deal because I think "climate change" is cyclical and there's not much that mankind can do about it. Do I think that we should be responsible about our environment and treating the earth properly? Of course!

It's hard not to be cynical about these environmental predictions. Even within my lifetime I have heard doomsday narratives: population explosions resulting in overcrowding and starvation, global cooling, global warming and now finally "climate change" which, I guess, includes cooling and warming wrapped up with a bow.

The Problem With the New Isolationism
Worthwhile reading. Relatively short and to the point, not something I would have expected from Time magazine.

Photos Of Afghanistan's Past: Modernity Lost
A fascinating look at what could have been had Islam's 14th century mindset not conquered the country.

Where is the feminist anger at Brandeis?
The Brandeis debacle. There's no liberal anger when it comes to Muslim sensibilities - even when trampling on women's rights.

Hamas and Fatah unveil Palestinian reconciliation deal
This, of course, is nothing new but it does point out the obvious - the "moderate" Palestinian Authority is not interested in making any deals with Israel, but is certainly on the same page as their Hamas brothers as far as the Jews are concerned.  For more details, check out: The "Moderate" vs. "Extreme" Terrorists, and Israeli author on the futility of U.S.-led peace talks and hope for a two state solution

28 January 2014

Jewish Superheroes of the Holocaust

Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day, the day set aside to remember the liberation of Auschwitz -Birkenau concentration camp - a solemn day for all people especially for the Jews. Many of us have relatives or neighbors who survived those awful years in concentration camps, having their families wiped out.

What is most interesting are these photographs that put the enormity of the Holocaust into a more individual perspective.

20 Photos That Change the Holocaust Narrative

To be honest, I have always had trouble learning about the Holocaust, the evil of mankind, the depravity, the depths that people are able to sink to - but these pictures also remind us of the amazing people who were in these camps, those who survived and those who did not. We are reminded of their individuality. They were not just the numbers tattooed into their arms designed to take away their humanity, but real people, real individuals.

These were amazing people who did amazing things while in the camps, the self-sacrifice to stay alive, the self-sacrifice to to help each other, extraordinary things to keep their faith in G-d under incredibly hellish circumstances that we can't even imagine. The amazing people who were tortured and murdered simply for being Jews… were individuals.

For those surviving, the ability to put on plays and shows in the DP camps, needed a strength that is unimaginable. To move on with their lives and build new families even when they already had a family that was wiped out needed a strength that is beyond incredible.

When we think about the Holocaust we are overwhelmed by the scale of the destruction, a third of the Jewish People wiped off the face of the earth. Over 6 million people gone - along with their descendants. But these pictures are an opportunity to break down that number into faces, friends and relatives… individuals. Special individuals - our Jewish superheroes.

We honor them.

27 January 2014

My Prediction for the Keystone Pipeline

Recently the Canadian government has been getting tired of waiting for 5 years! (can't image why they might be impatient) to hear from the Obama administration whether or not they will go ahead with the Keystone XL Pipeline that will bring Canadian crude oil to Texas refineries - a project that would bring plenty of much needed jobs and help bring energy independence to the United States.

Of course Secretary of State John Kerry has basically told the Canadians to cool their heals - we aren't ready to make a decision.

My prediction for the Keystone XL Pipeline? President Obama will pass on the project - citing environmental concerns. At this point the Obama administration doesn't have the guts to straight out tell the Canadians that he's not interested. He'd rather be obnoxious and string the Canadians along while he waits for the midterm elections to pass. At that point when there is nothing more for the Democrats to lose, Obama will announce the big news.

15 January 2014

Iranian Peace "Overtures"?

Melanie Phillips is spot on about the Iranian situation, but that's no surprise, she generally is.
‘Game on’: why Iran goads the gullible west

Jim Geraghty from the National Review comments in todays 'Morning Jolt':
Why Is the Administration So Credulous about Iran?

"Wary" is my word of 2014 so far. On front after front, we, the American public, are being asked to accept, on faith, that the big changes afoot will lead to good outcomes, despite ominous indicators. The State of the Union address might as well begin with John Williams's Jaws theme.

It's full speed ahead on the individual mandate despite the headaches and messes so far. Full speed ahead for the employer mandate in 2015, despite the fear that some employers will prefer to pay the fine and dump their employees into the exchange. We're told expanding Medicaid won't leave state governments or federal taxpayers on the hook for much higher costs of providing medical care. We're assured that raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour will help all the low-income workers, won't slow down already sluggish hiring, and that we won't notice the price hikes at the cash register. Let's leave Iraq to sort out its own troubles. Let's get out of Afghanistan. "Trust us," they say.

And oh, by the way, the Iranians say they're giving up their nuclear weapons.

Now, we know these guys. We know these guys because they took over our embassy in 1979. We know these guys from the Khobar Towers attack. We know these guys from our recent State Department report on terrorism:

Despite its pledge to support the stabilization of Iraq, in 2011 Iran continued to provide lethal support – including weapons, training, funding, and guidance – to Iraqi Shia militant groups that targeted U.S. and Iraqi forces. Iran also continued to provide weapons, training, and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Since the end of the 2006 Israeli- Hizballah conflict, Iran has provided significant quantities of weaponry and funding to Hizballah, in direct violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.

In 2011, the United States discovered that elements of the Iranian regime had conceived and funded a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United States in Washington D.C. Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian-born U.S. dual-national working on behalf of the IRGC-QF, was arrested in September 2011 for his role in the plot; also indicted in the case was an IRGC-QF officer who remains at large. Arbabsiar held several meetings with an associate whom Iranian officials believed was a narcotics cartel member. This associate, in fact, was a confidential source for U.S. law enforcement. The thwarted plot underscored anew Iran's interest in using international terrorism – including in the United States – to further its foreign policy goals.

Qods Force provided training to the Taliban in Afghanistan on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons, such as mortars, artillery, and rockets. Since 2006, Iran has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives. Iran has shipped a large number of weapons to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in particular, aiming to increase its influence in this key province.

In 2011, Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior AQ (al-Qaeda) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. It also allowed AQ members to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iranian territory, enabling AQ to carry funds and move facilitators and operatives to South Asia and elsewhere.

This is, arguably, the most ruthless, underhanded, amoral and dangerous regime in the world. (Maybe North Korea. I'll take other nominations; but let's face it, Iran is in the top three, even in a rebuilding year.)

Why would we think these guys are going to honor their word?

When the Iranians aren't insisting that the deal guarantees their right to enrich uranium -- contradicting John Kerry -- and claiming that they have a secret side agreement with the U.S. — meaning either they're lying, or our government is lying to us — they're offering messages like this:

Twitter Hassan Rouhani: Our relationship w/ the world is based on Iranian nation's interests. In #Geneva agreement world powers surrounded to Iranian nation's will

Here's Jeffrey Goldberg's pitch:

So why support negotiations? First: They just might work. I haven't met many experts who put the chance of success at zero. Second: If the U.S. decides one day that it must destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, it must do so with broad international support. The only way to build that support is to absolutely exhaust all other options. Which means pursuing, in a time-limited, sober-minded, but earnest and assiduous way, a peaceful settlement.

Er, really? That's the best argument? Most experts put the chance of success at better than zero? Or we need to go through the motions to persuade the world we're not warmongers? Look, the world's opinion on our alleged warmongering has very little to do with our actual mongering of any wars. If we were "warmongers," we wouldn't have "led from behind" in Libya and Bashir Assad would be a red spot on Damascus rubble right now. Besides, the world's usual suspects are going to call us "warmongers" no matter what we do.

Here's the Israeli Defense Minister with a different interpretation of what's driving our foreign policy:

Ya'alon had lashed out at Kerry and savaged Washington-led peace talks in private conversations, according to a report Tuesday in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily. The paper recounted the defense minister lambasting the proposed security arrangements drawn up by Kerry as part of his peace proposal, saying it was "not worth the paper it is printed on" and would not provide security for Israel.

The report also quoted Ya'alon calling Kerry "inexplicably obsessive" and "messianic" in his efforts to coax the two sides into a peace agreement. The defense minister reportedly said Kerry has "nothing to teach me about the conflict with the Palestinians. All that can 'save us' is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace."

Legacy time, baby! Time to reach out to the world's worst and get their signatures on the dotted line, because nobody ever garnered a reputation for being a peacemaker by warily assessing their foes.

14 January 2014

RIP Ariel Sharon, Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher

The Politics of Funeral Attendance

Today was former Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon's funeral. He spent his life defending Jews and the State of Israel. He was a proud Jew, showing his support for the "Jewishness" of the State by visiting the holy Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the only holy place we have in the world. While not anywhere perfect, it seems that Sharon did his best to defend the Jewish state and her citizens, putting himself in harms way time and time again. I will not hide my disappointment and anger in his decision to remove the Jews from Gaza (I was in Israel at the time, the 'disengagement' rocked everyone) - but I will give him the benefit of the doubt that somehow he thought that this was what was best for the State.

On a related note, what is interesting to note is who showed up at his funeral. Looking back over the last year - there have been two other notable funerals: Lady Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela.

Lady Thatcher is best well known for standing shoulder to shoulder with President Ronald Reagan when facing down the Soviet Union, ultimately bringing down the Iron Curtain and bringing freedom to millions of people across eastern Europe, the Baltic states and all those countries swallowed by the Communist regime. An amazing lady in her own right, a person who brought Britain back into the forefront of world politics - she is someone who should be honored by all.

What was interesting about her funeral was who showed up to the funeral and who did not. There were no former presidents in attendance. Neither was the current one. Who did the Obama administration send? Ex-Secretaries of State George Shultz and James A. Baker III and assorted other officials. Three current Republican House members did also attend. Not one Democrat was there. Interesting.

Nelson Mandela's funeral, on the other hand, brought world leaders out of the woodwork. Mandela was no doubt an important man in bringing South African apartheid to an end without bloodshed - perhaps he was the only one who could have done it. While we no doubt had a special leader we are speaking of, there are legitimate concerns related to his questionable associations with terrorist leaders PLO Yasser Arafat and Libyan Muammar Gaddafi. To add to these concerns, we know that Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe attended his funeral - were they friendly?

Three ex-Presidents, and the current occupant of the office, traveled to South Africa to give their respects. Not one could be bothered to show their face in London earlier in the year?

Vice-President Joe Biden is currently in Israel for former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's funeral - certainly a nice gesture, but not one that makes sense ideologically, when we know that Sharon was a hard-liner (read: believed in the security of the Jewish State), but one that makes sense politically. Since we know that the Obama's foreign policy is in shambles - Iran's red lines are being erased by the minute, oh wait I forgot, we made a "peace" deal, they are considering thinking about getting rid of their nuclear weapons, Syria's President Assad has been using chemical and conventional weapons murdering his people wholesale… it is always a good time to pressure Israel into doing something stupid (read: re-starting the "peace process").

Make no mistake, Vice-President Biden is only in Israel to further pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into making the same mistakes Ariel Sharon did in the name of "peace". In other words - look, "hardliner" Sharon managed to pull out of Gaza and make "sacrifices", why can't you? That is the only reason Biden is there - to get more concessions out of Israel. We will see what comes out of this visit.

Funerals bring out the essence of the person being honored - we see what they stood for and we see who shared their values. This past year has certainly been interesting.

07 January 2014

Quick News Round-up

Robert Gates, former defense secretary, offers harsh critique of Obama’s leadership in ‘Duty’
If he was so unhappy, why did he stay? Or speak up?

Report: Kerry is Behind European Boycotts
This had better be wrong.

Judge rules Chicago gun ban is unconstitutional
Finally some good news for the 2nd Amendment in Chicago.

Kerry and the long-term cost of releasing terrorists
Why is Israel playing this dangerous game?

True Palestinian ‘Peace’ Motive: Eradication of Israel
If the Arabs are clear about their aim of destroying Israel, why does Israel still bother negotiating?

24 December 2013

Freedom of Speech: Your First Amendment

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." -Bill of Rights, 1st Amendment
The First Amendment to the Constitution was adopted on December 15, 1791, and it applies to laws enacted by Congress as well as the fifty states through the 14th Amendment. It does NOT apply from one individual to another or one individual to a company/employer.

Here's a very brief understanding of your 'freedom of speech' rights:

  • Political speech is protected: "...freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government." --Justice Brandeis (minority opinion) 
  • Desecration of the flag: You can burn the American flag (though in my personal opinion, you shouldn't): "...if there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable." --Justice Brennan, Jr., Texas v. Johnson
  • Commercial speech (speech done on behalf of a company or individual for the purpose of making a profit) doesn't get full protection under the First Amendment. It is more interested in avoiding fraud than anything else. 
  • School speech: Students in school have certain speech rights as well. A school cannot restrict symbolic speech that does not "materially and substantially" interrupt school activities, according to Justice Fortas. "[S]chools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students ... are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State." --Tinker v. Des Moines.
  • Obscenity and pornography is a completely different issue, and their definitions have changed over time. That's a fun topic for another blog. 
  • Defamation (slander/libel): Consists of actionable words that are false, articulated to a third person (whether by writing or in speech), not subject to legal protection, and motivated by malice. The malice standard differs for public figures in that it requires actual malice (knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not).

    In the recent uproar over Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson's comments and his employer A&E, people have claimed that his first amendment rights have been curtailed. This could not be further from the truth. If you are unfamiliar with the facts, here's a brief recap:

    Phil Robertson, in a GQ interview, expressed his biblical views on homosexuals, sin, and morality. I can't imagine that anyone was surprised that he held these views. He's a very old-fashioned, redneck Southerner, familiar with the Bible. He is not ignorant; he has a Master's Degree in Education. He quoted the New Testament's views on homosexuality and sin. Anyone familiar with the New Testament, again, shouldn't be surprised.

    As a result of his comments and pressure from gay rights organizations, his employer, A&E has put him on permanent suspension. Critics are claiming that Robertson's freedom of speech rights are being crushed by A&E, but they are ignorant of the law. And while Robertson's comments were made on his own time and quoted the New Testament, he still represents A&E, and it is their choice to react (or not react) to his behavior.

    Let me be clear: I have never watched Duck Dynasty. It's not my idea of entertainment. I'm coming at this from a purely ignorant point of view, so to speak. 

    But if someone is going to form an opinion on what should or should not be done in this particular (or similar situation), they should do so with knowledge and fairness

    1. Phil Robertson made his remarks on his own personal time.
    2. In some respect, Robertson represents A&E (as employees represent their employers).
    3. Phil Robertson was closely quoting the New Testament.
    4. Laws do not protect our feelings.
    5. Employers are allowed to do whatever they want when employees behave in a certain way (provided it's not illegal).
    6. This is not a 1st Amendment issue; it's an employment issue.
    In truth, this could have gone either way... Either the way it went OR A&E could have chosen to view Robertson's statements as what they were, his personal religious views (to which people are entitled) and to support his right to hold those opinions. They could have rejected the pressure from outside groups and stood up for each individual's right to possess a personal belief. If they were truly worried about public opinion, they simply could have released a statement saying that Robertson's views do not represent the views of the station, but that they support an individual's right to a personal belief. Done.

    Everyone on this planet is different. That's what makes our society an interesting place! As long as someone's belief and opinion does not infringe on another's rights or safety, that belief and opinion shouldn't be restricted. I shouldn't have to fear or be ashamed of my beliefs. 

    With that in mind, A&E retains the right to do what it wants in response to Robertson's actions, but it shouldn't have been pressured to act one way or another. I understand that perhaps the point of the pressure was to promote tolerance, but instead of doing that, this has instead been a forced silencing of personal opinion and differences to which we are, and should be, entitled. 

    Whether or not each of us agrees with Robertson and the New Testament is irrelevant. 

    If Robertson isn't allowed to have and express his opinion on his own time, what's to stop another group/company/government organization from suppressing our personal belief and opinion (popular or unpopular as they may be)?

    22 December 2013

    Free Jonathan Pollard Now!

    I was just thinking about the current spying fiasco the United States is involved in around the world - including Israel - and remembering Jonathan Pollard slowly dying in an American prison for a lot less. Prime Minister Netanyahu keeps mentioning that he's talked about Pollard with all the American presidents he has dealt with… but why no results? Why does Israel roll over and do whatever America wants, but somehow can't get Pollard out of jail? There's something very wrong here… and now it's time to get it right.

    Officials demand Pollard release in light of US spying | The Times of Israel

    03 December 2013

    Thoughts for the Beginning of the Week

    Just a few random thoughts:

    Recently, I've been wondering where our "Crazy Uncle" Joe Biden has been. AWOL for quite a while now. As I checked the news yesterday - and surprise! he's on his way to Asia, going to try and sort out that little tiff they're having over there with China throwing their weight around grabbing airspace over disputed islands. Good luck to him… although maybe we should be sending Secretary of State Kerry since he's been so successful with the Iranian nuclear program. Heh.

    I guess I shouldn't be surprised - people are suggesting that we get rid of Presidential term limits. I will admit that while this writer makes some decent points when suggesting the idea - I am not in favor of any president from any party without a limit to their time in office. We see from this presidency, a demigod who can do no wrong, how much damage can be done to the country in such a short amount of time… and we still have three more years to go.

    To wrap up, I just want to point out how fantastic Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper is for Israel. He was the guest of honor recently for the Jewish National Fund's Negev dinner (JNF - best known for planting trees in Israel). He gave a great speech (a must see) - and followed it up with a performance with his band. Not bad. Not bad at all. At this point I think it is fair to say that the Canadian government may be Israel's best friend.

    01 December 2013

    Heroes to Heroes

    I'm watching Huckabee right now - fantastic show - talking about Heroes to Heroes - sending our American soldiers with PTSD to Israel to walk the country, talk to their Israeli counterparts, and coming home feeling a whole lot better. Please support heroestoheroes.org.

    11 October 2013

    Happy Belated Birthday Washington Monument!

    National Geographic has a great little historical piece about the Washington Monument. October 9, 1888 the monument opened to the public. Take a read. Have a good weekend.

    Picture Archive: Washington Monument, 1940s

    And a not-connected side note: remember that our Rights are granted to us by the Almighty, not by government. I hope to explain further next week.

    30 September 2013

    Worthwhile Reading to Start the Day

    Charles Krauthammer has a great piece about the current attempt at diplomacy with Iran - spot on.
    The real Rouhani

    And I've noticed lately that articles critiquing ObamaCare are finally showing up in the mainstream media. It's about time, but why has it taken this long to see them? Why didn't the media do their job and take a moment to read the bill before it was passed instead of beating the drums for its passage?
    Lower Health Insurance Premiums to Come at Cost of Fewer Choices - NY Times
    Insurers limiting doctors, hospitals in health insurance market - LA Times
    On October 1, Obamacare's Price Tag Will Surprise Americans - Forbes
    First Obamacare casualty: My health plan is dead - NY Post
    Ten states where Obamacare wipes out existing health care plans - Daily Caller
    Experts fear ObamaCare rate ‘spiral’ - NY  Post