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"Tradition?? The only good traditions are food traditions. The rest are repressive."

"There are two ways to think. The first is to trust to your ancestors, your religious leaders, or your charismatic professors. The second is to question, to challenge, to explore history for meanings, and to analyze issues. This latter is called Critical Thinking, and it is this that is the mission of my web site. "

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman  

July 2017

Liberal or Illiberal Democracies, What Are They?


My vigilant husband has called my attention to my use of the term "Liberal Democracy." Many readers, even when college educated, are not familiar with that term. The word "liberal" suggests a political position, such as left-leaning. So in this column, and in future ones, when I use the term Liberal Democracy, I will spell out what it really means.

Liberal in this case means Liberty, or freedom. That freedom is provided by a division of power in the government (President, more...

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Closing the American Great Divide


Americans were the closest to being united by a common culture between 1941 and 1965. The post-World War II economy produced an enormous middle class, thanks to being the only country in the world not damaged or destroyed by the war. Manufacturing of everything was flourishing, as were exports and generous support with money and values to the recovery of our former customers and new allies. The only cloud on the horizon was the Cold War and the not small concern about nuclear holocaust s more...

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October 2016

Discrediting Wikileaks is Overdue!


On October 17, no doubt under US pressure, the Ecuador Embassy housing Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, cut off his Internet access. About time!

Wikileaks has many supporters in the left-wing of our country and, of course, among the salivating press. This organization began as a righteous outing of political misdeeds by giving whistle blowers an opportunity to condemn what they considered commercial or government secrets. Who doesn?t admire a whistle blower, someone m more...

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May 2016

The Winter of Our Discontent?.

Shakespeare?s Richard III (before he became king) mentioned "the winter of our discontent." That certainly describes much of today?s world, with a vague sort of discontent over bad governments, unjust laws, and looking for someone to blame for floods, fires, and famines. Many people complain, but prefer fantasy and demagoguery to sound policies. There are always those who seize the imagination of mobs because they promise them everything.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, more...

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April 2015

When is "Economic Information" Espionage?


Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian has been cooling his heels in an Iranian prison for nine months without charges until now, when we are finally told that he will stand trial for espionage for having "sold economic information" to unnamed Americans. What this information is nobody has been told. What sort of economic information about Iran could there be that could threaten Iran's security, one wonders! I can imagine quite a few things, but cannot imagine that Jason Rezaian cou more...

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July 2014

The Borders in the Middle East are Changing.


A century ago, the First World War broke out and at its conclusion, the political geography of the world changed. The Ottoman Empire fought on the wrong side of that war and it dissolved tumultuously, with all its colonies ?liberated? and the Turks reduced to a new and exclusively Turkish country. At that empire?s height (15th - 20th centuries), it ruled over Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Levant (Syria), Egypt, and across North Africa all the way to the Atlantic. Its European holdings includ more...

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November 2013

Iran Has Reasons for a Deal.

That the sanctions against Iran have brought the economy close to collapse is well known. I heard from one friend recently returned from a visit that some people are buying pistachios by the piece! Probably a joke, but maybe not.

A much more serious issue facing Iran has just emerged, without much world attention. The country is in grave danger of running out of water. Lake Urumia (Orumiye in Persian), the country's largest lake and third largest in the world, is drying up. Half t more...

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Laina with Late October Movies


Captain Phillips

Richard Phillips was captain of a cargo ship, the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. This was the first time in 200 years that an American flagship was hijacked.

This true story was based on a book: A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea, and was turned into a thrilling movie with the always believable Tom Hanks playing the role of the captain. Also remarkable was t more...

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Democracy Has Strings Attached.


Democracy means “Rule by the people.” First devised by the ancient Athenians, native freeborn men of property could cast votes for issues of importance to their city. Discussions before the vote were carried out in the public marketplace, where all voters could assemble. Over time, however, the system become corrupted and some unfortunate decisions were made (such as going to war against fellow Greeks) that made the democracy collapse.

The Romans modified the Greek sys more...

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Whistle Blowing: One Size Doesn’t Fit All.


Snooping and its variations (government, industrial, commercial) is now a major issue fracturing the already fractured American psyche. This is the new great divide, one that is not clearly black or white, but is complicated by many shades of gray.

• Terrorism. The first divide is over the majority of us who believe that we are in a global war with the latest of totalitarian enemies, Islamism. A minority believe that this is not a war, but rather criminals best handled b more...

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August 2013

Europe Has an Ostrich Problem: Denial of Immigrant Violence


Despite the howls of some reactionaries against American immigration reform, it is clear that most people come here to better their lives. They are decent, hard working, and ready to become real Americans, (with the exception of the radicalized few, such as the Somali youths bamboozled into becoming suicide bombers). With exceptions (in Michigan and Minnesota), there are few Muslim ghettos in the US.

Europe's immigration problem is different. Muslim immigrants from some of more...

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Russia is an Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery

Russia never fails to fascinate us. The very scary Cold War has been over for several decades, after a fifty-year period in which the Soviet Union and the United States engaged in a conflict that could have ended in nuclear holocaust. But real friendship has not replaced the hostility either. We have a cold peace.

Nations have long histories. Russia has been shaped by its geography It occupies a huge expanse of the Eurasian plains, from Eastern Europe all the way to the Pacific. I more...

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October 2012

The Sad Tale of Three Misled Young People Unfolds


Most of us who are conscientious about rearing our children try to let them learn from small mistakes or small bad choices. However, it is difficult to know if a mistake is small or not, or if it will blight their lives forever. Three young people in the news have made large mistakes, and one of them died as a result.

The three are: Rachel Corrie, John Walker Lindh, and Pfc. Bradley Manning, all of whom were undone by fanatical attachment to extremist ideologies. Their mi more...

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How Does Testosterone Fuel Political Rampages?


Riots by the insulted and furious are not exclusive to the Muslim world, although it has become a standard cultural exercise there. I remember the student demonstrations of 1973, furious demonstrations that spread throughout Europe and America. We came to think that “students” owned revolutions; but they are only cannon fodder. I was taking my doctoral oral exams at USC when the proceedings were interrupted by the sound of breaking glass across the campus. For months, I had moved more...

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September 2012

Is the danger of domestic terrorism exaggerated?


Sentinel
September 1, 2012

As the next anniversary of the 9/11/01 terror attack approaches, there are growing differences between people who think that the danger is still there and those who believe this is merely “Islamophobia.” Those who think Muslims are the being unfairly targeted are missing the point. The vast majority of domestic and foreign terror hopefuls are Islamists, way outnumbering the lone-wolf shooters (shootings in movie theatres, universities, more...

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The European Uprisings of 1848 Reverberate in Today’s Arab Spring

Americans are accustomed to thinking that our 1776 revolution was the model for all others. This may account for the wacky optimism of Western journalists cheering on the street demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. They assumed these demonstrations would truly give rise to American style democracy. They now see that this is not so.

Those of us who were less enthusiastic can justify our pessimism by noting what’s going on in Libya (revenge and lawlessness) and in Syria, more...

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Denial is not a river in Egypt.


Although this headline is a joke, the facts on the ground are not. Fareed Zakaria, usually a sound commentator on world affairs, chastised the pessimists who see no democracy for the Arab Spring. He noted how slowly the revolutions of America and France bore fruit. However, liberal democracy only comes from countries with a 2500-year-old western heritage—or those that have adopted these values (Japan, South Korea). Whatever fruit Egypt will bear will not be liberal democracy, no matter more...

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Koran Burning Spurs Obnoxious Protests.


I was appalled to hear an American general abjectly apologize for the burning of some “religious materials” at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. He apologized to President Karzai, and then to the “noble people of Afghanistan” (when do we ever say something like “noble people”), painfully in regret over the “unintended” offense.

If the general thought that this apology might protect American and NATO servicemen from attack, he was sadly misinformed. They a more...

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November 2011

Power to the People! Round Up the Usual Suspects!


Whenever you hear “Power to the People,” check youry wallet. At college, I remember the silly panty raids of an earlier generation who just let off steam and did something mildly outrageous. Today's “People Power” is not as innocent.

Democracy today is not having a good run. Although citizens vote for their representatives and leaders, many feel somehow disenfranchised. The problem is almost universal, except for Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland, in more...

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August 2011

Does Free Speech Include Hacking and Mayhem?


We do not say often enough that freedom without responsibility is anarchy. This is exactly what we are witnessing in Europe and closer to home: the controversy about our Bay Area Rapid transit system, BART, pulling the plug on cell phones to preempt a dangerous riot.

A few weeks ago, BART security officers shot a transient who had advanced threateningly on them. Whether their action was warranted or not belongs in the realm of law enforcement investigation, not on mob rule more...

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Some People Choose Bad Bedfellows for Their Summer Vacation

It may become a Rite of Summer: dedicated dissidents trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza with a flotilla of ships. Gazans themselves are not asking for such aid, claiming that they are not lacking daily necessities, so that is not the issue. Egypt has opened their port near Gaza to permit all legitimate aid to be brought in. Israel has never cut off humanitarian aid, and for the past year have been permitting more material to enter Gaza.

According to Juliane Von Mittelstae more...

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Iran Is Closer To Imploding

Although Iran is an Islamic dictatorship that controls its news, certain things are leaking out. The revolts in the Arab world are making them very nervous.

• Disloyal Opposition. The opposition leaders during the disputed 2009 presidential election did not mean to undo the Islamic Revolution. The millions who voted for the opposition just wanted a better and less pious president. However, after the government set goons on the peaceful demonstrators in the streets, the world wi more...

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Tunisia Is Not the Model For Other Arab World “Revolutions”

Tunisia, one of the more stable dictatorships in the Arab world, has erupted into what looks like a revolution. While this may remind us of the failed revolution last summer in Iran, the Tunisian dictator and his wife have left the country after a 23-year run. In Iran, the dictators are still there—barely holding on.

What makes this particular revolution significant is that it is not happening in a vacuum. Tunisia is a small country (10.6 million) in North Africa, close to south more...

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Arab Spring Is a Conflict between Religion and Nationalism.

The enthusiasm for the Arab Spring and its birth of democracy in the Middle East gives me heartburn. What we hoped is not what we got. Now, as disillusion sets in, not only ours, but also that of the young demonstrators (particularly young women) who shed their own blood in Tahrir Square and Tunisia, we need to see what the optimists missed.

We have again mistaken voting for democracy. Although people who have never had choices love to vote, they really do not like choices that th more...

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June 2010

Let’s Have Another Look at the “Humanitarian” Flotilla

A supposedly humanitarian flotilla that set out in June to break the Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza can be looked at a number of ways. The event was not what it seemed in the first 24 hours, when the world press was treated to conflicting video tapes from both sides. What really went on?

The Players.
• The Israelis have grown increasingly sour over events in Gaza, a region once occupied by Egypt and later by the PLO. When the Israelis, under world (and domestic) pre more...

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Tea Party Buffs and the Far Left are Buddies.



Recently, I heard an interview with ultra-conservative former congressman Dick Armey. He apparently thinks that Social Security, Medicare, and other social services should be voluntary, which would, of course, gut them. But the real surprise came when he was asked if there is anybody on the left that he admires and he named Ron Dellums, a former congressman and current mayor of Oakland. Dellums is about as far on the political left (and ineffectual) as one can get. Why should Arm more...

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