News and Opinion Based on Facts

Friday, January 25, 2013

Israel's Barak: Syria serves as warning

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that global inaction on the bloodbath in Syria is a warning to many countries that they cannot count on outsiders' help _ no matter how dire the circumstances.

He suggested, in an ironic twist, that this applied to Israel itself, discouraging its people from backing risks for peace, such as the return of strategic Palestinian territories in exchange for various assurances.

"Many of our best friends are telling us ... `Don't worry, if worst comes to worst the world will inevitably (help),'" Barak said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos. "It cannot be taken for granted."

The Syrian civil war was a major topic at Davos this year. This was evidenced by the startling vehemence displayed by even Barak and Israeli President Shimon Peres _ whose country is technically in a state of war with Syria _ as they lamented the killing of Syrian innocents.

"It's on the screens all around the world," Barak said, tens of thousands of people "slaughtered by their own leader and the world doesn't move."

His conclusion: Even "unspeakable atrocities ... taking place in front of the eyes of the whole world" cannot guarantee "that there will be enough sense of purpose, sense of direction, unity of political will, readiness to translate it into action ... in a way that will put an end to it."

He said Israel should nonetheless overcome its concerns and find a way to withdraw from the West Bank _ in order to avoid becoming inseparable from it in a single state that will ultimately have an Arab majority.

On the threat of Iran's nuclear program, Barak said that Israel believed there "should be a readiness and capability to launch a surgical operation" if diplomacy and sanctions fail.

He said it was in U.S. interests to be able to project credibility among future allies in Asia by ensuring that it makes good on promises to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.
By Dan Perry

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

School Re-Formed

by Seth Biderman
In the second presidential debate, on Oct. 16, the men who would rule our nation uttered the word "children" just once in 90 minutes—when Romney declared we're all "children of the same God." They said "job" 100 times and "tax" or "taxes" 76, but "education" was mentioned only 13 times, generally as a footnote to comments about the economy or gun control.

Like environmental protection (mentioned zero times, which is terrifying), education is not on the national radar. Which means that if we want to improve the way we do public school in Santa Fe, or anywhere else, we're going to have to do it ourselves.

One community that did just that is the Italian town of Reggio Emilia. In 1945, after the devastation of WWII, the townsfolk and a visionary teacher named Loris Malaguzzi came together to create a brilliant new approach to schooling for their city's youngest. Over the last half century, their model of early childhood education has evolved and flourished, and is now being adopted by preschools around the world.

Through my research with the Academy for the Love of Learning, I visited a "Reggio-inspired" preschool called El Nido, or "the nest," in Cali, Colombia. The leaders and coordinators of this project, Amanda Felton and Maritza González, described to me how they have entered into a "dialogue with the Reggio philosophy," through which they've adapted the model to their particular setting and culture, while honoring many of its essential principles.

One of these principles, which I believe is key to moving our schools forward, is that students must be protagonists—not subjects or consumers—of the learning process. Having suffered through Mussolini's totalitarianism, the Reggio Emilia community wanted schools that would grow a questioning and participatory citizenry, so they threw out the old model of teachers forcing passive students through a pre-determined curriculum. In its place, they developed a model in which the curriculum evolves directly from the interests of the children, and projects are co-created by teachers and learners.

At El Nido, for example, when teachers noticed that a group of 2-year-olds were fascinated by rolling wooden spools, they created a multi-week exploration of movement and gravity. Following the children's interests, they extended the study into a project on heights, culminating in the construction of a classroom-sized "mountain" of recycled materials.

A second key principle is that teachers should not be chalkboard-pointing deliverers of information, but documenters, researchers, collaborators and facilitators. To this end, the Reggio Emilia schools established the practice of having teachers work in teams of two, and built in time for the faculty to reflect upon and respond to what they observed in their daily work.

This new paradigm of teaching became clear to me when I was watching El Nido 4-year-olds explore the concept of fire. While one teacher helped the students paint tubes orange and yellow, the other took pictures and recorded their chatter. The reflective, attentive way these teachers worked together to simultaneously engage and observe the children had little to do with the harried, isolated frenzy I've always understood as teaching. And after class, when I used to scour teacher manuals or Google for more activities, these teachers reviewed the photos and conversations from the day, analyzed how the children had responded to the experience and planned how to most naturally deepen the learning.

Game-changing principles like these—child as protagonist, teacher as researcher—did not rise from presidential platforms, but from educational research, local leadership and an engaged community—a town that looked inward, thought seriously about what was important for its children and had the courage to try something new.

In the dearth of national leadership on education, we have an opportunity in Santa Fe to follow the lead of Reggio Emilia, and support our district in the creation of public schools that honor the curiosity of children and the passion of teachers. Superintendent Joel Boyd has demonstrated a willingness to listen to diverse community groups. When he begins unveiling proposals, we should treat his ideas not as mandates or solutions, but as starting points for deeper conversations about the type of human beings we would like our children to become.

A SFPS graduate and former educator, Seth Biderman works with the Academy for the Love of Learning to research different learning models and further public conversation about what "school" could someday be. He blogs at

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Four More Years

It was gratifying to see the crowds at the inaugural, all the varieties of humankind.
The President spoke of the America that most of us remember, an America that is for the people.
The next four years are important, hopefully enough of the Congress will set aside their politics long enough to support efforts to heal and repair our country.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Algeria Hostage Death Toll: Standoff Dead Climbs Past 80 In Siege In The Sahara

by Ryan Craggs, ALGIERS, Algeria —
The death toll from the terrorist siege at a natural gas plant in the Sahara climbed past 80 on Sunday as Algerian forces searching the refinery for explosives found dozens more bodies, many so badly disfigured it was unclear whether they were hostages or militants, a security official said.

Algerian special forces stormed the plant on Saturday to end the four-day siege, moving in to thwart what government officials said was a plot by the Islamic extremists to blow up the complex and kill all their captives with mines sown throughout the site.

In a statement, the Masked Brigade, the group that claimed to have masterminded the takeover, warned of more such attacks against any country backing France's military intervention in neighboring Mali, where the French are trying to stop an advance by Islamic extremists.

"We stress to our Muslim brothers the necessity to stay away from all the Western companies and complexes for their own safety, and especially the French ones," the statement said.

Algeria said after Saturday's assault by government forces that at least 32 extremists and 23 hostages were killed. On Sunday, Algerian bomb squads sent in to blow up or defuse the explosives found 25 more bodies, said the security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

"These bodies are difficult to identify. They could be the bodies of foreign hostages or Algerians or terrorists," the official said.

In addition, a wounded Romanian who had been evacuated died, raising the overall death toll to at least 81.

"Now, of course, people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched a vicious and cowardly attack," British Prime Minister David Cameron said. Three Britons were killed and another three were feared dead.

The dead hostages were also known to include at least one American as well as Filipino and French workers. Nearly two dozen foreigners by some estimates were unaccounted for.

It was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final assault on the complex, which is run by the Algerian state oil company along with BP and Norway's Statoil.

Two private Algerian TV stations and an online news site said security forces scouring the plant found five militants hiding out and learned that three others had fled. That information could not be immediately confirmed by security officials.

Authorities said the bloody takeover was carried out Wednesday by 32 men from six countries, under the command from afar of the one-eyed Algerian bandit Moktar Belmoktar, founder of the Masked Brigade, based in Mali. The attacking force called itself "Those Who Sign in Blood."

The Masked Brigade said Sunday the attack was payback against Algeria for allowing over-flights of French aircraft headed to Mali and for closing its long border with Mali. In an earlier communication, the Brigade claimed to have carried out the attack in the name of al-Qaida.

Armed with heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades, the militants singled out foreign workers at the plant, killing some of them on the spot and attaching explosive belts to others.

Algeria's tough and uncompromising response to the crisis was typical of its take-no-prisoners approach in confronting terrorists, favoring military action over negotiation. Algerian military forces, backed by attack helicopters, launched two assaults on the plant, the first one on Thursday.

The militants had "decided to succeed in the operation as planned, to blow up the gas complex and kill all the hostages," Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said told state radio.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said the terrorists had tried to blow up the plant on Saturday but managed only to start a small fire. "That's when they started to execute hostages, and the special forces intervened," Eide said. Norway's Statoil said five Norwegians were still missing.

An audio recording of Algerian security forces speaking with the head of the kidnappers, Abdel Rahman al-Nigiri, on the second day of the drama indicated the hostage-takers were trying to organize a prisoner swap.

"You see our demands are so easy, so easy if you want to negotiate with us," al-Nigiri said in the recording broadcast by Algerian television. "We want the prisoners you have, the comrades who were arrested and imprisoned 15 years ago. We want 100 of them."

In another phone call, al-Nigiri said that half the militants had been killed by the Algerian army on Thursday and that he was ready to blow up the remaining hostages if security forces attacked again. An organization that monitors videos from radicals posted one showing al-Nigiri with what appeared to be an explosive belt around his waist.

The Algerians' use of forced raised an international outcry from some countries worried about their citizens.

But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Sunday on French television: "The terrorists ... they're the ones to blame."

David Plouffe, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said that al-Qaida and al-Qaida-affiliated groups remain a threat in North Africa and other parts of the world, and that the U.S. is determined to help other countries destroy those networks.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Plouffe said the tragedy in Algeria shows once again "that all across the globe countries are threatened by terrorists who will use civilians to try and advance their twisted and sick agenda."


Ganley reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Paul Schemm in Rabat, Morocco, and Lori Hinnant in Paris also contributed to this report.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Women in Politics in Saudi Arabia

On Friday, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah made history when he named thirty women to the kingdom's Shura Council, an appointed advisory body that cannot enact legislation but is still the closest institution to a parliament in that country. He also amended the Shura Council's law to ensure that women would make up no less than 20 percent of the 150-person council going forward.

Friday's announcement did not occur in a vacuum. Before now, some women served in an advisory capacity, but not as full members, on the committee. In 2011, King Abdullah, known for relatively moderate views on women's roles in society, announced that women would be appointed to the Shura Council and that women would be able to run and vote in the country's 2015 municipal elections.

Nevertheless, Friday's follow-through is a sign of King Abdullah's seriousness about incrementally increasing women's participation. In a 2011 speech, King Abdullah introduced the decision as a vital step for keeping up with the times, saying, "Balanced modernization in line with our Islamic values, which preserve rights, is an important requirement in an era with no room for the weak and undecided people." He also explained that the decision to appoint women to the Shura Council and to allow them to vote and run in elections was made after consulting with religious scholars.

Much as when women from conservative Muslim countries including Qatar and Saudi Arabia competed in the Olympics for the first time this past summer, a considerable amount of attention is being paid to the logistics of women's participation in the Shura Council. The amendments allowing women to join the council specifically prescribe gender-segregating measures, ranging from separate office spaces to council chamber entrances to seating areas. As journalist and Saudi Arabia expert Thomas Lippman explains, "Even when [King Abdullah] moves boldly, he moves cautiously, in increments that the conservatives can be persuaded or forced to accept." Indeed, this gender segregation is an absolute prerequisite to women's participation in Saudi Arabia.

Reaction to the Shura Council is mixed. On Twitter, the hashtag "The new Shura Council does not represent me" materialized, a reminder that the Shura Council is unelected. Manal al-Sharif—a female activist who has shown great courage in advocating for Saudi women's right to drive—wrote on Twitter that "The amendments ignored Saudis' demands of electing the members and increasing the Council powers! It still cannot pass or enforce laws" (via POMED). Essam Alzamel, a tech entrepreneur with a significant Twitter following, wrote, "There are two types of parliaments: the kind that represents the people and the kind that represents the people but is not of the people." Just today, around fifty clerics opposed to the Shura Council decision turned up at the Royal Court to request a meeting with the king and one of his advisers, which they were not granted. This protest was notable, particularly given that Saudi Arabia's primary religious authorities have approved of the king's decision.

Despite the limitations of the Shura Council, the appointed women have their work cut out for them. As my friend, women's rights advocate and new Shura Council member Thuraya Arrayed said to Al Arabiya News, "I expect this decision to open doors for qualified women to take part in all fields and not just in politics but in all areas." Fellow new Shura Council member Thuraya Obaid, whose impressive career includes time as executive director of the UN Population Fund, told the newspaper Asharq Alawsat, "…as for those who do not accept this, this is a huge challenge for women to prove that their presence is an addition to, not lessening of, Saudi society." With female council members like these, this mixed-gender Shura Council may well pave the way to greater opportunities for Saudi women, however incrementally.

Thanks to my research associate, Thalia Beaty, for providing the Arabic translations.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

$1B Later, US Claims Anti-Terror Victory in Somalia

Four years and over $1 billion in U.S. support later, the Obama administration today claimed a victory in its war on terror in Africa by officially recognizing the government of Somalia, once a country overrun by al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

At a press conference at the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood shoulder to shoulder with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the first democratically elected President of Somalia since 1991, and told reporters that working to stabilize Somalia had been "a personal priority" of hers.

"So I'm very pleased that in my last weeks here, Mr. President, we are taking this historic step of recognizing the government," Clinton told reporters.

Earlier today Clinton said the Somali president also met with President Obama, as a sign of how committed the U.S. is to new democracy.

When Clinton came into office in early 2009, the al Qaeda-allied terrorist organization al-Shabaab controlled all of southern and most of central Somalia and all but 10 blocks of the capital city of Mogadishu. The country had not a functioning government in nearly two decades. The United States had engaged with Somalia during that time, including the infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident in 1993, and had provided support for the Ethiopian incursion into Somalia in 2006, which lasted for three years and is widely considered to have been a failure.

Over the last four years, the U.S. has poured more than $1 billion into the country, with at least $650 million dollars used to support and train African Union troops fighting the terrorists, $200 million in humanitarian aid and more than $130 million to fund programs to help the country rebuild its security structures. The U.S. also helped beat back the terrorists with drone strikes and intelligence support for the AU force.

By officially recognizing Somalia's new government, the U.S. has now opened the door for formal diplomatic ties, including USAID programs. Somalia is now also eligible to apply for assistance from the World Bank and the IMF. Clinton spoke about how in the last year two different senior State Department officials visited Mogadishu, a city state department officials working on Somalia were forbidden to visit just two years ago. Clinton said that while security is still tenuous, the ultimate goal is to have a permanent U.S. presence in the country.

"Our diplomats, our development experts are traveling more frequently there, and I do look forward to the day when we can re- establish a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in Mogadishu," said Clinton.

But she also acknowledged that security remains an issue and that the new government and democracy remain fragile.

Just this week the Somalia-based terror group al-Shabaab publicly boasted that they had executed a French intelligence agent codenamed Dennis Allex, who al-Shabaab had held in captivity since 2009. An al-Shabaab spokesperson issued a statement saying the execution was retaliation for Western incursions into Mali, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. Days before, France launched a coordinated military operation to pummel extremists in Mali, a West African nation more than 3,000 miles from Somalia.

In her address today, Clinton acknowledged that the "threat of terrorism and violent extremism... is not just a problem in Somalia. It is a problem across the region."

"The terrorists, as we have learned once again in the last days, are not resting, and neither will we," she said. "We will be very clear-eyed and realistic about the threat they continue to pose."

Clinton said that Somalia serves as an example of how terrorists groups in Africa can be defeated. She stressed the Obama administration's policy of supporting African-led solutions, like the African Union Mission in Somalia. She said the administration is taking the same approach fighting Al Qaeda groups in Mali.

"This is difficult but essential work. These are some of the most remote places on the planet, very hard to get to, difficult to have much intelligence from, so there's going to be a lot of work that has to go into our efforts. But I want to assure the American people that we are committed to this work just as we were committed to Somalia," said Clinton."There were so many times…over the last four years, when some people were ready to throw up their hands and say, you know, al-Shabaab made an advance here, and this terrible attack in Mogadishu, and we kept persisting, because we believed that with the kind of approach we had taken, we would be standing here today with a democratically-elected president of Somalia."

Somali President Sheikh Mohamud was emotional as he personally thanked Secretary Clinton and America for its support of Somalia.

"I wish madam Secretary all of the best for her future, and we all miss her greatly. And I will welcome the new Secretary of State and the new administration that will take over," said the President. "Somalia will remain grateful to the unwavering support from the United States government in the last 22 years that Somalia was in a difficult era. We remain, and we will remain, grateful to that. And I -- and I say in front of you today, thank you, America."

Currently there are nearly 1.4 million displaced people within Somalia, and another 1.4 million refugees in neighboring countries, according to the United Nation's refugee agency. ABC News reported on the horrors of the refugee crisis from Somalia's famine less than two years ago when tens of thousands of Somalis fled al-Shabaab controlled areas just to be able to find food.

ABC News' David Muir witnessed a gun battle between African Union troops and extremists battling for control of Mogadishu. At that time, basic security, not elections, was the priority.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

French and Malian Troops Confront Islamists in Seized Mali Village

BAMAKO, Mali - French soldiers battled armed Islamist occupiers of a desert village in central Mali on Wednesday, a Malian Army colonel said, in the first direct ground combat involving Western troops since France began its military operation here last week to help wrest this nation back from a militant advance.

The Malian colonel said his army's ground troops had joined the French forces and ringed the village of Diabaly, which Islamist fighters had seized the day before. Now, he said, they were engaged in fighting to extricate the militants, who had taken over homes and ensconced themselves.

"It's a very specialized kind of war," said the colonel, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The town is surrounded."

But French officials have been cautious about saying exactly when the ground combat would begin. On Wednesday, a senior French defense official confirmed that a detachment of about 100 members of the French special forces were approaching Diabaly, about 250 miles north of the capital, in an effort to halt an insurgent move south and take back the town. But the official refused to confirm that an assault was yet under way.

The ground fighting expands the confrontation between the Islamists and the French forces, who have previously conducted aerial assaults after President François Hollande of France ordered an intervention in Mali last Friday to thwart a broader push by Islamist rebels controlling the north of the country.

The broadening of the military conflict came as an Algerian government official and the country's state-run news agency said that Islamist militants had seized a foreign-run gas field near the Algeria-Libya border, hundreds of miles away, taking at least 20 foreign hostages, including Americans, in retaliation for the French intervention in Mali and for Algeria's cooperation in that effort.

The Algerian agency said at least at least two people had been killed in the gas-field seizure, including one British national, and that the hostages included American, British, French, Norwegian and Japanese citizens.

Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters in Washington, "The best information that we have at this time is that U.S. citizens are among the hostages."

Japanese officials acknowledged that Japanese citizens were involved in the hostage situation, and the Irish foreign ministry said one Irish citizen had been kidnapped. The British foreign office also said in a statement that "British nationals are caught up in this incident," which it described as "ongoing."

The twin developments underscored an earlier acknowledgment from French officials that the military campaign to turn back the Islamists and drive them from their redoubts in northern Malian desert would be a protracted and complicated one.

"The combat continues and it will be long, I imagine," the French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said Wednesday on RTL radio. "Today the ground forces are in the process of deploying," he said. "Now the French forces are reaching the north."

Adm. Edouard Guillaud, the French chief of staff, told Europe 1 television that ground operations began overnight.

He accused jihadists of using civilians as human shields and said, "We refuse to put the population at risk. If there is doubt, we will not fire."

In Paris, Mr. Hollande said Wednesday that he took the decision to intervene last Friday because it was necessary. If he had not done so, it would have been too late. "Mali would have been entirely conquered and the terrorists would today be in a position of strength."

On Tuesday, witnesses in Mali reported, the insurgents had regrouped after French airstrikes and embedded themselves among the population of Diabaly, hiding in the mud and brick houses in the battle zone and thwarting attacks by French warplanes to dislodge them.

"They are in the town, almost everywhere in the town," said Bekaye Diarra, who owns a pharmacy in Diabaly, which remained under the control of insurgents. "They are installing themselves."

Benco Ba, a parliamentary deputy there, said residents were fearful of the conflict that had descended on them. "The jihadists are going right into people's families," he said. "They have completely occupied the town. They are dispersed. It's fear, " he said, as it became

clear that airstrikes alone will probably not be enough to root out these battle-hardened insurgents, who know well the harsh grassland and desert terrain of Mali.

Containing the rebels' southern advance toward Bamako is proving more challenging than anticipated, French military officials have acknowledged. And with the Malian Army in disarray and no outside African force yet assembled, displacing the rebels from the country altogether appears to be an elusive, long-term challenge.

The jihadists were "dug in" at Diabaly, Defense Minister Le Drian said Tuesday at a news conference. From that strategic town, they "threaten the south," he said, adding: "We face a well-armed and determined adversary."

Mr. Le Drian also acknowledged that the Malian Army had not managed to retake the town of Konna, whose seizure by the rebels a week ago provoked the French intervention. "We will continue the strikes to diminish their potential," the minister said.

Using advanced attack planes and sophisticated military helicopters, the French campaign has forced the Islamists from important northern towns like Gao and Douentza. But residents there say that while the insurgents suffered losses, many of them had simply gone into the nearby bush.

Analysts said that while forcing the insurgents from the cities was achievable, eliminating them altogether would require considerable additional effort.

"You can't launch a war of extermination against a very tenacious and mobile adversary," said Col. Michel Goya of the French Military Academy's Strategic Research Institute. "We are in a classic counterinsurrectionary situation. They are well armed, but the weapons are not sophisticated. A couple of thousand men, very mobile."

While striking the Islamists from the air, France has been steadily building up its forces on the ground: 200 more soldiers and 60 armored vehicles arrived in Mali overnight on Tuesday from Ivory Coast, bringing the total to nearly 800 soldiers. The French Defense Ministry said the force would soon number 2,500, in the vicinity of its peak Afghanistan deployment.

France is the former colonial power in Mali, and Mr. Le Drian has said it intervened to prevent the possible collapse of Mali's government and "the establishment of a terrorist state within range of Europe and of France." The French mission is aimed at supporting an African force that is still being assembled and that French officials said could begin to deploy in as soon as a week. The United States has also committed its support to the French mission.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, traveling in Spain, said that France faced a difficult task in taking on the extremists and that the Pentagon remained in talks with the French about what sort of aid was required.

The implications of the nascent French deployment - and of the Islamist takeover of Diabaly, only about 220 miles from the capital here - seem clear: rooting out the few thousand insurgents could well be a slog.

The Islamists are well armed, with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns mounted on vehicles, as well as some armored personnel carriers seized from the Malian military last year.

In the initial clashes, allied officials said, French airstrikes inflicted heavy losses on Islamist columns that could be easily identified and attacked as they advanced on roads. That led to some optimistic assessments of a rout.

But a military spokesman for the French operation in Mali said Tuesday that the Islamists had taken more territory since the French air raid began because the fighters were mixing in with the population and making it difficult to bomb without causing civilian casualties.

"It's really much too soon to tell how this fight will turn out," said an American official who has been surveying the battle from afar.

Adam Nossiter reported from Bamako, Mali; Alan Cowell from Paris; and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Steven Erlanger and Scott Sayare from Paris, Julia Werdigier from London, and Elisabeth Bumiller from Madrid.

© 2013 The New York Times Company.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Change violent culture, stop school shootings

I have read many articles about how to prevent what happened in Connecticut from happening again.

The one solution I haven't read is changing the culture of violence that is in the world today.

You can ban assault rifles and high round clips, most of which are bought by law-abiding Americans, but if a deranged person thinks violence is the answer he will get them.

It started with the cavemen when they fought over food; the Bible when God said you won't follow my rules I'll wipe you out, and it rained for 40 days; when your kid won't do what you say, and you paddle his butt.

The Marine Corps taught me that fighting, violence, is an absolute last resort. In today's culture it's the first reaction.

The fix has to start with us. It's not easy to be nonviolent but somehow I have pulled it off for 40-plus years through some of the most violent times in our country's recent history. You have to be able to tolerate verbal abuse to the max. Words can't hurt you.

Sometimes the use of violence can't be avoided. I am an ex-Marine. I was taught how to kill, and I remember every bit of it. I am not afraid to defend myself, or anyone else for that matter; it's just that when you put violence to number two or three on the reaction list many times violence never happens.

Hippies had it right; they just weren't taken seriously. Their nonviolence never caught on.

If we all start to think that way again, then I think things like the Connecticut shootings will never happen again.

Ralph Doiron


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Monday, January 7, 2013

The Callousness of Hamas

Of all the points of disagreement between Israel and Hamas, maybe the most profound is this one: Israel cares more about sparing innocent lives — including those of Palestinians — than does Hamas. Not only have Hamas and other militant groups this year sent more than 700 rockets crashing haphazardly into southern Israel, but also Hamas instigated yet another war where the chief loser will certainly be its own people. If hell has a beach, it's located in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is a congested, fetid place. It is densely populated and in the slums and housing blocks, Hamas has hidden its weapons, explosives and rocket launchers. Israel has gone out of its way to avoid civilian casualties. Its air force has used new, highly accurate ammunition aiming for rocket-launching sites and government installations. For the most part, it has succeeded.

For Hamas, civilian casualties are an asset. Palestinians love and grieve as do other people, but Hamas leadership knows that the world has gotten impatient with Israel. Increasingly, many people now see Israel as the aggressor, as Gaza's occupying power (never mind the 2005 pullout), and they overlook such trifles as the Hamas charter, which is repellently anti-Semitic and cites the discredited forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." In the Hamas cosmology, Jews are so evil that somehow "they also stood behind World War II, where they collected immense benefits from trading with war materials." This, you would have to concede, is a wholly original take on the Holocaust.

Many in the West heroically ignore such nonsense. They embrace Hamas as the champions of a victimized Third World people. In recent days, some editorialists have bemoaned the war and Hamas' role in inciting it. But then comes the inevitable "however." "However, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu must also take much blame for stoking resentment among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank for so long," opined the Financial Times. The New York Times' caveat came lower down in its initial editorial on the war: "But it would be easier to win support for retaliatory action if Israel was engaged in serious negotiations with Hamas' rival, the Palestinian Authority." Apparently, 700 rockets are not enough.

Look, let us stipulate: Palestinians have suffered greatly. They have legitimate grievances. Israel has at times been a bully, and the slow and steady march of West Bank settlements is both wrong and destructive of the (nonexistent) peace process. But for all this, it is insane to apply the Officer Krupke rule (from "West Side Story") to Hamas: "We ain't no delinquents, we're misunderstood. Deep down inside us there is good." There is little good in Hamas.

Hamas is not the passive party in this struggle. It rules Gaza by force. The other day it murdered — please don't say "executed" — an alleged collaborator without the inconvenience of a trial, shooting the man on a crowded street. It chose to make war by allowing more militant groups to use Gaza as a launching pad for rockets and firing off the occasional rocket itself. No nation is going to put up with this sort of terror. The rockets do some, not a lot of damage, but that's not the point. The point instead is that people who have the wherewithal will not continue to live in a place where even the occasional rocket can come down on your kids' school. This is not a mere border problem. For Israel, this is an existential threat.

What various editorial writers and others seem not to understand is that the very peace agreement they accuse Israel of forestalling is, in fact, impeded by Hamas' use of violence. Who wants to make peace with extremists? Who wants to give up land for the promises of peace offered by zealots who read Hitler for inspiration? Israel pulled out of Gaza once already. Abandoned greenhouses were refurbished by Jewish philanthropists in America. The greenhouses were trashed and with them what now seems like naive optimism. Soon, Hamas took control and the rockets started hitting Israel.

This war between Arabs and Jews, between Israelis and Palestinians, is well over 100 years old. Both sides have a case and both sides have proved to be indomitable. But both sides are not equally right in all instances. Hamas sent rockets into Israel, not caring if they hit a chicken coop or a group of toddlers jumping in and out of a sprinkler. You want balance? Here's balance. Hamas didn't care if its own people died either.

Read more from Opinions:

Max Fisher: Why is Israel tweeting airstrikes?

Karim Sadjadpour and Blake Hounshell: What if Israel bombed Iran?

Henry A. Kissinger: Iran must be President Obama's immediate priority

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Girl Shot by Pakistani Taliban Is Discharged From Hospital


LONDON - Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head three months ago by the Taliban for advocating the education of girls, has been discharged from a British hospital. Doctors said she had made "excellent progress" and would be staying with her family nearby before returning for further surgery to rebuild her skull in about four weeks.

"Following discussions with Malala and her medical team, we decided that she would benefit from being at home with her parents and two brothers," said Dr. Dave Rosser, the medical director.

Video released by Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, showed Ms. Yousafzai walking slowly out of a ward, wearing a head scarf and accompanied by a nurse.

The release was a promising turn for the teenage activist. Her shooting brought global condemnation of the Pakistani Taliban, whose fighters killed six female aid workers this week in the same region in northwestern Pakistan where Ms. Yousafzai was shot.

On Oct. 9, gunmen halted her school bus as it went through Mingora, the main town in the Swat Valley, singled her out and opened fire. A bullet grazed her brain, nearly killing her, and traveled through her head before lodging in her neck.

Six days later, after emergency treatment in Pakistan, she was airlifted to the hospital in Birmingham, which specializes in treating British soldiers wounded in action in Afghanistan.

Medical experts say Ms. Yousafzai has a good chance of making a full recovery because of her youth, but the long-term impact of her head injuries remains unclear.

In recent weeks, she has left the hospital regularly to spend time with her family. The Pakistani government is paying for her treatment.

Ms. Yousafzai rose to prominence in 2009 with a blog for the BBC's Urdu-language service that described life in Swat under Taliban rule. Later, she was featured in a documentary by The New York Times.

Now her father, Ziauddin, a school headmaster, has accepted a three-year position as education attaché at the Pakistani Consulate in Birmingham, making it unlikely that the family will return to Pakistan anytime soon. In any event, it may be too dangerous, because the Taliban have vowed to attack her again.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Israel Already Deals With Hamas

by Nervana Mahmoud,

As the debate about the potential nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next U.S. Secretary of Defense becomes increasingly heated, many have expressed their opinions both for and against the nomination. Last week, the New York Times ran two op-ed articles two days in a row defending Hagel. In one piece, Thomas Freidman did not just defend the Hagel nomination—he also defended Hagel's alleged willingness to engage Hamas. Freidman wrote: "I don't think America or Israel have anything to lose by engaging Hamas to see if a different future is possible."

Here is a surprise for Mr. Freidman: Israel is engaging with Hamas—not only recently, but it has been doing so for the past few years. The best example of this quiet engagement is the ceasefire agreement that ended Israel's recent operation in Gaza (Pillar of Defense). Despite  initial skepticism, the deal seems to be holding, with more positive steps to ease the blockade (delivering building materials and allowing fishing at Gaza's shore). In addition, Israel allowed Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to visit Gaza after years in exile for Hamas's anniversary celebration. The man that Netanyahu once tried to assassinate has enjoyed unprecedented freedom. Israel, it seems, rewarded Hamas for firing the rocket that reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem by acceeding to a wide-reaching deal with the terrorist organization that is still committed to destroying the Jewish state.

What both Israel and Hamas has learned from the failed Oslo peace process is that direct engagement and shaking hands at the White House are bad ideas that bring scrutiny and earache. Therefore, both opted for quiet, indirect talks (the Gilad Shalit deal) that were necessarily based on shared interests. And believe it or not, there are many shared interests between those two archenemies: keeping quiet at the Gaza/south Israel front and undermining Abbas's leadership are the best examples. Israel, for example, decided to punish President Abbas, who dared to go to the U.N. and achieve an observer status, if only a symbolic one, by blocking funds to the Palestinian Authority. Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman went event further by claiming: "There are many alternatives to the Palestinian President."

Israel's ill-fated disengagement from Gaza  empowered Hamas and other radical Palestinians groups, who viewed it as a victory for the "resistance," and helped them later to fully control the Gaza Strip. The same scenario could easily happen if the Palestinian Authority weakened more in the West Bank (despite Lieberman's claims to the contrary). There are already reports—which may or may not be credible—of possible preparations by Hamas to take over the West Bank. Nonetheless, the ultimate aim of Hamas is to control the West Bank; whether they will achieve it by "reconciliation" or by takeover remains to be seen. It all depends on the evolving facts on the ground in 2013. A weak Abbas, a crumbling economy, troubles in Jordan and an Islamist regime in Syria, may all bring the West Bank to a tipping point, which Hamas is eagerly waiting.

Like two hostile neighbors living in a tense, crowded region, they continuously watch each other, looking for clues and hints. Netanyahu and the leadership of Hamas are enemies who at times share the same mindset: both want their cake and to eat it. Neither are willing to compromise, nor like to admit defeat, which is precisely why both are seeking to redefine victory and bend the definition of deterrence and balance of terror to their advantage.

Whether Obama appoints Hagel or not, Israel's policy toward the Palestinians will continue to be dictated by the reckless underestimation of Hamas's tenacity and ability to maneuver. Netanyahu might thinks he tolerate an emboldened Hamas until he finishes Abbas off, then later turn against Hamas if necessary—a risky game that will backfire. He shares the same mindset of Ariel Sharon, who assumed that disengagement from Gaza, without reaching a comprehensive deal with the Palestinians, was a good idea. It was not. Hamas's rule over Gaza may not alone finish the prospect of a two-state solution, but could soon open the gate for Hamas to re-launch its influence in the West Bank as the only party that can "engage" with Israel and bring reliable political results on the ground.

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