As the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resurface, it again appears
that extremists are dead set on disrupting the peace process and causing death:
Palestinian kills 4 Israelis on eve of peace talks
By MARK LAVIE
Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian gunmen opened fire Tuesday on an Israeli car in the West Bank and killed four passengers on the eve of a new round of Mideast peace talks in Washington. The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility.
Assailants firing from a passing car riddled the vehicle with bullets as it traveled near Hebron – a volatile city that has been a flash point of violence in the past. Some 500 ultranationalist Jewish settlers live in heavily fortified enclaves in the city amid more than 100,000 Palestinians.
One of the victims was pregnant, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Israel’s national rescue service said the victims were two men and two women, and Israeli media said everyone in the car was killed.
Video broadcast live on Israel TV late Tuesday showed a white Subaru station wagon standing at an angle at the side of a road, its windows shot out and its doors dotted with bullet holes. The car was flanked by army and police vehicles and dozens of soldiers.
The attackers fled and Israeli forces set up roadblocks and carried out searches to try to catch them.
About 3,000 people joined a rally in Gaza to celebrate the attack. Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Obeida was among them and told The Associated Press: “The Qassam Brigades announces its full responsibility for the heroic operation in Hebron.”
Upon arriving in Washington for this week’s talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack and said “terror will not determine Israel’s borders or the future of the settlements.” Borders and the fate of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians want for a future state are key issues in the negotiations.
President Barack Obama hopes to forge a peace agreement within one year.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was already in Washington meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton when the attack took place.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s office issued a statement charging the attack was aimed at undermining his government’s effort to build international support for “the Palestinian position and ending the (Israeli) occupation.”
Hamas, a fierce rival of the Western-backed Palestinian president, expelled Abbas’ forces from Gaza in 2007 and took over the territory. Abbas has been trying to limit the Islamic militants’ reach in the West Bank, jailing activists and even cracking down on mosque preachers.
Hamas, responsible for dozens of suicide bombings in Israel, is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., Israel and European Union.
Asked about the shooting, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. is aware “there are those who will do whatever they can to disrupt or derail the process.”
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak promised a tough response to an attack he said was aimed at sabotaging the talks.
“Israel will not allow terrorists to raise their heads and will exact a price from the murderers and those who send them,” he said in a statement.
U.N. envoy Robert Serry issued a statement condemning the attack and urging all parties “not to allow the enemies of peace to affect the negotiations about to be launched.”
There is widespread opposition to the resumption of the peace talks among Palestinians. Hamas opposes any contact with Israel and has harshly criticized Abbas for agreeing to resume the negotiations.
Opposition to resuming talks is also coming from within the Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group headed by Abbas. Some Fatah activists threaten to try to depose him if he makes concessions, and several hard-line PLO groups plan a demonstration in the West Bank administrative capital of Ramallah on Wednesday to protest resumption of negotiations.
Netanyahu also faces some domestic opposition from elements of his hard-line coalition of religious and nationalist parties. He has said that protecting Israel’s security interests will be his top priority in the talks.
Heading into a meeting with Clinton, Netanyahu said in the statement he would tell her, “This criminal murder proves again the need to stand firmly on Israel’s stringent security demands, and there will be no compromise on them.”
The attack disrupted a relative lull in the West Bank. The last fatal attack occurred in June, when Palestinians opened fire on a police vehicle near Hebron and killed one officer.
It was the deadliest Palestinian attack against Israelis since March 2008, when a lone assailant gunned down eight students in a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary.
A previous U.S. launching of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was also accompanied by deadly violence. Palestinian gunmen shot and killed an Israeli in the West Bank before then-President George W. Bush convened Israeli and Palestinian leaders for a summit in Annapolis, Maryland, in November 2007. The gunmen said the attack was “an act of protest against the Annapolis conference.”
Talking to reporters on his plane heading for Washington, Abbas called for decisive American involvement in the talks.
He said that if the two sides reach a deadlock, the Obama administration should “present bridging proposals to bridge the gap between the two positions.”
In one major challenge to the first direct talks between the sides in two years, Abbas warned it would be difficult to continue negotiating if Israel fails to extend a 10-month curb on West Bank settlement construction that ends in late September. Netanyahu has not made a final decision.
With appreciation for the unprecedented human toll in Pakistan,
Politically and globally the Pakistan flooding can open diplomatic
Endeavors that can do what war won’t: win hearts and minds
I have a deep appreciation for the tragedy that has befallen Pakistan. The loss of human life, homes, and livelihoods is incomprehensible in scale. Millions of people face serious risks of life threatening disease that will catapult the lives lost even higher.
But, speaking practically and admittedly callously, this is a perfect opportunity for the United States to take a major step forward in the war on terror.
For some reason, most likely being the fact Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim nation; the aid from the United States and its citizens has paled in comparison to that of the tsunami efforts and earthquake in Haiti. By no means is this an attempt to get into a spitting contest of who should or should not get our aid and how much. This is meant to point out the enormous inequity in America’s efforts in Pakistan.
Whatever the reason, the United States needs to get over it. This flooding has left a vacuum in which the Taliban is primed to emerge as a leader and a means to a “better” life for Pakistan’s youth. The Taliban has the monetary and military means to exert significant power over this ravaged region and is already taking steps to do as much. The Taliban will offer something to these affected Pakistanis we as Americans have yet to do: hope.
That hope will likely entail building of some schools, medical facilities, and mosques. These efforts will be couched in the Taliban’s agenda of spreading fundamentalist Islam. With so many displaced and disheartened Pakistanis, the Taliban has found its perfect breeding ground for future terrorists.
We can supersede the Taliban in filling this vacuum. It’s overly practical, that’s understandable. But that is why the idea is so appealing. What we cannot do by dropping bombs and shooting people is win the hearts and minds of Muslims across the globe. Despite Islam’s vast, and majoritarian, condemnation of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the United States has not positioned itself as an appealing ‘alternative’ to fundamentalist Islam. Most Muslims have their reasonable minds made up and are moderate and do not subscribe to such a savage interpretation of the Qur’an as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But the United States have not “won them over” and should be concerned about that and more specifically be concerned about the impressionable youth prime for recruitment by the Taliban.
What the United States is good at is building infrastructure. With help from the international community the United States should take a prominently proactive role in building schools, hospitals, water sources, electricity, and other essentials floor ravaged Pakistan yearns for. The United States can make a significant stride in the “war on terror” by waging development, not war.
If our government does not adequately care as humanitarians, it should care for the practical consideration of winning hearts and minds in our “war on terror.”
The continued hatred and condemnation of Islam
Plays right into Muslim extremist agenda
It has been nearly two decades since bin Laden rose to infamy in the Middle East and African horn.
Bin Laden’s efforts to spread fundamentalist Islam and obliterate Western influence have only grown since then.
It has been nearly a decade since bin Laden’s “master plan” came to fruition in New York City.
A significant cornerstone of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda agenda is to show the entire Muslim world, billions of people and growing, that the United States is not just an enemy of fundamentalist Islam, but Islam itself as a religion.
Bin Laden might as well be enjoying a non-alcoholic margarita by the beach right now and sharing some laughs with some bomb buddies. Bin Laden, the Taliban, and their perverse fundamentalist brethren, are giggling like excited teeny-boppers at a Bieber concert.
Life is good for the Taliban and bin Laden. We’re making life quite easy for bin Laden. We’re doing the work for him.
Instead of advancing what America should champion (tolerance and reason), there are innumerable people set on condemning Islam in its entirety. This is what bin Laden has been so desperately trying to prove to galvanize Islam for decades: America does not just hate us (al-Qaeda/extremists) they hate ALL OF “US.”
We are rallying bin Laden and the Taliban with our disrespect for American values. Our blind denunciation of Islam serves to further bin Laden’s persistent efforts to paint our “war on terror” as a “war on Islam.”
The post-Katrina federal program to help rebuild local business in the gulf has not gone where it was supposed to.
August 25, 2010
Katrina: The Fifth Anniversary
Standing in a generator-lit French Quarter square 17 days after Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush ended his first major prime-time address in the post-catastrophe city with a call for reinvestment in the battered region. Speaking in a dark, mostly empty New Orleans, he described a business-incentive program that would lure people and commerce back to devastated Gulf Opportunity Zones in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Within these GO Zones (also known as disaster areas), subsidies would “create jobs, and loan guarantees for small businesses, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again,” Bush told an audience still wide-eyed from endless newsreels of poor black people stranded on waterlogged rooftops.
The GO Zone program’s largesse included $323 million in tax credits for affordable-housing construction, significant tax deductions for real-estate investors, and billions in tax-free bonds for private development. Louisiana, which had suffered the most damage, received the lion’s share of the bonds: $7.9 billion out of an available $14.9 billion.
For battered and broke New Orleans, the untaxed borrowing was to be the cash infusion needed to attract developers facing sky-high insurance costs and a risky, uncertain market. “This was the money that was supposed to get people rebuilding our housing, our hotels, our stores,” said Jimmie Thorns, a New Orleans real-estate appraiser who, until 2008, headed the city-appointed board responsible for approving all local bond allocations.
But five years after Congress passed the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005, more of the tax-free benefits have gone to the state’s powerful oil industry than to development in hard-hit areas. New Orleans has so far received a total of $55 million in bonds shared between eight projects—or less than 1 percent of the more than $5.9 billion issued statewide. None of the bonds issued for New Orleans projects went to development in hard-hit and still-struggling areas like the Lower Ninth Ward.
Instead, the federal largesse has been poured into oil companies operating far from New Orleans. Since Congress’s unanimous approval of the GO Zone Act, Louisiana officials have issued nearly $1.7 billion in tax-free bonds—about one third of the total issued—for projects that contribute to the production of oil. Preliminary approval has been secured to tap millions more.
The money issued for oil infrastructure includes $1 billion for the expansion of a Marathon Oil refinery in an area that wasn’t severely damaged by the 2005 storms; $120 million for an offshore tank storage facility; and $75 million in bonds issued for improvements to an existing ExxonMobil refinery and chemical plant in Baton Rouge, according to Louisiana Bond Commission records. And on Sept. 15—exactly five years after Bush stood in a storm-battered Jackson Square and explained how the GO Zone bonds would help New Orleans—the state commission is slated to issue ExxonMobil another $300 million in untaxed loan money. The cash will pay for further improvements on the oil giant’s Baton Rouge facility.
The $1.7 billion total doesn’t even include a half-dozen other multimillion-dollar allocations for projects that indirectly serve the oil industry, such as shipyard expansions for companies that construct offshore rigs or pipelines that transport benzene, a carcinogen found in gasoline. A few renewable-energy projects, such as a refinery that will take animal fat from Tyson Foods’ chicken plants and convert it into fuel, do appear on the recipient list. But the vast majority of the projects support the industries that have historically dominated the local economy and given the 85-mile, refinery-dotted stretch of the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans a dark nickname: cancer alley.
The irony of so much recovery money going to an industry responsible for the state’s latest catastrophe—the BP oil spill—isn’t lost on policy analysts in Washington. “The money could be better spent bringing in businesses and investment that adds to the region’s resilience, rather than detracts from it,” says Oxfam America senior policy adviser Jeffrey Buchanan.
Taking into account all the bonds, tax credits, and other benefits extended to businesses throughout the GO Zone regions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the package is expected to cost the country about $9 billion in federal revenue by 2015, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. But while the cost of the tax breaks can be quantified, assessing the return on our investment is more difficult.
GO Zone states tended to issue bonds on a “first-come, first-served basis,” reported the Government Accountability Office in 2008. The result? Real-estate investors who bought luxury condos near the University of Alabama football stadium won big in Tuscaloosa because they were able to take advantage of an incentive that allowed anyone buying property within a GO Zone, even a condo, to take accelerated depreciation (a front-loaded tax credit) on purchases. In Mississippi, beachfront vacation homes have come back bigger than before the storm thanks to the incentive for real-estate investors. Meanwhile, affordable housing for the people who work in the region’s tourism industry continues to lag, as nonprofit developers struggle to sell the act’s low-income-housing tax credits in a recessionary market. Analysts say the federal government should have directed resources toward fulfilling specific recovery goals, rather than letting states draw down the money according to market whims.
“If you do want to be assured that the money is going to have some social benefit, you have to do more due diligence,” says Jordan Eizenga, an economic-policy analyst for the Center for American Progress. “You have to work harder to find private investors willing to take on the high-risk premiums of building somewhere like the Lower Ninth Ward.”
At a recent community meeting at a hangar-like Pentecostal church near an abandoned hospital in eastern New Orleans, residents asked Mayor Mitch Landrieu why they still had to travel miles outside their neighborhood to find a grocery store or a doctor. Landrieu said he was doing his best to get projects moving again. He is talking to Walmart about returning to a store that never reopened after Katrina. He knows people want a Target and, of course, medical facilities. The problem, he said, is that communities “were promised more than there is money to do.” Debbie Gordon, a community activist in a predominantly black section of the city, went to the meeting to ask the mayor to put more resources toward the rebuilding of the hospital. “I know we don’t have as much money as we would like, but isn’t there a way to keep pushing?” she asked. “Without a hospital or anyplace to shop, our community feels more like a stop zone than a ‘GO Zone.’ “
Ariella Cohen is a journalist in New Orleans. In 2009 she cofounded the city’s first nonprofit investigative news Web site. You can find more of her reporting on the recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans at ++thelensnola.org++[[http:thelensnola.org]].
CNNMoney: “State tax hikes could go too far”
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Some U.S. states facing steep budget gaps have resorted to tax policies that could be harmful over the long term, a non-profit research group said Monday.
In a review of 2010 changes in state tax policy, the Tax Foundation said certain states have targeted tax increases on high-income earners, smokers and out-of-state business transactions. These taxes may be politically convenient, but the foundation said that relying too heavily on such sources can lead to problems over the long run.
“Relatively high taxes on high-income individuals, smokers and out-of-state business transactions can make a state less attractive and create more volatility in an already uncertain economic climate,” said Joseph Henchman, director of state projects at the Tax Foundation.
The tax increases come as states across the nation struggle to recover from the Great Recession. State tax revenues have been depleted by the weak economy and demand for social services has risen as unemployment remains high.
According the National Conference of State Legislatures, 33 states project budget gaps for fiscal year 2012, and 23 states for fiscal year 2013.
But the Tax Foundation said some states have resorted to targeted taxes and accounting “gimmicks” to paper over budget shortfalls and avoid any significant cuts in spending. This approach is irresponsible, the group says, because it assumes the economy will recover quickly.
“When the recession ends, states need to have the right policies in place that will promote economic growth and maintain revenue stability,” said Henchman.
In Oregon, voters approved a measure to temporarily increase income taxes to 10.8% on income over $125,000, and 11% on income over $250,000. This so-called “millionaires’ tax” could force high-income earners to leave Oregon, which will eventually hurt the state economy, the Tax Foundation said.
However, other states have eliminated or lowered taxes on top earners.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill in June to renew the state’s “millionaires’ tax.” In addition, Rhode Island passed a tax reform law that would, among other things, lower the top income tax rate to 5.99% from 9.9% in 2011.
Meanwhile, the review said that five states have increased cigarette taxes so far in this year. That compares with a total of 18 states in 2009.
Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina and Utah have all recently raised state taxes on tobacco.
Washington has levied a tax on carbonated soft drinks, but New York and the District of Columbia decided against doing so, according to the review. Mississippi is looking into a tax on the syrup used to sweeten carbonated soft drinks. Colorado recently removed sugared beverages and candy from the list of groceries that were exempt from sales tax.
In addition to targeted taxes, the report said some states have raised overall sales tax rates this year.
Arizona voters approved a three-year increase on sales tax to 6.6% from 5.6%. Kansas increases sales taxes to 6.3% from 5.3%. However, Arkansas cut sales taxes on groceries to 2% from 3%.
The review also took issue with a new sales tax regulations in Colorado aimed at online retailers. According to the Tax Foundation, out-of-state retailers such as Amazon have already terminated affiliate relationships within the state and some have launched a legal battle to challenge the law.
As violence ramps us in Mexico, progressing closer to our border,
a sound and sustainable resolution is in order
News broke last night that mexican authorities and drug cartel members exchanged gunfire JUST across the US border. The violence was so close that US border patrol could hear, and see, the exchange.
All this got me thinking about this little issue some people have been discussing: illegal immigration. More specifically, I’m focused on border security.
I am heartened to see Obama is sending more than 1,000 national guard troops to the US/Mexico border. Obama has also earmarked millions of dollars to boost border security. These are positive steps, but more needs to be done.
Here is my 4 step plan to enhancing US border security:
1) Return all national guard troops to the US to do what their name explicitly dictates: guard our nation. I know, some people say waging an offensive war is proactive guarding. Fine, but leave that to the army, military, air force and navy.
2) Place 4,000 national guard troops along our southern border and 6,000 along our northern border. I understand the math is ‘off,’ as the northern border is far more vast. However, as we have seen, the most imminent threats to US security is coming from our southern neighbors. In addition, place dozens of national guard troops at major ports, including maritime, air, and other avenues used by immigrants to illegally gain entrance to our nation.
3) Adequately train these troops in advanced ‘anti-infiltration’ techniques to hopefully obliterate illegal channels of immigration. Thus, legal immigration is made the only likely way to come to American.
4) $. Don’t just throw money at the problem or border patrol itself. Use tens, even hundreds, of millions of dollars to fund research, development, and implementation of the most advanced surveillance technology to combat illegal immigration. Whether this be ‘sonar’ for land to uncover tunnels or surveillance drones as eyes in the sky, we need more than just guns and troops to sure up our borders.
Editor’s note:Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré commanded the military response to Hurricane Katrina. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2008 after 37 years, sits on the board of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and is an adjunct professor at Emory and Vanderbilt universities. He is the author of “Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save America and You from Disasters.”
(CNN) – Five years ago this month, Katrina hit New Orleans. What it created is a tale of two cities, the haves vs. the have-nots. Enormous progress in the city’s Business District overshadows the lingering blight in the 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish, where folks are still struggling to rebuild and many lots remain empty.
Unfortunately, Katrina attacked the two poorest states in America, Mississippi and Louisiana. It destroyed or disrupted the economic engines of both states: their tourism, shipbuilding, fisheries, port operations industries and petroleum production in the Gulf.
Katrina left about 1,836 people dead, destroyed about 275,000 homes in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, and cost the federal government about $114 billion.
But there is good news. Post-Katrina tax incentives have had a dramatic impact. The region has more hotels and restaurants than it had before the hurricane, and its major infrastructure — sewer, water, public service buildings, police and fire departments, National Guard — has new or rebuilt buildings. Federal money has transformed the schools in New Orleans, reorganizing them into charter schools, which are a far cry from pre-Katrina’s dysfunctional schools operating in dilapidated buildings.
Public health in New Orleans before Katrina meant treatment in run-down, understaffed public hospitals. Chief of those was Charity Hospital, known as “Big Charity,” the state-run teaching hospital for Louisiana State University Medical School. But it is no more.
The Veterans Hospital, next to Big Charity, was also destroyed during Katrina. Afterward, much discussion revolved around whether to repair or replace Big Charity. The Federal Emergency Management Agency insisted on providing only repair money versus money to replace Charity with a hospital that could share a campus with a new Veterans Hospital.
It took four years to get a FEMA decision on helping to pay for replacing Charity, yet during this period of indecision, the city and state public health systems built community-based clinics. This is a 21st-century medical system far superior to pre-Katrina hospital-based public health.
New Orleans’ levee and water control systems have been steadily improved by upgrading pumps with backup generators. Gates have been installed at critical canals to help block water from entering the city during storm surges. About 325 miles of levees are around the city and surrounding parish, and work on the levees continues.
But seemingly intractable problems that affect the poorest residents still beset the city. Two years ago, during Hurricane Gustav, water was splashing over the levee protecting the 9th Ward, the neighborhood most devastated by Katrina. Gustav reminded us the city remains vulnerable to levee failure — any levee is no match for nature.
The enduring erosion of the coastline, caused by bad water management all the way from the upper Mississippi River and the coastal canals, erodes the marshes and leaves coastal Louisiana exposed to the full brunt of future hurricanes.
Public safety and housing remain the most difficult issues. Crime is a major problem in the Big Easy, and the police department is under enormous strain. Several groups of New Orleans Police Department employees are under federal investigation, accused of abuse of power — including murder charges. Today, in these tough economic times, police officers are being asked to accept a 10 percent pay cut. Most officers cannot take their police cars home without paying for that privilege. Public safety has a long way to go.
Also, more bad than good has been said of Louisiana’s “Road Home” program, designed to help displaced residents get back into their houses. The shining star of home rebuilding, instead, is the enormous amount of volunteers who work tirelessly to help poor folks get back into their homes.
Many middle-class neighborhoods still include blighted houses. The only option for the owners, who don’t have the cash to rebuild, is to tear them down. The 9th and 7th Wards and St. Bernard Parish have the worst problems.
Many people remain frustrated with the “Road Home” program. Although some got enough money to rebuild, most complain that the amount of provided by insurance and FEMA falls far short of actual repair costs.
FEMA used pre-Katrina values to determine repair costs, but the costs of building materials and labor were a lot higher after the hurricane. New Orleans also had one of the highest number of renters in the country, at about 37 percent of residents. Initially, FEMA did not provide funding to rebuild rented housing.
The slow economy that followed Katrina put limits on the amount of cash for building affordable housing. Most of the city’s public housing projects were demolished. The city and private companies are building mixed-use public housing, but most of the poor people I speak with are suspicious of the effort.
The Business District is in better shape than ever, but the legacy of Katrina’s destruction lives on in the poorer neighborhoods of the 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Russel L. Honoré.
We could very much use Robert F. Kennedy today.
I usually find Keith Olbermann a bit too “far left” for me, but he is sometimes very profound.
Here is one prime example:
Published: August 15, 2010
A spokesman for the Suffolk County sheriff’s office says Philip Markoff was declared dead at about 10:15 Sunday morning.
Authorities say the former Boston University medical student accused of killing a masseuse he met through Craigslist is dead from an apparent jailhouse suicide in Boston.
Ed Geary, a spokesman for the Suffolk County sheriff’s office, says Philip Markoff was declared dead by emergency medical workers at about 10:15 Sunday morning. The body was found in the Nashua Street Jail.
Geary says no additional information is immediately available, and an investigation has begun.
Markoff’s trial was expected to take place in March.