This week the European Parliament awarded the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to key participants in the Arab Spring. The five recipients were chosen “in recognition and support of their drive for freedom and human rights.” The five are described in a press release announcing the award as “representatives of the Arab people.” The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named for the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded by the European Parliament every year since 1988 to individuals or organizations that that multinational body believes “have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy.” The prize is accompanied by an award of €50,000. The named winners of the €50,000 prize are: Asmaa Mahfouz (Egypt), Ahmed al-Zubair Ahmed al-Sanusi (Libya), Razan Zaitouneh (Syria), Ali Farzat (Syria), and posthumously to Mohamed Bouazizi (Tunisia). The first prize was awarded jointly to South African Nelson Mandela and Russian Anatoly Marchenko. The prize has also been awarded to various individuals and organizations throughout its history, the first being the Argentine Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (1992).
John Banzhaf, the self-described “radical” law professor who has filed successful lawsuits against the tobacco and fast-food industies, has declared war on Catholic University. On the heels of his legal complaint against the university because it has reverted to single-sex dormitories, Banzhaf now claims, in a 60-page complaint with the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights, that the school is discriminating against Muslim students because it does not officially sanction a Muslim student group. Banzhaf also claims that it is discriminating because it does not provide a place for Muslims to worship that does not have Catholic symbolism. The Complaint Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said the university’s discrimination against Muslims is clear because “an attempt was made to cover up the animus in such a decision against Muslim students, based solely upon their religion, by falsely claiming that the reason for the discrimination was that CUA ‘should [not] be sponsoring an organization that is not Catholic,’ whereas the University does in fact have a student organization for Jewish students.”
We are slowly being made aware of the intimate relationship that has existed between Barack Obama and financier George Soros since 2004 through casual mentions in two recently published books. In the first book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools, by Steven Brill, we find this interesting bit of political history on page 115: June 7, 2004. George Soros had a fund-raising cocktail party in his New York Fifth Avenue apartment for Barack Obama, guest of honor, who was running for the senate in Illinois who was black and had roots in Kenya. The question is: when and how did Soros become aware of Barack Obama? And why would an Illinois state senate race be of interest to a politically savvy New York financier? Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from My Father, written with the help of terrorist Bill Ayres, had been published in 1995. Soros may have read the book and decided then and there that Obama could be the next president. He was young, ambitious, a socialist, and an empty suit who could be easily controlled by a powerful enormously wealthy patron. Ron Suskind, in his new book, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President, published by HarperCollins in 2011, tells of Obama’s friendship with Robert Wolf, UBS-America president, who had to deal with bundled mortgages, which later turned out to be worthless. Obama was then a U.S. Senator, and Suskind writes (p.24):
First it was “Yes, we can!” Then it was “Pass this bill!” Now the latest slogan from President Barack Obama is “We can’t wait.” Expressing his frustration with Congress’s failure to pass his American Jobs Act and other initiatives, Obama told a Nevada audience on October 24: “We can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won’t act, I will.” As The New American’s Raven Clabough reported the next day, Obama’s chosen means of circumventing the legislative process is to issue executive orders and other directives — at least one per week for the remainder of the year, aides said. Obama’s first orders after announcing his new policy were: (1) to use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to enable borrowers who owe more than their houses are worth to refinance at lower interest rates; (2) to reduce the size of student loan payments; and (3) to challenge community health centers to hire veterans. Only the third, an essentially meaningless gesture, is plainly within the President’s purview. The others — particularly the first, which could put taxpayers on the hook for trillions of dollars in loan guarantees — “would generally be subjected to” congressional approval, Clabough noted.
When Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) released his economic plan, which calls for eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, the howls of outrage from the media were predictable. Paul was accused of wanting to end the federal student loan program immediately and, therefore, of being anti-education. Paul responded to his critics with a cogent op-ed in USA Today in which he explained that he had merely proposed transferring the student loan program to another federal agency and has no intention of repealing the program in the short term. However, he added that, in his opinion, the program ought to be retired in the long term, arguing that “we will assist [students] the most by eventually transitioning student aid away from the inefficient and ineffective federal government and back to local governments and private market-based solutions — which simply work better.” Is Paul correct that federal student loans are a bad idea? Certainly it doesn’t make good financial sense for students to take on tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt in the present economy. Americans already owe about $1 trillion in student loans, and delinquency and default rates are on the rise. Reason’s Tim Cavanaugh wrote in 2010:
A North Carolina county wants to resume its longtime practice of beginning government meetings with prayer, and is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that bans prayers offered “in Jesus’ name.” As reported by The New American, in July the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ruled against the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners’ tradition of beginning their meetings with mostly Christian prayers offered by local clergy. Specifically, two area residents sued the county after attending a county board meeting on December 17, 2007, in which a local pastor “thanked God for allowing the birth of His Son to forgive us for our sins and closed by making the prayer in the name of Jesus,” according to an Associated Press report. Writing for the majority in the Fourth Circuit ruling, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III noted that three-quarters of the prayers offered at the Forsyth County meetings between May 2007 and December 2008 were Christian themed, referring often to “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Savior.” But “in order to survive constitutional scrutiny,” he explained, “invocations must consist of the type of nonsectarian prayers that solemnize the legislative task and seek to unite rather than divide. Sectarian prayers must not serve as the gateway to citizen participation in the affairs of local government. To have them do so runs afoul of the promise of public neutrality among faiths that resides at the heart of the First Amendment’s religion clauses.”
Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry spelled out the details of his “Cut, Balance, and Grow” flat tax plan on October 25, saying that “the U.S. government spends too much. Taxes are too high, too complex, and too riddled with special-interest loopholes. And our expensive entitlement system is unsustainable in the long run.” Perry’s plan would offer taxpayers a choice between a new flat rate of 20 percent on incomes over $50,000, or their current income tax rate. The plan would allow them to file their taxes on a postcard, eliminating the enormous current compliance costs in filing their Form 1040s. Various deductions and exemptions would be eliminated, he says, thus improving incentives for entrepreneurs to invest, create, and hire. In addition, Perry would cap government spending at 18 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and put a freeze on all federal hiring and salaries until the budget is balanced. He would push for the repeal of ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform laws. Finally, he would allow participants in Social Security to set up their own personal retirement accounts outside of the current system which would protect their contributions from being raided by Congress to be spent for other purposes.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul won both votes in the October 29 Iowa straw poll, winning 82 percent of the Iowa vote, easily besting Herman Cain's 15 percent support. The straw poll, sponsored by the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, also included a poll for out-of-state supporters of presidential candidates that Paul won more narrowly, besting Cain by 26 and 25 percentage points, respectively. The NFRA promoted their straw poll as, in the words of Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi,“gold for GOP hopefuls.” The NFRA also pointed out that its straw poll was "last major straw poll before the Iowa caucuses," but the poll included less than 600 total votes cast between the two polls. The number of attendees and votes was much less than the 4,671 votes that Paul won in a close second place loss to Michele Bachmann in the Ames Straw Poll back on August 13. The straw poll could be seen as a victory of the message of peace won a straw poll over the message of more war, as the only two candidates to address the conference were Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (who finished a distant third with only one percent of Iowa voters).
If the decline in the Portuguese money supply for September is annualized, it will shrink by more than 20 percent, presaging more economic difficulties for a country already reeling from austerity measures imposed by the European Union. Measures of money supply are watched carefully by economists as a portent for economic behavior over the coming six to 12 months. With an economy already suffering from 12-percent unemployment, a debt-to-GDP ratio approaching an astonishing 360 percent, and the yield on the country’s 10-year treasury debt exceeding 12 percent, it won’t take much to send the Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, scurrying to the European Central Bank (ECB), hat in hand, for more help. In fact Portugal's economy may already have gone over the edge. Simon Ward, economist with Henderson Global Investors, said that the mix of fiscal austerity demanded from the ECB in exchange for a bailout of $115 billion earlier this year and monetary tightening by the ECB has forced Portugal to enter a “Grecian vortex.”
A top court in Brazil has weighed in on homosexual marriage, ruling that two women can legally tie the knot. According to the Associated Press, Brazil’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (STJ) is the nation’s highest court to side for same-sex marriage. In May Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that homosexual civil unions could be recognized, despite the constitution’s restriction that such unions were restricted to a man and a woman. The high court stopped short of ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. But in June “a state court judge ruled that two men could legally change their civil union into a full marriage,” reported the AP, and since then “several couples have petitioned to have their civil unions recognized as full marriages. Some of those have been approved at lower courts, others blocked.”