Current Events

President Obama Abandons European Missile Shield

The Associated Press reported on September 17:

“Czechs and Poles expressed rancor and relief Thursday that President Barack Obama had scrapped plans for a U.S. missile defense shield on their territories… Ex-leaders in the Czech Republic and Poland bristled at Obama’s reversal, saying it reinforced a growing impression that Washington no longer views the region as indispensable to U.S. and European security interests. Yet many ordinary citizens who had been skeptical of the shield’s benefits expressed relief that the system wouldn’t be built on their soil…

“The two countries’ governments had endorsed the plan to put 10 interceptor rockets in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. The Bush administration had pitched the system as a strategic defense to counter a perceived threat from Iran. But the U.S. plan had deeply angered Russia, which expressed outrage that missiles would be stationed so close to its borders.

“Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer announced Thursday that Obama phoned him overnight to say that ‘his government is pulling out of plans to build a missile defense radar on Czech territory.’ Fischer told reporters that Obama assured him that the ‘strategic cooperation’ between the Czech Republic and the U.S. would continue, and that Washington considers the Czechs among its closest allies.

“In Warsaw, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Obama assured him in a phone call Thursday that U.S. plans to alter the missile defense project will not hurt Poland’s security…

“Scrapping missile defense comes as a huge setback to many Polish and Czech leaders, who viewed it as a way to strengthen their military ties with the U.S. as a form of defense against a resurgent Russia. Fears of Moscow run especially deep in Poland, highlighted by a key anniversary Thursday. Exactly 70 years ago — on Sept. 17, 1939 — Poland was invaded by the Soviet Union at the start of World War II.

“Thursday’s decision is another sign that ‘the Americans are not interested in this territory as they were before,’ said Mirek Topolanek, a former Czech prime minister whose government signed treaties with the United States to set up the shield. ‘It’s not good,’ said former Polish president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. ‘I can see what kind of policy the Obama administration is pursuing towards this part of Europe,’ Walesa said. ‘The way we are being approached needs to change.’

“Aleksander Szczyglo, head of Poland’s National Security Office, characterized the change as a ‘defeat primarily of American long-distance thinking about the situation in this part of Europe’…

“Alexei Arbatov, head of the Russian Academy of Science’s Center for International Security, said Thursday the U.S. was giving in on missile defense to get more cooperation from Russia on Iran.

“‘The United States is reckoning that by rejecting the missile defense system or putting it off to the far future, Russia will be inclined together with the United States to take a harder line on sanctions against Iran,’ he said…

“In a speech in April in Prague, Obama said Washington would proceed with developing the system as long as Iran posed a threat to U.S. and European security… The decision to scrap the plan is sure to have future consequences for U.S. relations with eastern Europe. ‘If the administration approaches us in the future with any request, I would be strongly against it,’ said Jan Vidim, a lawmaker with Czech Republic’s conservative Civic Democratic Party, which supported the missile defense plan.”

Der Spiegel Online added on September 17:

“US President Barack Obama’s decision not to construct a missile shield has hit Warsaw hard, but the move was not unexpected. Now Poles are seeking to convince the administration to at least install Patriot missiles in the country.

“Sept. 17 is not an auspicious date for Poland. In 1939 the Red Army marched into Poland from the east on September 17 and Hitler and Stalin divided the country between themselves. Up to today, Moscow still hasn’t issued a clear apology for the attack. Exactly 70 years after the invasion, Poland is being forced to accept another defeat: US President Barack Obama has shelved his plans to build a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic…

“Warsaw immediately rallied to Washington’s side during the Iraq war and even took up command of its own occupation zone along the Tigris River. But now, under Obama, many in Warsaw fear that US interest in its Eastern European allies is waning…”

Global Economic Crisis Continues…

On September 14, 2009, Der Spiegel Online published an interview with the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in which he said:

“The financial crisis was a catastrophic event, but one created by human hand… In the minds of too many — not only regular people but also top politicians — the financial crisis is already behind us. That way of thinking is dangerous. The global economic crisis continues despite the fact that Germany and France saw some positive growth figures for the last quarter. However, unemployment is set to rise for at least another year, and will probably peak in mid-2010. So the financial crisis has not only been followed by an economic crisis, but also by a social crisis which has not yet reached its apex.”

The Financial Times added on September 14 that “Economist warns of double-dip recession.” It continued:

“The world has not tackled the problems at the heart of the economic downturn and is likely to slip back into recession, according to one of the few mainstream economists who predicted the financial crisis… William White, the highly-respected former chief economist at the Bank for International Settlements, also warned that government actions to help the economy in the short run may be sowing the seeds for future crises.”

The Telegraph wrote on September 14 about Ben Bernanke’s and the US Federal Reserve’s failure to deal adequately with the economic crisis:

“Both bank credit and the M3 money supply in the United States have been contracting at rates comparable to the onset of the Great Depression since early summer, raising fears of a double-dip recession in 2010 and a slide into debt-deflation…

“Professor Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research said US bank loans have fallen at an annual pace of almost 14pc in the three months to August (from $7,147bn to $6,886bn). ‘There has been nothing like this in the USA since the 1930s,’ he said. ‘The rapid destruction of money balances is madness’…

“Similar concerns have been raised by David Rosenberg, chief strategist at Gluskin Sheff… ‘For the first time in the post-WW2 [Second World War] era, we have deflation in credit, wages and rents and, from our lens, this is a toxic brew,’ he said.

“It is unclear why the US Federal Reserve has allowed this to occur. Chairman Ben Bernanke is an expert on the ‘credit channel’ causes of depressions and has given eloquent speeches about the risks of deflation in the past. He is not a monetary economist, however…”

Anniversary of the Lehman Bros. Collapse

The Los Angeles Times reported on September 14:

“The president, speaking on the anniversary of the Lehman Bros. collapse… said some in the financial industry already are forgetting the lessons of the crisis, which was triggered when legendary investment bank Lehman Bros. collapsed into bankruptcy a year ago today. That failure helped create a market panic that turned the recession that began in late 2007 into the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“‘Instead of learning the lessons of Lehman and the crisis from which we’re still recovering, they’re choosing to ignore those lessons. I’m convinced they do so not just at their own peril but at our nation’s,’ Obama said…”

U.S. Power Is Fading…

The Associated Press wrote on September 15:

“A weakened United States could start retreating from the world stage without help from its allies abroad, an international strategic affairs think tank said Tuesday. The respected London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said President Barack Obama will increasingly have to turn to others for help dealing with the world’s problems — in part because he has no alternative.

“‘Domestically Obama may have campaigned on the theme “yes we can”; internationally he may increasingly have to argue “no we can’t”,’ the institute said in its annual review of world affairs. The report said the U.S. struggles against insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan had exposed the limits of the country’s military muscle, while the near-collapse of the world financial markets sapped the economic base on which that muscle relied. The report also claimed that the U.S. had lost traction in its efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program and bring peace to the Middle East.

“‘Clearly the U.S. share of “global power,” however measured, is in decline,’ the report said. The head of another respected London think tank, Robin Niblett of Chatham House, said the rise in the relative power of China, India, Russia and the European Union has made it harder for the U.S. to exercise its influence…”

USA No Longer Richest Region in the World

Der Spiegel Online reported on September 16:

“A new report on global wealth says that Europe has overtaken the United States to become the richest region in the world… The worst global recession in decades has left its mark on the world’s economic powers, but no nation has been affected quite as badly as the US wealth dropped by 22 percent.”

Baucus’ Health Care Plan No Solution

USA Today reported on September 16:

“The Democratic leader [Max Baucus] of a bipartisan group of senators released a long-awaited proposal Wednesday to revamp the nation’s health care system — an $856 billion measure that would require everyone in the USA to purchase health insurance by 2013… But the measure has not received Republican support.”

ABC News added on September 16:

“It’s not every day that you hear a Democratic senator charge that a fellow Democrat is proposing to raise taxes on the middle class, but that is what happened on Tuesday when Sen. Jay Rockefeller… ripped into the health-care bill developed by Sen. Max Baucus…, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee… Rockefeller, who sits on the Finance Committee, said that he cannot support the Baucus bill unless it receives major improvements during the amendment process.”

America’s Misfortune with Its Recent Presidents…

Politico wrote on September 15:

“When he ran for president, George W. Bush promised to be a modest reformer at home and a humble representative of the United States on the world stage. The Al Qaeda-organized-and-funded terrorist attacks of eight years ago changed all that. During his presidency, Bush created massive new government bureaucracies, sent troops into two wars and threatened more as part of America’s war on terror.

“Barack Obama’s initial approach to the office of the presidency has been as grandiose as Bush’s was restrained… he ran as a transformative candidate, promising sweeping, though somewhat fuzzy, ‘change’ during the campaign. For the first several months of his presidency, Obama has labored to deliver on that pledge. He pushed a controversial stimulus bill through Congress to help rev up the economy, turned Bush’s reluctant bailout of Chrysler and General Motors into a giant government auto buyout and appointed a record number of ‘czars’ to help regulate bureaucracies in both public and formerly private sectors…

“Obama is trying to fundamentally alter the American economy by backing sweeping environmental, labor and health care legislation. He wants to change the way Americans consume energy, unionize and see their doctors. So far, he’s failing miserably… It’s entirely possible — nay, likely — that Obama will lose on all three big issues… his public approval ratings have taken a beating, and voters have started to trust the Republicans more than his party on a host of issues…

“What all this means is, barring some unforeseeable world event, Obama’s will probably not be a historic presidency. He will have some successes and a lot of failures…”

Will Mr. Obama’s Legal Qualifications as President Be Tried?

WorldNetDaily reported on September 8:

“A California judge today tentatively scheduled a trial for Jan. 26, 2010, for a case that challenges Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president based on questions over his qualifications under the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. If the case actually goes to arguments before U.S. District Judge David Carter, it will be the first time the merits of the dispute have been argued in open court…

“The judge did comment that if there are legitimate constitutional questions regarding Obama’s eligibility, they need to be addressed and resolved… The suit alleges Obama is actually a citizen of Indonesia and ‘possibly still citizen of Kenya, usurping the position of the president of the United States of America and the commander-in-chief.'”

Germany’s TV Debate–The Big Yawn…

On September 14, 2009, Der Spiegel Online wrote about Germany’s only nationally televised election debate:

“Sunday’s TV debate between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her challenger Frank-Walter Steinmeier was billed as the highlight of the election campaign, but turned into a snore as the two uncharismatic contenders praised their cooperation over the last four years and avoided direct confrontation…

“The mass-circulation Bild newspaper ran the banner headline ‘Yes we Yawn!’ on its front page on Monday. It neatly summed up the public reaction and the general disappointment that there’s no Barack Obama in sight on the German horizon. Merkel and Steinmeier have shared power since 2005 in a coalition between her conservatives and the SPD. And judging by the way they avoided attacking each other on Sunday, it is plain that they wouldn’t be averse to prolonging the marriage for another four-year term after the Sept. 27 election.

“However, Steinmeier, the foreign minister, emerged as the winner on points because he delivered a better-than-expected performance while Merkel was stiffer and appeared more nervous than usual, especially in the first half of the debate, which was carried live on the four main TV networks… But it’s unclear whether that will do him much good given that the SPD is trailing the conservatives by more than 10 points in opinion polls with less than two weeks to go before polling day. As things stand, Merkel is widely expected to remain chancellor, either in a repeat of the current coalition or in an alliance with her preferred partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP)…

“They only really disagreed on nuclear power, where Merkel wants to prolong the planned phase-out period of certain reactors, on Merkel’s plans for tax cuts and Steinmeier’s insistence on a minimum wage. On Afghanistan, where they were singing from the same hymn sheet only last week, Steinmeier now wants to lay the foundations by 2013 for a German troop withdrawal plan… That would include closing the first German army base as soon as 2011. Merkel refrained from setting any dates, merely reiterating Germany would stick to a planned international agreement on a withdrawal, proposed earlier this month by Germany, France and Britain…

“The opposition Greens, Free Democrats and Left Party are furious they weren’t allowed to take part in the debate, and dismissed it as a charade.”

The Financial Times added on September 14:

“Analysts see the television debate, watched by about 20m viewers on four networks, as a potential turning point in the hitherto lacklustre campaign, since only half of all voters have already decided whether and for whom they will cast their ballots…

“Ms Merkel, the most popular chancellor in German history, was more hesitant and less precise in her answers than her contender, often seemed taken aback by the questions and occasionally used inelegant formulations…

“A poll by Infratest-Dimap conducted during the debate for the ARD public-sector network showed viewers had found Ms Merkel more competent, but 45 per cent of undecided voters said Mr Steinmeier was generally more convincing, putting him eight points ahead of Ms Merkel.”

The New York Times wrote on September 15:

“The debate in Germany between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday was billed as a duel, but it will go down in history as “the duet” for the harmonious way the two candidates agreed on issues ranging from the financial crisis to Afghanistan. More than 14 million people got less than they bargained for when they tuned in to the only debate before the Sept. 27 parliamentary election that will decide whether Mrs. Merkel remains as chancellor… Voter enthusiasm has been so low throughout the campaign season that Bild last week offered the chance to win 1 million euros, or roughly $1.5 million, to someone who correctly guesses the outcome of the election and can prove that they actually voted.”

German Media Responses

On September 15, the German media commented as follows to the Merkel-Steinmeier “duet,” as reported by Der Spiegel Online, speculating that the duet might have been the prelude to a continuation of the present CDU-SPD grand coalition after the election:

“The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes: ‘… both seemed aware that they may have to stay together after Sept. 27, if the election outcome doesn’t allow any other option’…

“The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes: ‘… It may have been enough for a shift, though: away from a conservative-FDP coalition’…

“The conservative Die Welt writes: ‘Steinmeier may have succeeded on Sunday evening to give the SPD the boost it needs to secure a continuation of the grand coalition.'”

Mideast Peace?

On September 13, The Associated Press reported the following:

“An ongoing disagreement between Israel and the U.S. over how to resume Mideast peace talks remains unresolved, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday… The Palestinians say they will not resume peace talks without a complete freeze. The international community views settlements as obstacles to peace since they are built on territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future independent state…

“Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is demanding hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier captured more than three years ago.”

Will Israel Attack Iran?

Haaretz wrote on September 12:

“In the rare moments when it’s not preoccupied with the decline of U.S. President Barack Obama in the polls and with the debate over its government’s proposed health-care reforms, the American press continues to deal almost obsessively with another pressing issue: the deadlock in efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program and the growing likelihood that the endgame will be an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“In the past few weeks alone, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal warned the president that the United States must put a quick halt to the Iranian nuclear program, because otherwise Israel will bomb the facilities. ‘An Israeli strike on Iran would be the most dangerous foreign policy issue President Obama could face,’ the paper wrote. Former vice president Dick Cheney revealed that while in office he supported an American strike against Iran, but was compelled to accept the approach of president George W. Bush, who preferred the diplomatic route.

“Another Republican ultra-hawk, former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, maintains that additional sanctions alone will not be enough to make the Iranians abandon their nuclear ambitions. William Cohen, who served as secretary of defense during Bill Clinton’s second presidential term (1997-2001), says that ‘there is a countdown taking place’ and that Israel ‘is not going to sit indifferently on the sidelines and watch Iran continue on its way toward a nuclear-weapons capability.’

“The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, explains that ‘a very narrow window’ exists between the possibility of resolving the issue and an attack on Iran. An op-ed in The Los Angeles Times states (with some justification) that if Iran does not respond in September to the demands made of it, the world should brace itself for an Israeli attack…

“This month will mark a critical juncture in Iran’s race for nuclear capability. The timetable is getting ever shorter: Most Western intelligence services share the assessment that over the course of 2010, Iran will accumulate sufficient fissionable material to produce two or three nuclear bombs. If the Iranians succeed in dispersing this material among a large number of secret sites, it will reduce the likelihood that the project can be stopped…

“Israel is apprehensive that the Americans may delay a final decision until December. The impression gained by Israelis who have visited Washington lately is that Obama is gradually backing away from the Bush administration’s fundamental demand that Iran cease to enrich uranium as a precondition for beginning a dialogue…

“So, the moment of truth will arrive at some point between the end of 2009 and the middle of 2010: Should Iran be attacked? American experts agree that this would involve an Israeli strike. It is very unlikely that Obama will be the one dispatching American planes to Natanz. During the past year, military experts and commentators are increasingly coming around to the view that the Israel Air Force is capable of executing the mission…

“Iran is likely to respond to an Israeli attack by opening fronts nearby, via Hezbollah from Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza… it’s clear that Israel will be subjected to extensive rocket attacks that can be expected to cover most of the country.”

Low Expectations for Breakthrough with Iran

The Financial Times wrote on September 14:

“The US and other world powers will next month meet Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator to test the seriousness of Iran’s proposal for talks and gauge its willingness to discuss its uranium enrichment programme… Javier Solana, European Union foreign policy chief, and Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on Monday agreed to hold the meeting on October 1. The encounter, at an as yet undisclosed venue in Europe, will involve senior diplomats from the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.

“Last week, Iran delivered a five-page proposal that ignored the controversial nuclear programme… The US, however, said it would put the nuclear issue on the table, even if Iran did not address it in its proposal. Iran insists that the nuclear file is ‘closed’ and not subject to negotiations…

“Western diplomats said late on Monday that although the US presence at the session would be an important signal of Washington’s willingness to talk to Iran, expectations of a breakthrough are low… Some European diplomats suspect Iran’s offer of talks on October 1 is a tactical move, aimed at wrecking talks by the E3 plus 3 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) on Iran at the United Nations next week, and delaying new sanctions… US and European governments have also been under pressure from Russia, which has made clear it was reluctant to endorse new sanctions against Iran.”

Is Israel Fighting “God’s Wars”?

BBC News reported on September 7 about dangerous developments of the involvement of military rabbis in Israel:

“Israel’s army is changing. Once proudly secular, its combat units are now filling with those who believe Israel’s wars are ‘God’s wars’. Military rabbis are becoming more powerful. Trained in warfare as well as religion, new army regulations mean they are now part of a military elite… This has caused quite some controversy in Israel. Should military motivation come from men of God…?

“The military rabbis rose to prominence during Israel’s invasion of Gaza earlier this year. Some of their activities raised troubling questions about political-religious influence in the military… As soon as soldiers signed for their rifles, he said, they were given a book of psalms… Before his unit went into Gaza, Rabbi Kaufman said their commander told him to blow the ram’s horn: ‘Like (biblical) Joshua when he conquered the land of Israel. It makes the war holier’…

“Rabbis handed out hundreds of religious pamphlets during the Gaza war. When this came to light, it caused huge controversy in Israel. Some leaflets called Israeli soldiers the ‘sons of light’ and Palestinians the ‘sons of darkness.’ Others compared the Palestinians to the Philistines, the bitter biblical enemy of the Jewish people…

“According to Reserve Gen Nehemia Dagan, what is happening in the army is far more dangerous than most Israelis realise: ‘… The morals of the battlefield cannot come from a religious authority. Once it does, it’s Jihad. I know people will not like that word but that’s what it is, Holy War. And once it’s Holy War there are no limits.’

“Many religious Jews object to the type of preaching heard during Israel’s recent Gaza operation. They say it perverts the true teachings of Judaism as well as contradicts Israel’s military code. Day to day, Israel’s army mainly operates in civilian areas – in Gaza, the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The influences that Israeli soldiers are exposed to are extremely significant. How they view the Palestinians who live here is likely to affect the way they use their power and their weapons.”

Ramadan Fast for Non-Muslims? reported on September 8:

“The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has recommended that non-Muslims take the opportunity of the month of Ramadan to fast, along with their Muslim neighbors, in order to promote ‘understanding between cultures.’ Johnson told members of a London mosque that with Muslims so much a part of London life, it would be befitting for non-Muslims to get to know their fellow Londoners’ customs and religion better.

“‘Whether it’s in theater, comedy, sports, music or politics, Muslims are challenging the traditional stereotypes and showing that they are, and want to be, a part of the mainstream community,’ Johnson said. ”That’s why I urge people, particularly during Ramadan, to find out more about Islam, increase your understanding and learning, even fast for a day with your Muslim neighbor and break your fast at the local mosque. I would be very surprised if you didn’t find that you share more in common than you thought,’ he said… ‘Muslim police officers, doctors, scientists and teachers are an essential part of the fabric of London.’ There are currently 1.6 million Muslims in Britain…

“Although perhaps the most original, Johnson’s is far from the only effort by Western politicians to honor Ramadan and Muslims. Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama hosted a Ramadan break the fast meal at the White House…

“There was no word on whether London Mayor Johnson was planning to suggest that Muslims and Christians fast on Yom Kippur in order to better understand their Jewish neighbors.”

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