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4/30/2012
Islamist Shakeup in Egyptian Presidential Election
CATEGORY: FrontPage.Com

My latest is up at FPM and in it, I talk about what’s happening in Egypt.

A sample:

Objections by liberals and secularists to the unilateral decision of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to prorogue parliament went unheeded despite nearly 80 lawmakers signing a letter to el-Katatni calling on the speaker to rescind the order to suspend the lower house, or the People’s Assembly. The letter contained the complaint that the decision had not been put to a vote by the full chamber. Members who objected remained in their seats, refusing to leave even after the session was adjourned.

But the protest was a sideshow to the real drama - a tense confrontation between the FJP and its allies, and the military. Both sides appear to be testing the limits of their power in post-Mubarak Egypt. The military is seeking to reduce the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, fearing that the FJP would take away many of the perks and power of the soldiers under a new, Brotherhood-written constitution. The FJP, with the backing of the revolutionary street, has been flexing its muscles in parliament by trying to undercut military rule and shoulder its way into the government. The ruling military council led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi has often found itself at odds with the Islamists, but is so politically unpopular that any pushback is immediately met with large protests in Tahrir Square. The army has the guns, but the Brotherhood has the backing of the people. Tantawi has not forgotten what happened to Mubarak, hence, he has taken a cautious approach in handling parliament.

The Islamists have been calling on the military government to fire the cabinet for weeks. They have threatened to stage a no-confidence vote in the el-Ganzouri government despite threats from the military that such a vote was illegal, that only the military council had the power to remove ministers. This latest ploy by the FJP to suspend parliament for a week has apparently moved Tantawi to give in to some of the demands and bring Islamists and others into the government. But an unidentified spokesman for the military said on Sunday night that any changes to the cabinet would be “limited.” This will likely not sit well with the FJP

In suspending parliament, el-Katatni said, “It is my responsibility as speaker of the People’s Assembly to safeguard the chamber’s dignity and that of its members. There must be a solution to this crisis.” On April 24, parliament rejected the military’s economic and political program, which is akin to a “no confidence” vote in many parliamentary democracies. But neither side apparently wants to test the other in what would be a dangerous showdown between the two competing power centers in Egypt.

The Salafists, while still allied with the FJP, find themselves in disarray as a result of their charismatic leader’s ousting from the presidential race. Many members of the Nour party plan to stay at home on election day, while others complain that they are being marginalized by the Muslim Brotherhood. Still others want the movement to give up on politics and concentrate on reforming society so that it reflects fundamentalist Muslim tenets. There have been several resignations from the Nour party in recent months reflecting these feelings.

That’s why the Nour party backing of Fotouh is more a tactical move than related to any particular stand on the issues by the former Brotherhood member. Nour, as any political party, wants to back a winner and Fotouh is emerging as one of  the favorites among the 13 remaining candidates for the presidency. While the FJP candidate, Mohammed Mursi, won the endorsement of the ultra-conservative clerical association, the Jurisprudence Commission for Rights and Reforms, the Nour party leadership went with Fotouh as a hedge against what they see as the growing dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood - an organization they see as too eager to acquire political power.

By: Rick Moran at 11:27 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

4/2/2012
Islamists Rising in Syria

My latest at FPM is about the failed UN peace plan being pushed by former Sec Gen Kofi Annan and the “Friends of Syria” getting closer to calling outright for the arming of the rebels in the Free Syrian Army.

But I was a little surprised to read about the extent of Islamist influence in the councils of the opposition — including the “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood.

The SNC met earlier in the week, trying with little success to paper over its differences. The Kurdish delegation walked out in the middle of the conference, claiming their concerns were not being met, while several secular members had quit in disgust last month, saying that the organization was “undemocratic” and was being dominated by Islamists. Working feverishly, Turkish diplomats managed to save the conference from catastrophe by luring back many of those who quit, getting the SNC to agree to expand its membership and try to work more democratically. The Kurds, however, refused to return citing the SNC’s unwillingness to include a reference to Kurdish autonomy in its statement on a post-Assad Syria.

So far, the SNC and the rest of the Syrian opposition has been hopelessly fractured in almost every way - from agreeing on an immediate agenda to help the FSA to violent disagreements over the future of a post-Assad Syria. But there is one group within the SNC that is organized, dedicated to throwing Assad out, and clear about both its immediate goals and long term plans.

The Muslim Brotherhood - once banned in Syria - is on the comeback trail and its resurgence should give Western powers pause before agreeing to arm any of the opposition groups.

The Brotherhood was last seen in Syria during the 1980s when Assad’s father Hafez cracked down on its headquarters in the city of Hama, murdering up to 10,000 during a bloody insurrection. But in reality, the Brothers had never left - they simply went underground. While most of the leaders were in exile, the structure of the group remained intact through a network of cells and activists. It was the same tactic used in Egypt after Hosni Mubarak’s crackdown and has led to victory at the polls there. While Assad continued to arrest and execute Brotherhood members, he could never stamp out the movement completely.

Now, with the secular opposition in disarray, the Muslim Brotherhood is re-emerging with surprising strength and cohesiveness. Some opposition members say that the Brotherhood is using money and weapons to gain influence in the council, tapping its donor base spread throughout the Middle East. One secular dissident who broke away from the SNC last month, Kamal Labwani, claims the SNC is “a liberal front for the Muslim Brotherhood. ” Islamist members of the council deny this, saying that they want a pluralistic Syria where all factions and sects are represented in government.

What’s clear is that at the SNC meeting last week, the Muslim Brotherhood was forced to compromise and expand the SNC to include more secular groups. Of the 350 members of the SNC, it is believed that 270 are Islamists, Salafis, and other Sunni radicals who want to depose Assad both because he is a member of the Alawite sect of Shia Islam and because of his oppression.

I saw the term “moderate” applied to the Brotherhood in both the New York Times and by AP. Are they serious? What is their definition of “moderate?”

My definition does not include the destruction of the state of Israel as a part of its charter. Or the murder of Jews as many of the more radical members call for.

I am not insensate to the realities of politics in the Middle East - especially since the Brotherhood was the only organized political force in many countries where oppressive governments ruled. But before supporting the Islamists, I would think that as an absolute minimum requirement for our granting them legitimacy would be for them to foreswear their desire to destroy Israel. This is ridiculously simple minded. And for the US government to deal with outfits like the Muslim Brotherhood as if they were simply the kinds of thugs and dictators who we have dealt with in the past is just nuts.

By: Rick Moran at 4:31 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

3/13/2012
Brotherhood Makes its Move in Egypt

My latest is up at FPM where I examine the challenge by the Islamists in the Egyptian parliament to the military.

A sample:

The Islamists are making a move to challenge the military because of two recent incidents that have angered the Egyptian people and made the government even more unpopular than it was previously.

The first incident occurred on February 1 when a huge riot broke out following a soccer game in Port Said. Authorities said that 79 people died and hundreds were injured when fans of the home team swarmed the field after a rare win, attacking opposing fans and players, and overwhelming the small number of riot police who were deployed for the game. The next day, riots broke out in Cairo and elsewhere that killed two and injured more than 900. The people blame the military for the pitifully inadequate security at the stadium. Most of the dead died of asphyxiation when people trying to exit the melee were blocked by a locked gate. There were also questions about how fans had been able to bring knives and other weapons into the stadium.

The second incident that has angered parliament and the Egyptian people was the lifting of the travel ban on the 16 Americans who are on trial for illegal funding of the NGOs they worked for. Parliament believes that the government caved in to American pressure and threats from Congress to deny Egypt the $1.3 billion in aid the US gives to Egypt every year. It was this incident that precipitated the confrontation in parliament with the military government and presages political turmoil.

The Brotherhood seems to be in tune with the people on these issues, and has apparently decided to press its advantage. The lifting of the travel ban especially seems to have outraged the citizens of Egypt due to interference in the judicial process by the military, as the original judge in the case has alleged. This initiated an intense questioning of ministers in parliament, as lawmaker after lawmaker called for a vote of no confidence. “I wish members of the U.S. Congress could listen to you now to realize that this is the parliament of the revolution, which does not allow a breach of the nation’s sovereignty or interference in its affairs,” said the parliament’s speaker, FJP member Saad el-Katatni.

The military says only it has the authority to dismiss the government. To make that point, ministers who were scheduled to answer questions from lawmakers on the NGO issue failed to show up for the afternoon session of parliament. “It seems that the government is pushing for a crisis with parliament,” el-Katatni said.

The no confidence vote is a process that should take about two weeks, as each minister in turn needs to be questioned by lawmakers. But it is unclear that, even if the parliament is successful, there will be any changes to the government. The military has sole authority to name the prime minister and his cabinet, which means that even if they are voted out, the military could appoint the same people.

One observer of Egyptian politics, Mazen Hassan, a political science professor at Cairo University, said, “It has the perfect bits and pieces by which [parliament] can gain popularity.” Indeed, the parliament voted two other measures that promised to be very popular among the nationalist-minded Egyptian populace.

Both measures are largely symbolic, but represent an ominous sign of things to come. First, the parliament, by a show of hands, accepted a report by the Arab Committee that called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, the recall of the Egyptian ambassador from Israel, and a halt to the sales of natural gas to the Jewish state. The Islamists also introduced a measure that would cut the $1.3 billion in aid from the US to Egypt. Both issues are a challenge to the military government, which has reserved the power to make such decisions. But the popular sentiment expressed in both resolutions will strengthen the hand of the Brotherhood going into the presidential elections. It may also get the military to compromise on the make-up of the government, putting some Islamist ministers in power if the no confidence vote is successful.

By: Rick Moran at 12:42 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

3/12/2012
Game Changer: Israel’s Iron Dome Missile Defense System

They only have the system deployed around three southern cities, but once they complete the construction of all planned batteries, they should be able to cover the entire southern border region with Gaza.

I wrote about Iron Dome at FPM:

Iron Dome has an unconventional history. It took only three years from design to deployment - a rarity among complex weapons systems. The tracking system was developed by Elta, an Israeli defense company while the computer software was created by the Israeli firm mPrest Systems. The interceptor rocket was built by Rafael.

It is a marvel of technology and can actually determine if a rocket is a threat to a population center, or whether it will land harmlessly in an open field. CNN describes the system:

First deployed in April 2011, the Iron Dome system targets incoming rockets it identifies as possible threats to city centers and fires an interceptor missile to destroy them in mid-air. Each battery is equipped with an interception management center to calculate the expected location of impact, and to prioritize targets according to pre-defined targets. The battery also has firing-control radar used to identify targets, and a portable missile launcher.

This was the first serious battlefield test of Iron Dome and it passed with flying colors. The Jerusalem Post reports that Iron Dome intercepted a total of 27 rockets for a 90% success rate. It is currently deployed around three of the larger cities in the south: Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba. The system is entirely mobile and it is expected that once all batteries are deployed, Israel will potentially be able to intercept any missile fired from Gaza.

“The most important question is how would the Iron Dome affect the decisions of Hamas leaders and their Iranian supporters,” said Dore Gold, Israeli Ambassador to the United States. “While Hamas rockets are aimed primarily to target civilians and terrorize the Israeli home front, a secondary and just important aim is to hit strategic sites in the future,” he added. Gold also pointed out that by eliminating the terrorists’ ability to hit strategic targets, it will force them to re-think what kinds of rockets they will have to purchase in the future.

The most common rocket in the terrorists’ arsenal is the Qassam - a small, inaccurate projectile whose major benefit appears to be its easy portability. There are several variants of the weapon and its range is limited to between 5 and 15 miles. Hamas also has a Russian-designed Grad rocket system that is truck mounted, which it purchased from Iran. Iron Dome can intercept all of these rockets.

A fourth Iron Dome battery is expected to be added later this year with 5 additional batteries to be manufactured by 2013. An Israeli defense official told CNN that it would take 13 batteries to cover the border with Gaza. The system was partially funded by the US government, which gave Israel $205 million to develop and test the system. Another $200 million has been authorized by Congress for additional batteries.

Israel needed Iron Dome to perform above expectations the past few days because the PRC and its Islamic Jihad allies felt it necessary to respond to the pinpoint strike that took out al-Qassi. That strike reveals a slight change in Israeli defense doctrine, according to YNet News. While Israel has always reserved the right to take preemptive action against the terrorists, this sort of targeted assassination is the result of the terrorist attack last August that killed eight Israelis. the Israelis apparently had an opportunity to kill al-Qassi at that time, but decided against it because they knew there would be a retaliatory rocket strike by the terrorists on civilians. Once Israel’s intelligence services got wind of the plot, it was decided to take out al-Qassi despite the almost certain retaliation with rockets on Israeli civilian centers.

This is a tremendous technical achievement for the Israeli arms industry. Whether it will truly alter the strategic equation along the border with Gaza is another question and won’t be known for several years.

By: Rick Moran at 9:01 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

3/5/2012
Putin for Life?
CATEGORY: FrontPage.Com

My latest is up at FPM and I cover the Russian presidential elections held yesterday.

Putin’s victory has come at a huge cost. It is sure to energize the growing opposition to his rule that has seen tens of thousands of Russians turn out for demonstrations in the dead of winter. There will also be a price to pay with regards to the steadily deteriorating relations with the United States. The US has strongly criticized the Russian government for its intransigence at the UN regarding the Syrian revolt, as well as openly siding with the protestors who are bitter over what is widely seen as a stolen parliamentary election last year.

In a victory speech on Sunday night, Putin addressed a large throng in Manezh square outside the Kremlin and, as his eyes brimmed with tears, proclaimed, “I promised that we would win and we have won! We have won in an open and honest struggle.”

Most independent and opposition election observers would vehemently disagree. The many charges of vote fraud include:

“Carousel voting” where large groups of voters go from polling place to polling place to cast several ballots.

“Centralized voting” where managers of factories, schools, hospitals, and other large organizations pressure employees to vote for a candidate. Ballots are sometimes collected at the workplace.

• The Guardian reports “Two women hover over a ballot box in the industrial Russian city of Cherepovets, stuffing in ballot after ballot.”

As usual, the Caucasus vote was nearly 100% for Putin and United Russia.

• Videos from various parts of the country showed numerous other cases of ballot stuffing. The independent election monitoring group Golos reports 5,000 complaints of irregularities and fraud in the vote.

“Russia has no legitimate government or legitimate president,” opposition leader Alexey Navalny said. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said the election was “illegitimate, unfair and intransparent.”

But Putin defiantly told the cheering crowd of supporters that “this was not only the election of president of Russia, this was a very important test for all of us, for our entire people. This was a test for political maturity, for independence.”

Protestors are planning massive rallies in Moscow and other major cities beginning Monday. Putin has warned that “unsanctioned” protests will be dealt with harshly. Moscow police — 35,000 will be on the streets on Monday — have called up 6,500 reserves and plans a show of force to prevent independent groups — angry at protest organizers who have scheduled a sanctioned demonstration far from the Kremlin — from marching to Manezh Square and pitching tents, imitating the “Occupy” movements in various western countries. A popular anti-Putin blogger has vowed to lead the unsanctioned protest, saying, “People need to go out on the streets and not leave until their demands are met.”

I ask later in the article why did Putin feel the need to cheat? Pre-election polls had him winning a huge victory with more than 55% of the vote.

Is it a problem with self esteem? Insecurity? The guy has pulled some crazy and bizarre stunts over the years. Remember when he walked up to a young boy, raised his shirt, and kissed him on his bare stomach? He is often seen shirtless and performing some kind of manly act.

He always looks ill at ease too. I would say Vladimir Putin is a man who is not comfortable in his own skin and needs constant reassurance. Hence, pulling off fraudulent elections that raise his margin of victory.

No matter. We’re stuck with him for 6 more years - at least.

By: Rick Moran at 10:36 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

2/14/2012
Obama’s Tax Insanity

I have an article up at FPM this morning analyzing  some of the numbers from Obama’s fantasy budget he released yesterday.  I like James Pethokoukis’s take on it:

Pethokoukis also points out the cynically dishonest projections for economic growth upon which much of the budget is based: 3.4% growth in 2015, 4.1% in 2016, 4.1% inn 2017, and 3.9%  in 2018. Pethokoukis notes that the “U.S. economy has only seen a run like that three times in the past four decades. And the Obama Boom is supposed to happen amid rising tax rates, interest rates, and debt? Good luck, Mr. President.”

Of course, it has no chance of becoming law. But as a campaign document, it is quite instructive:

His spending “cuts” included in the budget do not touch entitlements, forcing the nation’s defense to take the brunt of the cutbacks. The defense budget will fall 4%. In practical terms, it means slashing eight Army combat brigades, six Marine Corps battalions and 11 fighter squadrons, and will start to pull two Army brigades out of Europe.

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy becomes a huge winner, increasing its budget a whopping 41% — mostly to fund Obama’s green energy fiascoes. The Department of Justice makes out a big loser, with its budget falling 15%. But it is where the cuts will be made that will rile Republicans. The president proposes to massively cut a program that reimburses states and cities for jailing illegal immigrants for committing crimes. Funding would fall from $240 million to just $70 million.

The Hispanic vote is vital to his re-election and allowing illegal aliens who have committed crimes out on bail or to simply disappear will no doubt sit well with liberal Latino groups who have been agitating against enforcing any of the nation’s immigration laws.

For some reason, the president is proposing a big increase for the Commerce Department. This useless federal bureaucracy will get a $10 billion gift “to help build an interoperable public safety broadband network.” Critics point out that the government has already spent $13 billion on radio equipment since 2001 and that a public auction of frequencies — ostensibly to recover the costs of the program — won’t realize nearly enough to pay for it.

Agency after agency, department after department, will see new spending. For the Department of Transportation, a pork-laden, five-year $476 billion highway bill and a $50 billion “infusion” for roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure. Did we mention the $47 billion for high speed rail? Such trivialities are an asterisk in this budget.

Foreign aid gets a boost, including $800 million for the “Arab Spring.” The president wants to create a “Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund” — explained in the budget document as a fund that “will provide incentives for long-term economic, political, and trade reforms to countries in transition — and to countries prepared to make reforms proactively.” Analysts are unsure if this is “new money” or simply collecting cash from other programs and placing it in a fund with a new name.

No comment yet from the Muslim Brotherhood whether Shariah finance rules will allow them to participate in the “incentives for reform” in economic, political, and trade matters.

Meanwhile, Medicare and Medicaid spending continues its unsustainable pace, rising 9% in FY2013. The administration is claiming $360 billion in savings as a result of paying doctors and hospitals less for Medicare services — the old “doc fix” that is added to HHS budgets every year and is shot down every year by Congress and the AMA.

One might expect the “green” energy initiatives, the defense cuts, and the massive increase in transportation spending where Obama’s union allies will get a windfall. But it is how the president wants to raise taxes that the class warfare theme of his campaign for re-election and, what can only be described as his hatred for the successful, the entrepreneur, the savvy investor, and the small business person, becomes apparent.

By: Rick Moran at 11:03 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

1/31/2012
The True Face of Occupy Wall Street

I had high hopes for the OWS movement when it started. I thought they would actually try to incorporate other points of view and develop a true grass roots reform movement to address the shrinking middle class - which is really what “inequality” should be about.

Instead, OWS has turned into just another lefty pressure group - albeit, a more dangerous one. While there is no George Soros sitting in his office pulling strings and directing the movement, there appears to be a common thread beginning to run through these demonstrations that is extremely troubling; they have been co-opted by radicals who seek to overthrow the existing order. What began as a left leaning critique of Wall Street and the big banks, has morphed into a systemic attack on American values and our character as a nation.

This, I cannot abide. And I really let them have it in this piece I wrote for FPM this morning on the Oakland riots:

The Oakland riot is proof positive that whatever claim to innocence and idealism the movement purported in the early days of occupations around the country has been lost to the gimlet-eyed revolutionary left, now openly seeking violent confrontation with authorities using the bodies of the naive and foolish who still believe that OWS is a protest against income inequality and corporatism. Cadres of organized leftists came prepared to the Oakland protest with homemade gas masks and shields — a clear indication that they fully expected to provoke a police response. Innocent protesters do not come armed with “bottles, metal pipe, rocks, spray cans, improvised explosive devices and burning flares.” The transformation of the occupy movement from protest to “direct action” — the preferred tactic of the European Communist Left for generations — is nearly complete. There can be no sniveling denials from OWS apologists any more: The driving force behind the OWS movement — the goal of those who control the streets — is revolution and the overthrow of America’s capitalist system.

The mob action in Oakland occurred after authorities refused to allow the OWS demonstrators to make the Kaiser Convention Center their headquarters. Given the cavalier and negligent attitude toward health, safety, and sanitation at OWS sites around the country, it would seem logical that the authorities felt they had little choice but to deny the OWS use of any public venue that could degenerate into a cesspool of disease and crime.

The protesters refused to heed calls by police to back off and began to tear down barricades, destroy construction equipment and fencing, while refusing to disperse. Several hundred protesters then marched to the Oakland Museum of California where there were more arrests as the police tried to protect the priceless artifacts from potential vandalism.

Given what happened next, they were right to do so.

The mob moved on to City Hall where the protesters say they found a door ajar — which sounds fantastical — and police say the demonstrators broke in. A video purportedly shows an OWS demonstrator using a crowbar to pry the door open.

There is no argument about what happened when the protesters got inside the building.

A more than century-old architectural model of City Hall was damaged in its display case, electrical wires were cut, soda machines thrown to the floor, graffiti was sprayed on the walls, other display cases were smashed, windows were broken — a demonstration of lawlessness and lack of respect for property that even has some OWS leaders around the country saying it probably wasn’t a good idea.

Other OWS sympathizers took to the streets in “solidarity” with those arrested during the Oakland riot. CNN reports:

The mass arrests, described by police as the largest in city history, appear to have injected new life into the Occupy movement as protesters in a number of American and European cities took to the streets Sunday to express their solidarity with the Occupy Oakland group.

Marching in solidarity with rioters who took part in what one Oakland official referred to as “domestic terrorism,” is a curious way to demonstrate one’s peaceful intentions.

Now comes the fun part; the GOP will try to tie Obama and the Democrats to the OWS movement. What makes this so delicious is that there is going to be a probable riot in Chicago during the G-8 Summit in April. Adbusters, the radical consumerists who got the ball rolling with OWS, are calling on 50,000 demonstrators to descend on Chicago in April and, in their words:

And if they don’t listen … if they ignore us and put our demands on the back burner like they’ve done so many times before … then, with Gandhian ferocity, we’ll flashmob the streets, shut down stock exchanges, campuses, corporate headquarters and cities across the globe … we’ll make the price of doing business as usual too much to bear [ellipses in original].

A lot of bombast to be sure. But they include a call to imitate the “Chicago 8″ - the radicals charged with inciting a riot during the 1968 Democratic convention. Not very subtle, huh? This is a movement now that needs violence in order to get attention. And Obama, who has never really embraced the movement but has made supportive noises,  has adopted the rhetoric of OWS in order to skewer the GOP. The GOP should be all over him and his fellow Democrats when the crap hits the fan in Chicago and the tear gas is as thick as a morning fog over Lake Michigan.

I would guess that most of those who march or identify strongly with the OWS movement are peaceful Americans seeking reform. They will be cruelly used by those who are experienced at using the naive and innocent as cannon fodder for their revolutionary goals. This is not a reform movement anymore. It is an attempt to upend and overturn American society to make it something alien and unrecognizable from what we are today.

By: Rick Moran at 10:31 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)

1/13/2012
Slaughter in Syria

The violence continues in Syria while the Arab League’s “observer mission” is near collapse.

My latest is up at FPM and reviews recent events:

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called on Syrian authorities to divulge “the whole truth” surrounding the death of France 2 TV reporter Gilles Jacquier who was killed by an apparent grenade attack as he covered a pro-Assad rally in the flashpoint city of Homs. Jacqueir’s death comes at a time when the Arab League observer mission appears to be collapsing, unable to stop the violence and protect protesters from the brutal crackdown that is now in its 10th month.

The reporter’s killing also raises the question of how to discover the “truth” of what is happening in Syria as both pro- and anti-government spokesmen give differing accounts of how the attack happened and who was responsible.

Also, the League’s carefully constructed anti-Syrian coalition appears to be on the ropes as several League members are now openly questioning the efficacy of sending unarmed observers into Syria to literally be led around by the nose by government minders. Opposition members and street activists have been bitterly disappointed by the behavior of the observers who seem paralyzed in the face of the violence. Several of the 165-member observer force have privately expressed their frustration and have talked of quitting in protest. They cite the handling of the mission by the League and the air-tight control Assad’s handlers have exercised over their movements, as well as who they can interview.

And in one of the most cynical speeches of his career, Bashar Assad addressed a multitude of regime supporters in Damascus and on Syrian TV saying, “Thanks to you, I have never felt weak, not even for a day. We will undoubtedly triumph over this conspiracy.” The speech indicated Assad’s increasing confidence that he can weather the storm of opposition to his rule and his belief that the international community will remain on the sidelines while he carries out his crackdown on protestors. Indeed, as “Amal Hanano” (the pseudonym of a Syrian-American writer) writing in Foreign Policy observes, “Syrians are on their own.”

It has been impossible to confirm the details of how Jacquier died. The state-run news agency announced that the journalist was killed covering a pro-Assad demonstration as he was documenting “the damages left by terrorists…with photos and interviewing citizens who were victims of terror in the city when [an] armed terrorist member fired mortar projectiles on the delegation.” This is in keeping with the government’s narrative that armed gangs and terrorists are responsible for the violence and are trying to overthrow the regime.

But the Syrian Revolution General Commission, an opposition force, disputed that account, claiming, “The journalists were attacked in a heavily militarized regime stronghold — it would be hugely difficult for any armed opposition to penetrate the area and launch such a deadly attack.” It says that the mortars were fired from an “infantry vehicle.”

But today, AP is reporting that a “barrage of grenades” were responsible for Jacquier’s death. The reporter was with a group of 15 other foreign journalists who had received permission to cover the rally. Only a limited number of outside reporters have been allowed into the country and each is assigned a handler to make sure they cover what the Syrian government wants them to see.

Herein lies the great dilemma of gleaning the truth of what is actually happening in Syria. With no independent news sources to weigh accounts and come to a reasonable conclusion regarding events on the ground, it is proving impossible to discover the “facts” as one would normally do regarding any other story. Both the government and major opposition groups have their own agendas, their own perspectives on events, and trying to sift through contradictory accounts and be reasonably sure that one has a handle on the story has become an exercise in futility.

If the truth is the first casualty of war, the second has to be clarity.

There is no “world policeman” who will step up and deal with this tragedy. Many will probably think that a good thing. And to a certain extent, I agree. The temptation would always be there to intervene in places we have no business going.

But should allowances be made for such a clear cut case of  slaughter? Rwanda, the Sudan, other civil wars where we might be tempted to play policeman had their own arguments against intervening. We couldn’t have done much good and ultimately, the adventure would have made Iraq look like a picnic.

But Syria is tempting. An international coalition with NATO air power and Arab League ground troops wouldn’t have to fight the Syrians as much as stand as a buffer between the armed forces and civilians. Thus checkmated, it might give the Syrian army an excuse to get rid of Assad. Or perhaps his departure can be negotiated.

The goal would be to save lives. Unlike in Libya, ground troops would be essential to effect the conditions that would protect civilians. An F-16 can do a lot of things, but it can’t prevent a sniper on a rooftop from killing a mother and her child.

It’s fantasy of course - could never happen. Obama and NATO would never agree. The Arab League wouldn’t even discuss it. But mark my words: As long as there are dictators in the world willing to hang on to power by slaughtering their own citizens, there are going to be many more Syrias for the world community to deal with.

By: Rick Moran at 1:27 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

1/4/2012
A Razor Thin Victory for Romney

But it was Santorum that was the night’s true winner.

My take on the caucus results up today on FPM.

Every four years we hear the same complaints about Iowa being “First in the Nation” to register an opinion on the presidential candidates for both parties. It’s too white, or it’s too rural, or Evangelical Christians are too plentiful. It doesn’t matter. The state jealously guards its status as the initial test for the candidates and the Republican National Committee appears to be in no mood to change its privileged position.

That said, the caucuses can be seen as a rudimentary test of strength and popularity with GOP voters and as such, it begins the winnowing process that usually claims one or two candidates who decide not to move on to New Hampshire. The most likely casualty from Tuesday night’s festivities could be Michele Bachmann who told pre-caucus audiences that she had already “bought our tickets to go to South Carolina” in order to compete in that state’s primary on January 21. But a sixth place finish in Iowa and with little money and not much of an organization in the Palmetto State, it seems a quixotic quest for her to hope that lightening would strike and bring her victory there.

Rick Perry’s weak 5th place finish has dealt a body blow to his campaign. But the candidate swears he will move on to South Carolina, skipping New Hampshire to concentrate on the far friendlier climes of the Palmetto State. But in his speech after the caucuses ended, Perry hinted that he may drop out after all. He is returning to Texas to “reassess” his campaign.

Newt Gingrich finished a distant 4th, but will soldier on, at least through the South Carolina primary and perhaps all the way to Florida which holds its contest on January 31. For the former speaker of the House, it’s gotten personal. The barrage of negative ads from Romney independent groups tore him down and severely damaged his candidacy. Newt has already demonstrated that he is taking off the gloves and will go after Romney hard wherever they are competing. Whether that is a winning strategy for him remains to be seen.

As for Jon Huntsman’s last place finish, he wasn’t competing in Iowa anyway, saving his money and spending all of his time in New Hampshire, hoping for a strong showing in territory that has proven friendly to more moderate Republicans in the past. While Romney seems to be extending his lead in the Granite State, Huntsman figures a strong second will allow him to move on to other primaries later this month.

It’s all about perception, of course. “Exceeding expectations” - or not - is the name of the game. In that contest, Rick Santorum has aced the Iowa test. How he did it is not complicated. The former Pennsylvania senator held a staggering 358 town hall meetings in the last year, visited every one of Iowa’s 99 counties, and counted on a volunteer network of churches, pastors, and Christian activists who worked tirelessly on his behalf. If national pundits believed that retail politics were not as important in Iowa as debate performances and paid advertising, they might want to rethink that formula after Santorum’s effort in 2012.

With the momentum he will get from his Iowa campaign, Santorum is seeing a huge increase in his fundraising. A Santorum staffer told CNN that “the campaign raised more money in the last week than they raised on-line the past six months.” He added that “fundraising is between 300% and 400% higher on a daily basis than it was just ten days ago.” The candidate raised only $700,000 in the third quarter and ended up at the end of the year with just $190,000 in cash.

But the rocket-powered boost in fundraising has already fueled some ad buys in New Hampshire, and next week, Santorum will begin to run ads in South Carolina. It is likely that he will preserve most of his cash for that primary, and make little more than a token effort in New Hampshire. South Carolina has picked the eventual Republican nominee for the last 30 years and Santorum is expected to run strongly in one of the most conservative states in the union.

The entrance polls revealed that Santorum cleaned up with conservative Christians, winning 30% of those voters who made up nearly 60% of caucus attendees. He also did very well with those who identified themselves as “very conservative” - a good omen for his efforts to come in South Carolina.

Interesting speculation today that perhaps it’s Jon Huntsman’s turn to be the “not Romney” candidate. Santorum will almost certainly all but bypass New Hampshire and save his limited resources for South Carolina. Are we going to see another back of the pack candidate surge to the front in New Hampshire?

Stay tuned.

By: Rick Moran at 12:39 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

12/8/2011
A NEW PHASE IN AFGHANISTAN?

With sectarian violence rearing its ugly head in Afghanistan with the suicide attack on Tuesday that killed 6o Shias in Kabul, the security situation that must be managed by President Karzai has just gone from “hard” to “impossible.”

It would not be surprising to see the Shias respond to this sacrilege - the bombing at one of their holiest shrines on the holiest day of the year. And then what? We’ve seen it before in Iraq with the bombing of the Golden Dome mosque. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and pretty soon the whole country is blind and gumming their food. And in Afghanistan, you have the added weight of ethnic tensions to go with the religious angle. Shias are mostly Hazaras and make up about 20% of the population. They are routinely threatened by the dominant Pashtuns and Uzbeks and it cannot be discounted that there was an ethnic element in the attack.

But utlimately, someone was behind the blast. I examine that question in my FPM article today:

Regardless of whether the claims by the LeJ are true, there is the question of who is ultimately behind the attacks. Some experts say that neither the LeJ or the Afghan Taliban is sophisticated enough to have carried out such brazen, carefully coordinated attacks, and that the group’s former ties to Pakistani intelligence, as well as the Pakistani Taliban, make it likely that one of those two organizations bears ultimate responsibility. LeJ is also loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda which raises questions about the terror network’s plans for a post-NATO Afghanistan. Stirring the sectarian pot to foment chaos in Afghanistan is a possibility given AQ’s actions in Iraq and Pakistan in recent years.

While the LeJ may lack sophistication, they make up for it in murderous intent toward Shias. They have killed thousands of Shias in Pakistan over the last 15 years and have been banned by the Pakistani government. Their goal is to establish a Sunni state in Pakistan. And despite past ties to the ISI, the Pakistani government insists that they are as much an enemy of Pakistan as they are of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s own problems with sectarian strife explode regularly, and the LeJ is usually a primary cause of the violence. This doesn’t mean that the ISI wouldn’t attempt to re-establish a connection with the LeJ — especially if they thought the terrorists could serve their ultimate goal of controlling the post-NATO environment in Afghanistan.

Another possible culprit is the Haqqani Network which also has ties with the Pakistani ISI and is known to have carried out quite complex operations, such as the attack on the US embassy a few months ago. With the Afghan Taliban denying responsibility, suspicion falls on the Haqqani –  perhaps the most effective terror network in Afghanistan.

What is the ISI’s game? And why now? Clearly, if one were to desire a sectarian conflict, the opportunity of striking on the Shia’s holiest day when thousands of pilgrims are on the move answers the second question. As for why the ISI would unleash Haqqani — or any other terrorist group — to foment religious strife, the answer has to do with Pakistan’s problem of how to influence a post-NATO Afghanistan so that the composition of a future government proves malleable enough for them to dominate.

The Hazaras support the government of Hamid Karzai. A sectarian conflict would weaken those ties and create chaos, turning a bad security situation into an impossible one for the Afghan government. As BBC Afghanistan editor Waheed Massoud suggests:

Analysts believe the regional players of old still have a stake in Afghanistan’s instability. Unity between Shias and Sunnis, and unity between ethnic groups and between political factions leaves no room for Iran or Pakistan to wield influence.

Many analysts here believe that Pakistan in particular has come under increasing international pressure for sheltering militants on its soil, and particularly the leadership of the Afghan Taliban.

If  it is Pakistan, they have covered their tracks well. If it was the LeJ, why they felt they had to cross the border into Afghanistan to kill Shias is a mystery. They’ve got plenty of targets on the Pakistan side.

That’s why I believe those analysts who say it was Haqqani that carried out the attack. They may have done so at the behest of either Pakistan or the Taliban, but the coordination and complexity of the attack would seem to point the finger at the most effective terrorist group operating in Afghanistan.

If the attack does set off a sectarian conflict, will Obama keep American soldiers in country? If he’s smart, he won’t. Abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban and Pakistan will keep them both occupied for years. They deserve all the misery that will befall them if they are stuck having to tamp down sectarian violence that they initiated in the first place.

By: Rick Moran at 12:58 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)