Category Archives: general

U.S. Should Freeze Assets, Ban Travel of Human-Rights Abusers More Often – Bloomberg Business

Have you ever found yourself walking down a street in New York, Miami, or London and seen someone in designer clothing and expensive jewelry, speaking with a Russian accent, and stepping into a $150,000 car? And have you ever wondered where all their money came from? It may surprise you that some are no more than midlevel Russian government officials whose salaries are less than $20,000 a year. It may also surprise you that some of these elegant-looking people made their money by falsely arresting, torturing, and even killing people.

Since December 2012 the U.S. has attempted to make their lives less comfortable. The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress and signed into law by President Obama, imposes visa sanctions and asset freezes on Russian human-rights abusers. Known as the Magnitsky Act, it represents the first time in almost 40 years that the U.S. has sanctioned Russia for its human-rights record. The European Parliament passed its own version of the Magnitsky Act last spring. Targeting the travel plans and bank accounts of dozens of allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin has unsettled Putin like few other Western policies have. After he assumed the presidency for a second time in 2012, Putin said one of his primary foreign policy objectives was to fight the sanctions. So far the U.S. has sanctioned 34 individuals and created panic among members of Putin’s inner circle as they realize their money is no longer safe in the West.

This raises an obvious question: Why shouldn’t the U.S. do the same thing with an Uzbek, Venezuelan, or Burmese human-rights violator? …

U.S. Should Freeze Assets, Ban Travel of Human-Rights Abusers More Often – Bloomberg Business

The Real History of the Crusades – Crisis Magazine

So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression — an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.

Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity — and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion — has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.

With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt — once the most heavily Christian areas in the world — quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.

That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.

Pope Urban II called upon the knights of Christendom to push back the conquests of Islam at the Council of Clermont in 1095. The response was tremendous. Many thousands of warriors took the vow of the cross and prepared for war. Why did they do it? The answer to that question has been badly misunderstood. In the wake of the Enlightenment, it was usually asserted that Crusaders were merely lacklands and ne’er-do-wells who took advantage of an opportunity to rob and pillage in a faraway land. The Crusaders’ expressed sentiments of piety, self-sacrifice, and love for God were obviously not to be taken seriously. They were only a front for darker designs.

During the past two decades, computer-assisted charter studies have demolished that contrivance. …

The Real History of the Crusades – Crisis Magazine

7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free) – The Washington Post

Since 1985, U.S. college costs have surged by about 500 percent, and tuition fees keep rising. In Germany, they’ve done the opposite.

The country’s universities have been tuition-free since the beginning of October, when Lower Saxony became the last state to scrap the fees. Tuition rates were always low in Germany, but now the German government fully funds the education of its citizens — and even of foreigners.

Explaining the change, Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a senator in the northern city of Hamburg, said tuition fees “discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

What might interest potential university students in the United States is that Germany offers some programs in English — and it’s not the only country. Let’s take a look at the surprising — and very cheap — alternatives to pricey American college degrees.

1. Germany
2. Finland
3. France
4. Sweden
5. Norway
6. Slovenia
7. Brazil

7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free) – The Washington Post

Need a way to get out of America? Then one of these seven countries just might be your ticket.

The Iron Laws of Revolution and the Failure of the Arab Spring | John C. Hulsman Enterprises

You cannot make a revolution with silk gloves.” –Joseph Stalin

“I’m deeply troubled by the undemocratic turn that Egypt’s transition has taken”
–Tweet from former president Jimmy Carter, on the failure of the Arab Spring

In December 1942, the Red Army was finally turning the tables on the Wehrmacht. After a seemingly endless series of debilitating defeats the Soviets brought the German war machine to a halt at Stalingrad, where the Wehrmacht’s notorious Sixth Army found itself surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned. Back in the Kremlin, Stalin was planning the offensive that would put an end to the battle in his namesake city and seal the fate of the German army. He decided that General Konstantin Rokossovsky should lead the operation rather than General Andrey Yeremenko, who had been responsible for the defense of Stalingrad until then. The Soviet dictator could tell, however, that Marshall Georgi Zhukov had his reservations. “Why don’t you say anything?” he asked, to which Zhukov replied: “Yeremenko will be very hurt.” Understandably nonplussed by this sudden display of concern for other people’s emotions from a commander who had never had any qualms about using his men as mere cannon fodder, Stalin shot back: “It’s not a time for feeling hurt. We’re not schoolgirls, we’re Bolsheviks!”

It goes without saying that the man’s crimes were horrendous. His purges and collectivization drives killed untold people, to say nothing of his criminal failure to prepare an adequate defense against the German invasion that everyone except him knew was coming. Millions died under his rule, and his unwillingness to accept that Hitler was about to invade the Soviet Union made life for his people even more of a living hell. Nevertheless, there is a deep truth in his characteristically terse retort to Zhukov’s strangely mawkish objection: schoolgirls don’t make or defend revolutions.

And yet at the height of the Arab Spring, to listen to western journalists (CNN was particularly egregious) hipsters on the internet had invented a new way to rule the world; there was even a trendy slogan bandied about, ‘Revolution 2.0’. Shamefully, much of the western press left their analytical credentials at the door, essentially becoming mere cheerleaders for the students in the streets.

In those heady, irrational days, for our sins both of us were forced to attend foreign policy events where we were breathlessly told in no uncertain terms that the political rules of the road had been entirely upended; history no longer mattered. The telecommunications revolution allowed people to organize so quickly, efficiently, and differently–to share information at the speed of the click of a computer key–that the days of tyrants everywhere were surely numbered. Twitter, Face book, You Tube and the rest had definitively changed the world beyond all recognition. Power was out, communicating was in.

Just a few years on, surveying the ruins of the Arab Spring in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and especially Syria, these callow utopian claims look more than a little silly. But beneath this colossal analytical failure a far more important point needs making. There are iron laws governing revolutionary outcomes, outputs that have been tested and proven by history. The place to start is with Stalin’s quotation—people living alone in their basements with their parents are unlikely to be latter day Robespierres, Castros, Lenins, or Maos. But if it is easy (and necessary) to mock the ridiculous pretensions to world-historical change CNN and the others made in the first flush of the Arab Spring, it is far more important to look at what actually makes for successful revolutions, in order to underline the real reasons for the failure of Revolution 2.0.

The First Law: Organize (And not online)

The Iron Laws of Revolution and the Failure of the Arab Spring | John C. Hulsman Enterprises

Nasrallah confirms Hezbollah, Iran bolstering presence along Golan border – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

Hezbollah on Friday confirmed Israeli suspicions that it was establishing a greater military presence near the Syrian-Israeli frontier on the Golan Heights.

Nasrallah’s remarks reaffirmed the Hezbollah-Iranian effort to solidify another front in the struggle against its nemesis, Israel.

“They killed us in broad daylight, we kill them in broad daylight,” he said. “They hit two of our vehicles, we hit two of their vehicles.”

“We do not want a war but we are not afraid of it and we must distinguish between the two and the Israelis must also understand this very well,” he said.

He said the group had been ready for all possibilities ahead of the retaliatory attack, one of the most serious clashes since the two sides fought a war in 2006. They have appeared to back away from further escalation since the incident.

Nasrallah confirms Hezbollah, Iran bolstering presence along Golan border – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

carolinglick | Iran — Unafraid and Undeterred

The fact that the men were willing to risk exposure by traveling together along the border with Israel indicates how critical the front is for the regime in Tehran. It also indicates that in all likelihood, they were planning an imminent attack against Israel.

According to Ehud Yaari, Channel 2’s Arab Affairs commentator, Iran and Hezbollah seek to widen Hezbollah’s front against Israel from Lebanon to Syria. They wish to establish missile bases on the northern Hermon, and are expanding Hezbollah’s strategic depth from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to the outskirts of Damascus.

The fact that they are in control over large swathes of the border area and are willing to risk exposure in order to ready the front for operations exposes Iran’s strategic goal of encircling Israel on the ground and the risks it is willing to take to achieve that goal.

But Iran’s willingness to expose its forces and Hezbollah forces also indicates something else. It indicates that they believe that there is a force deterring Israel from attacking them.

From the Golan Heights to Gaza, from Yemen and Iraq to Latin America to Nantanz and Arak, Iran is boldly advancing its nuclear and imperialist agenda. As Charles Krauthammer noted last Friday, the nations of the Middle East allied with the US are sounding the alarm.

carolinglick | Iran — Unafraid and Undeterred

“The fact that the men were willing to risk exposure by traveling together along the border with Israel indicates how critical the front is for the regime in Tehran. It also indicates that in all likelihood, they were planning an imminent attack against Israel.”

If Hezbollah and Iranian leaders were already planning some kind of escalation against Israel, then wouldn’t that threat only be delayed at this point? In other worlds, they’ll be back.

Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says – NYTimes.com

A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.

Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says – NYTimes.com

So we are looking at some kind of a collapse of ocean life. It is possible to avert the collapse, but how likely is that? How likely is it for countries around the world to make major changes in how they affect the ocean? I have my doubts about that. I think current trends will mostly continue as world population increases. That will put even more stress on the oceans of the world. What about another major oil spill like the BP Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010?

“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.”

I’m all for not dumping acid into the ocean, but of course one of them has to jump on the climate change bandwagon: “Ultimately, Dr. Palumbi warned, slowing extinctions in the oceans will mean cutting back on carbon emissions, not just adapting to them.”

 

 

Conflict trumps economy as top risk to world in Davos survey | Reuters

The risk of international conflict is now the biggest threat facing countries and businesses in the coming decade, trumping concerns about the economy, the World Economic Forum said on Thursday.

The group’s annual assessment of global hazards sets the scene for its meeting in Davos next week, although it is based on responses received some months ago. It is the first time the survey has headlined conflict as the top risk, reflecting an increasingly dangerous world.

The previous nine editions of the Global Risks report have tended to highlight economic threats such as fiscal crises, the collapse of asset prices and widening income disparity.

This time, economics have taken a relative backseat as nearly 900 experts in the survey fretted over the pro-Russian separatist uprising in Ukraine, the dramatic rise of the Islamic State militant group and other geopolitical flashpoints.

Conflict trumps economy as top risk to world in Davos survey | Reuters

Multicultural Suicide

Fueling the Western paralysis in dealing with radical Islam is the late 20th century doctrine of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is one of those buzzwords that does not mean what it should. The ancient and generic Western study of many cultures is not multiculturalism. Rather, the trendy term promotes non-Western cultures to a status equal with or superior to Western culture largely to fulfill contemporary political agendas.

On college campuses, multiculturalism not so much manifests itself in the worthy interest in Chinese literature, Persian history, or hieroglyphics, but rather has become more a therapeutic exercise of exaggerating Western sins while ignoring non-Western pathologies to attract those who see themselves in some way as not part of the dominant culture.

It is a deductive ideology that starts with a premise of Western fault and then makes evidence fit the paradigm. It is ironic that only Western culture is self-critical and since antiquity far more interested than other civilizations in empirically investigating the culture of the other.  It is no accident that Europeans and Americans take on their own racism, sexism, and tribalism in a way that is not true of China, Nigeria or Mexico. Parody, satire, and caricature are not Chinese, African, or Arab words.

A multicultural approach to the conquest of Mexico usually does not investigate the tragedy of the collision between 16th-century imperial Spain and the Aztec Empire. More often it renders the conquest as melodrama between a mostly noble indigenous people slaughtered by a mostly toxic European Christian culture, acting true to its imperialistic and colonialist traditions and values.

In other words, there is little attention given to Aztec imperialism, colonialism, slavery, human sacrifice, and cannibalism, but rather a great deal of emphasis on Aztec sophisticated time-reckoning, monumental building skills, and social stratification. To explain the miraculous defeat of the huge Mexican empire by a few rag-tag, greedy conquistadors, discussion would not entail the innate savagery of the Aztecs that drove neighboring indigenous tribes to ally themselves with Cortés. Much less would multiculturalism dare ask why the Aztecs did not deploy an expeditionary force to Barcelona, or outfit their soldiers with metal breastplates, harquebuses, and steel swords, or at least equip their defenders with artillery, crossbows, and mines.

For the multiculturalist, the sins of the non-West are mostly ignored or attributed to Western influence, while those of the West are peculiar to Western civilization. In terms of the challenge of radical Islam, multiculturalism manifests itself in the abstract with the notion that Islamists are simply the fundamentalist counterparts to any other religion. Islamic extremists are no different from Christian extremists, as the isolated examples of David Koresh or the Rev. Jim Jones are cited ad nauseam as the morally and numerically equivalent bookends to thousands of radical Islamic terrorist acts that plague the world each month. We are not to assess other religions by any absolute standard, given that such judgmentalism would inevitably be prejudiced by endemic Western privilege. There is nothing in the Sermon on the Mount that differs much from what is found in the Koran. And on and on and on.

Radical Islam and Multicultural Suicide | Works and Days

Niall Ferguson: The ‘Divergent’ World of 2015 – WSJ

In Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” — a 2011 “young adult” novel set in a dystopian future not a thousand miles removed from “The Hunger Games”—humanity is divided into five factions according to their dominant character traits: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite. This being a post-apocalyptic Chicago, the last faction turns out to be the bad guys. People who fail the initiation tests are consigned to poverty as “factionless.” People with multiple traits are classified as “divergent” and persecuted.

If you were to sort the world’s countries into five factions, you would need a slightly modified classification scheme. The U.S., its economic recovery firmly established despite learned talk of secular stagnation, is looking Dauntless. Then there are the Erudite little countries, like Estonia and Singapore, that have the rare distinction of intelligent governance. But the other three factions would need different names.

There are the Abject: from Argentina to Venezuela by way of Russia, corrupt pseudo-democracies reliant on the export of natural resources. There are the Aspirant: from India to Mexico and Peru, countries engaged in a real process of economic reform. And let’s not forget the Catatonic: from Japan to the eurozone, economies either immune to monetary stimulus or reluctant to administer it.

Niall Ferguson: The ‘Divergent’ World of 2015 – WSJ

Psychopathy and Politics

“Putin is as psychopathic as Stalin, fortunately with much reduced demographic and physical assets with which to work.”

At the time of WWII, there were two extended psychopathic systems, militant Islam and the Marxist Soviet Union, and two psychopathic nation-states, Germany and Japan.  Germany and Japan were purged of psychopathic behaviors, at great cost, during WWII.  The Marxist Soviet Union collapsed of psychopathic dishonesty, inefficiency, incompetence, and corruption in 1991.  It would have been well worth our while to assure that Russia never again became psychopathic, but no such foresight.  Putin is as psychopathic as Stalin, fortunately with much reduced demographic and physical assets with which to work.  After a certain amount of death and destruction, Putin’s Russia will collapse in much less time than it took for the Soviet Union to collapse, because Putin has fewer assets to waste.

Articles: Psychopathy and Politics

Opinion: Vladimir Putin, just evil enough – CNN.com

Vice President Joe Biden recently confided a sensational bit of news to the New Yorker magazine: In a 2011 meeting with Vladimir Putin, he had actually told Russia’s then-prime minister that he had no “soul.” Even more remarkable was Putin’s response. “And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’ ”

Many people — in Ukraine, Europe, America and even Russia — probably share Biden and Putin’s estimation of the Russian president’s spiritual condition. In saying Putin has no soul, it means he seems to lack both the capacity to feel emotions and to show empathy.

Opinion: Vladimir Putin, just evil enough – CNN.com

Is Vladimir Putin a Psychopath? | 1913 Intel