Irrelevant America

Irrelevant America

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What we learned from the presidential debate

What did we learn from the third and final presidential debate on Monday? We learned what it takes to become president of the United States in 2012.

It takes assuring the American people—emphatically and repeatedly—they won’t be getting into any more wars. Americans have had it to here with wars.

It takes promising to get out of Afghanistan by 2014. It takes sticking to sanctions as the best weapon against Iran.

It takes proposing to fight terrorism with friendliness: boosting economic development in terrorist-producing nations with foreign aid; helping to remake them into “civil societies” by promoting the rule of law, better education and gender equality.

It takes saying that the solution is “to help the world of Islam … reject this radical, violent extremism,” and to do so “on its own.”

It takes promoting a sunshiny and very curious reading of the Middle East—one where America is doing everything essentially right. In Syria, Bashar Assad is sure to go eventually; we just need to keep doing what we’re doing. In Egypt, we were correct in ousting Hosni Mubarak; we’re better off with the Muslim Brotherhood in charge. In Libya, we did right in dethroning Qadhafi; Libya is progressing nicely. In Afghanistan, we’ve basically done our job; the locals can keep things under control now, so we can bring our boys back.

To become president, it takes saying that we’ve had enough adventures overseas and must get back to “nation-building here at home.” It takes getting the conversation off the rest of the world and focusing on how to make people’s lives better back here.

On all these points in the debate, the two presidential candidates were remarkably agreed. That’s because this is what it takes to win the presidency.

As George Will said of the two candidates after the debate, “They understand, both of them, that foreign policy is very peripheral to Americans’ interests today, and what foreign policy they want needs a lot less American involvement overseas.

“Tonight we saw two men who don’t really disagree all that much talking about subjects concerning which the voters don’t care all that much.”

Stunning. Particularly given the uncertain state of current events globally.

This is an astounding time for America to be losing interest in the world. Serious threats are growing, while America’s influence is shrinking—dramatically. The Middle East is being transformed, and in spite of enormously costly American efforts, it is descending deeper into radicalism. Europe is in turmoil, seized with unrest that, history shows, could be commandeered by extremists of a different stripe. Asia is being redrawn as China rises and actively undermines American interests. Latin America is also decoupling from the U.S. and playing host to more extremist and violent elements. Do Americans care?

In the debate, President Obama boasted, “We spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined.” So what? The painfully obvious reality is that it gets us nowhere. The U.S. “no longer has the … basic ability to impose its will anywhere on the planet,” as Tom Engelhardt wrote recently on Real Clear World. “Quite the opposite, U.S. military power has been remarkably discredited globally by the most pitiful of forces.” Can Americans recognize this?

The time of American superpower is past; the world has lurched toward multipolarity. What does this mean? Authority and influence is bleeding out in several directions, toward powers unpredictable, unstable and troubling. Frankly, the proliferation of factors that could lead to devastating conflicts in this post-American world can numb the mind.

Are you seeing it? Analysts routinely note these probabilities with concern. Even popular culture is increasingly fixed on apocalyptic, end-of-the-world scenarios and themes.

But listen to the president. To hear his view of things, everything is under control. In fact, America has never been stronger and safer. We just need to stay the course. Keep doing what we’re doing.

And most remarkably—as the debate made patently clear—his challenger has made the tactical decision to take the same approach. Yes, Governor Romney alluded to some of these problems, but what does he propose to do about them? His solutions are really no different than those of the man he wants to replace. He has to assure voters he won’t alter America’s foreign policy much—in spite of what he himself has called the unraveling of that policy before our eyes. It’s not working, but what other choice do we have?

For this, conservative commentators praised him for being “presidential,” for passing “the commander-in-chief test.”

This is what it takes to become president of the United States in 2012.

This is a nation eager to pass responsibility for Iraq onto Iraqis, for Afghanistan onto Afghanis, for Israel onto Israelis, and for every other problem area onto its “partners” in the international community. And it is about to elect a man determined to further fix the nation’s attention on itself. When Bob Schieffer asked each candidate to describe America’s role in the world, Governor Romney brought his answer around to the problem of college students being unable to find work, and President Obama talked about the need for clean energy and for wealthy people to pay more taxes. They both managed to swing this debate onto weighty foreign-policy matters like hiring more teachers, reducing class sizes, and improving math grades. They understand that the nation’s role in the world is very peripheral to Americans’ interests today.

Well, guess what? More and more, America’s role in the world is peripheral to the world’s interests as well. America’s “ability to impose its will anywhere on the planet” is long gone. Its presidential candidates talk about exerting leadership, but the world is moving on.

Do you think Bashar Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin were worried about the threats issued against them in Monday’s debate? Are the terrorists who killed four Americans and torched a U.S. consulate on the anniversary of 9/11 concerned about U.S. retaliation? Is Iran thinking twice about proceeding with its nuclear program based on anything it heard? Are the Taliban, or the terrorists in Pakistan, disturbed about what might happen to them after November’s vote?

As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the results of this election don’t matter. They are confident that whomever America elects, he will oversee the continued contraction of the nation’s international influence and power. America is becoming irrelevant. The U.S. is disengaging from the world, and the world is returning the favor.

But the story doesn’t end there. This development is going to have massive consequences. America’s preoccupation with its present domestic issues will soon prove to be an unaffordable luxury. Probably within the next presidential term, that multipolar, post-American world is going to produce some nasty shocks. The problems that emerge will explode to proportions far too great to ignore.

Random Shootings Place Michigan Residents on Edge

Random Shootings Place Michigan Residents on Edge

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Reports of 22 random, close-call shootings at vehicles in four Michigan counties have placed residents on edge and have disrupted normal routines.

The shootings in the Oakland, Livingston, Ingham and Shiawassee counties in Michigan began October 16 in Wixom, Oakland and have continued through the other counties along I-96. It has not yet been ascertained whether there is one or more shooters involved, but 15 of the attacks between October 16 and 18 are believed to be linked to one serial shooter.

Law enforcement authorities are on high alert and are collaborating in investigations. The Detroit Free Press noted that the Wixom police, Walled Lake Police, Michigan State Police, Michigan State University Police Department, Michigan Intelligence Operation center, the atf, and the Oakland, Livingston and Ingham sheriff’s offices have formed a multi-jurisdictional task force to hunt the shooter(s). Helicopter surveillance has also been established.

Authorities are urging the public to be more vigilant and are asking for tipster help. “If you see something, say something. We’d rather check out 10 false things than miss one real,” Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, normal life is being disrupted by these potshots. Edgy Michigan drivers are changing their normal routes. Five schools in Wixom are keeping their pupils off playgrounds during recess, and school officials are not sure for how long these “shelter in place” measures will remain. One mother expressed her concerns for her 12-year old daughter, who runs cross country after school: “The kids have to run outside, and a stray bullet, you know—I think about it a lot.”

The motivation behind the shooting is not yet known. So far no one has been injured, though there have been some “very, very close calls,” according to Sheriff Bouchard. One resident noted, “Either we’ve all been very lucky because he’s not a very good shot, or he is intentionally trying not to hit somebody.” Sheriff Bouchard and others fear that this shooting spree could devolve into something like the “senseless,” three-week Washington d.c. sniper shootings of 2002.

The Bible reveals that American and British cities will implode with terror and violence as consequences and punishment for breaking God’s laws. Our booklet Ezekiel: The End-Time Prophet explains why this punishment is especially intensifying in our times, and the peaceful future that is soon to follow.

European Society Struggles Under Weight of Financial Crisis

European Society Struggles Under Weight of Financial Crisis

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As protests sweep Europe, and states threaten to proclaim independence, Switzerland is worried about mass unrest.

Switzerland staged military exercises in eight towns across the country last month, in preparation for a complete breakdown in Europe.

In the “Stabilo Due” exercises, Switzerland practiced dealing with spillover from warring factions from Europe or the sudden influx of refugees from Greece, Spain, Italy, France and Portugal.

The drill took years to organize and involved 2,000 troops from the infantry, air force and special forces. “I can’t exclude that in the coming years we may need the army,” said Swiss Defense Minister Ueli Maurer.

Schweizer Soldat magazine reported that head of the army, André Blattmann, wants to station 1,600 soldiers around strategic points such as airports, manufacturing plants and the headquarters of international organizations in Geneva.

Some in Switzerland believe the army drills are just an excuse to justify conscription. Is Switzerland right to worry about unrest on its borders? Just consider the array of threats rising in Europe.

Protests

Riots and protests are becoming so frequent in Europe that they’re barely news. Here’s a summary of recent protests:

  • October 21: 100,000 march in London to protest government “cuts.” It’s important to note, though, that the British government isn’t cutting spending; it’s slowing the rate at which spending increases.
  • October 20: Tens of thousands protest austerity measures in Rome.
  • October 18: 70,000 march in Athens to protest wage and pension cuts. A small group attack police with stones and petrol bombs. A general strike shuts down public services, schools, hospital and shops and disrupts flights and public transportation.
  • October 15: Two thousand demonstrators protest and start a fire outside Portugal’s parliament building, the evening after the government announces its 2013 draft budget.
  • October 13: Thousands protests cuts to cultural projects in Lisbon. Thousands of trade unionists also march to Parliament to protest austerity measures. Two thousand march in Madrid to protest austerity measures.
  • October 9: Tens of thousands take part in the first nationwide protests since Franςois Hollande became French president. Police disperse protests with tear gas as they try to break into a psa Peugeot Citroen plant. In Athens, tens of thousands protest as German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits. Some dress up as Nazis and others throw stones at the police.
  • October 7: Tens of thousands protest spending cuts in 56 Spanish cities. Madrid is the focal point, with 20,000 protestors.
  • October 4: Transportation strikes in Portugal stop trains, underground rail and buses after the government announces tax increases. Shipyard workers in Greece, who are behind on pay, break into the Ministry of Defense grounds. Hundreds of farmers try to drive their tractors onto Crete’s airport.
  • October 3: Dozens of Greek parents hand their children to tax officials to protest the ending of tax relief measures for large families. (They did take their children home with them after the protest.)
  • September 30: Tens of thousands protest the European fiscal pact in Paris.
  • September 29: Tens of thousands protest in Spain and Portugal.
  • September 28: Up to 30,000 march in Rome to protest cuts. Health workers, trash men, professors and public employees, including staff at the Coliseum, go on strike.
  • September 26: Over 50,000 go on strike and protest in Athens. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that “hundreds of hooded youths” attacked the police with petrol bombs. Spain’s protests continue.
  • September 25: Thousands of protestors surround the Spanish parliament building. It takes 1,400 police officers to fight them off.
  • September 15: Hundreds of thousands rally in cities across Portugal to protest tax increases. Fifty thousand march in Madrid to protest tax increases and spending cuts.
  • September 11: 1.5 million demonstrate to call for independence in Catalonia.
  • These are purely protests caused by the economic crisis. Ethnic and religious tensions also sparked protests, with Muslim demonstrators denouncing the infamous Mohammed YouTube video, and women protest the light sentencing of gang rapists with Muslim-sounding names (media reports don’t mention the religion or appearance of the rapists, but those whose names are published sound Islamic). Roma gypsies staged international protests October 7.

    Bigger protests are to come. The European Trade Union Confederation has called for a pan-European day of action for November 14. Trade unions in Portugal, Spain and Greece will hold a general strike. Unions are also planning action in Cyprus and Malta. Millions will probably be out protesting that day.

    The protests are definitely getting more serious. Especially in Portugal. Reuters wrote that the nation had a “remarkably high level of acceptance for cost cutting.” But recently, something snapped. Now “that mood has changed dramatically in recent weeks, and support for the center-right government is crumbling.” Portugal’s “stoic acceptance of austerity, once much admired, has turned to anger,” Reuters wrote.

    Since the end of September, protests have occurred almost daily. Anger is surging across Europe. Already some of the protests are erupting in violence.

    Separatism

    Another symptom of this anger is the separatism spreading throughout Europe. In Spain, Belgium, Britain, Italy and even Germany, key regions want to split off from the whole. The rise of separatist sentiments across the Continent is too widespread to be a coincidence. As the French la Tribune elegantly put it: “It would be naive to believe that the winds which have advanced these movements in recent months are completely independent of the storm that has swept across Europe over the last two and a half years.”

    Across Europe, the richer regions feel they are being cheated by their national governments. Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest areas and an engine of growth for the whole economy. It generates more than enough money to finance itself, but under the Spanish constitution it has to subsidize the rest of the nation. Now Catalonia needs a bailout and faces the prospect of having to hand over hard-won regional powers to Madrid in exchange for getting some of its own money back.

    Last month, 1.5 million protested for Catalonian independence. Separatist leader Artur Mas is planning to defy the Spanish government by calling for a referendum on Catalonian independence. He has called regional elections for November 25, hoping that his alliance of parties will emerge as the clear winner, without the need for coalition partners. With solid regional support, he plans to call for a referendum. Polls indicate that Catalonians would vote for independence, given the choice. The Spanish government has said any referendum would be unconstitutional, putting Catalonia on a dramatic collision course with the federal government.

    Similar pressures are ripping Belgium apart. Last year, the nation famously set a world record by going 535 days without a government, as the bitterly divided Dutch-speaking Flemish and French-speaking Walloons failed to agree on a coalition.

    The period without a government ended last December, but the issues dividing the regions remain unresolved. The majority of Flemish want more control over their finances and government. They too are fed up with subsidizing the rest of the nation.

    On October 14, a separatist party, the New Flemish Alliance (n-va) won a shocking victory in local elections. The n-va wants more than just taxing power: It wants a gradual breakup of Belgium. In Antwerp, Belgium’s second largest city, the n-va won around 38 percent of the vote. Its leader, Bart De Wever, will become the next mayor of the city.

    “In municipal elections six years ago, the n-va was a nascent party with few votes across northern Flanders,” wrote the Associated Press, “but by 2010 national elections it had become the biggest party in the region.” Now it has won the elections in 20 out the 35 districts in Flanders.

    Italy’s northern regions feel the same way as the Flemish and Catalonians, but separatist parties aren’t doing as well because of national politics. Many of their leaders were mired in scandal with the government of Silvio Berlusconi.

    Even in Germany, there are growing calls for Bavarian independence. Fueled by the usual grievances, Wilfried Scharnagl, a veteran Christian Social Union (csu) politician and long-time friend of former Bavarian premier Franz Josef Strauss, published a book called Bavaria Can Go It Alone. Despite Scharnagl’s influence, no major Bavarian party is calling for independence. But Bavaria and Hess have launched court cases to try and reduce the amount of tax money they send to subsidize the poorer regions.

    Across the Continent, the different separatist movements are all part of the same phenomenon, and are all caused by the financial crisis. The only exception is Britain. Scotland wants independence, but not because its tax money is going to England and Wales. In fact, some polls suggest Scottish independence is more popular in England than Scotland.

    At the Trumpet, we’ve noted before the parallels between today and the 1930s. European nations are under exactly the same pressures. Just as back then, the economic crisis led to mass anger and discontent with the current political order. And just as before, protests and separatism were one of the first symptoms.

    This anger will only get worse and turn to desperation as the economy worsens. Angry, desperate people are one of the most destabilizing forces on the planet. They’ll do almost anything if they think it will solve their problems.

    Already, in Greece a lot of that anger is being directed at immigrants. Many are voting for Nazis out of a belief that they can help the situation.

    Switzerland is right to be worried. But the threat is greater than it realizes. One of the reasons the Swiss cite for concern is military budget cuts. Under financial pressure, some European armies could no longer afford the modern systems necessary to keep their armies up to date, the Swiss defense minister argued. He warned that these countries could face “blackmail.”

    He’s right. Faced with mounting unrest, these nations could be forced to turn to the EU and to Germany for the money and equipment necessary to keep their nation together. This would come with tough conditions.

    The unrest and separatism could help force troubled economies give in to German control. The unrest could form part of the pressures that push key eurozone nations together into a superstate.

    “Social unrest and riots will eventually force Europeans to succumb to a strong united government of Europe, led ultimately not from Brussels, but from Berlin,” wrote Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry back in 2009.

    This superstate is something that could really threaten Switzerland.

    The Lesson in Lance Armstrong’s Lost Racing Titles

    The Lesson in Lance Armstrong’s Lost Racing Titles

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    It is a sad reflection of our devolving national character.

    Everywhere you look athletes are getting stronger, faster and tougher. Swimmers break new records. Baseball players bash more home runs. Boxers pack bigger punches. And cyclists get faster and faster.

    Some might say it is due to evolving technology—specialized swimsuits, better training methods, lighter bikes, etc. There is no doubt these things play a role, but there is a more important reason.

    Devolving national character.

    Yesterday, the International Cycling Union stripped seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong from all his titles and all 14 years of his racing history. It was a sad day in cycling and an even sadder day for people across America and the world. (Armstrong has not acknowledged guilt, but will not challenge the report’s findings.)

    His was a fairy tale story that inspired untold thousands. He was a cancer survivor, an underdog cyclist that bounced back to win a record seven titles in a row and beat the French at their own game. He became the poster boy for overcoming incredible challenges. He racked up the most prestigious sponsors. His charity, Livestrong, grew to become one of the most successful in the world. He was the geeky kid that shaved his legs that grew up to become a world champion and rub shoulders with celebrities and date famous singers.

    Now, as the Christian Science Monitor points out, the world knows Lance beat the Tour field the same way he beat cancer: using drugs.

    In a shocking statement denouncing Lance, International Cycling Union President Pat McQuaid said “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling,” and that he “deserves to be forgotten from cycling” history.

    McQuaid said he was “sickened” by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (usada) investigation that provided “overwhelming” evidence that Lance was a serial drug-taker who helped orchestrate “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program” in this history of the sport. He is charged with using steroids, the blood booster epo and blood transfusions.

    One of the reasons he was able to pull off the deception for so long is that apparently his whole team was in on it. They only came clean after federal subpoenas forced them to tell the truth or go to jail. “Their accounts of their past provide a shocking insight into … the expression to ‘win at all costs’ [which] was redefined in terms of deceit, intimidation, coercion and evasion,” said the International Cycling Agency.

    The blow to the credibility of the sport is so huge that the Tour de France will not award Lance’s gold medals to the silver medalists. “We wish that there is no winner for this period,” said Tour director Christian Prudhomme. “For us, very clearly, the titles should remain blank. Effectively, we wish for these years to remain without winners.”

    Drug usage is so widespread that there is little credibility that the other podium finishers were any cleaner.

    A whopping 20 of the 21 cyclists to make it to the podium between 1999 and 2005 (the years Lance won gold) have since been tied to doping, according to the usada. Of the 45 riders to medal between 1996 and 2010, 36 have also since been “similarly tainted.”

    The whole sport is stuffed with cheaters. It is sick from head to toe.

    But it isn’t just cycling that is suffering.

    As I write, the big sports headline today is that the San Diego Chargers were caught cheating during their recent loss to the Denver Broncos. They are accused of using a sticky substance to help hang on to the ball, a practice that has been banned since the 1980s, but evidently continues.

    Sadly, everyone knows the cheating doesn’t get close to stopping there. It goes way beyond the major league sports, the underage gymnasts, and drugged up sprinters and weightlifters at the Olympics.

    It is society as a whole that has this problem. Lance Armstrong and all the others that have fallen are just a sad reflection of America’s general degrading sense of morals.

    This isn’t something that can be fixed with more and better testing. The only way to have clean sports is to have clean minds.

    And the more you look, the more you see the effects of America’s moral degradation. Take the recent presidential debates. It is hard to stomach all the cheating on the truth. The lies, half-truths and accusations are hard to watch.

    Today, it is a rare man that makes it to the top—in almost any field—without compromising his character.

    Don’t underestimate the implications. This crisis of character goes well beyond sports. The impacts are national in scope. They begin with damaged families and result in broken economies and nations.

    The devolving character of Americans is about to impact us far beyond embarrassing sporting scandals.

    Is God Protecting Jordan From Terror Attacks?

    Israel Seizes Gaza-Bound Ship

    Israel Seizes Gaza-Bound Ship

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    A ship bound for Gaza tried to break through Israel’s blockade on Saturday, and Israeli troops took over the ship. The MV Estelle, a Finnish-flagged ship carrying a crew of international activists, was captured and boarded by Israel Defense Forces soldiers without any resistance.

    The MV Estelle left port in Sweden four months ago and has made numerous stops at European ports along the way, picking up additional activists and drumming up support for its mission. On board were high-profile activists from many Western nations, including lawmakers from Sweden, Norway, Spain and Greece, as well as Israeli activists and a former Canadian minister of parliament.

    The incident is the latest in a series of deliberate provocations aimed at denouncing Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The blockade has been in effect since 2007, when Israel instituted the blockade to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the region after Hamas gained control of it. Since then, a number of flotillas have sailed for Gaza under the auspice of providing aid to the region. One such expedition made international news in 2010 when Israeli troops were attacked while boarding a flotilla from Turkey, resulting in the death of nine Turkish activists.

    Last week, Israel asked the United Nations to take action to stop such flotillas, specifically the Estelle.

    “I call on the secretary general, the Security Council, and all responsible members of the international community to take immediate action to end this provocation,” said Israel’s Ambassador Ron Prosor. “Their clear provocation raises tensions and could easily spark a serious escalation of the conflict.”

    Israel maintains that these flotillas are not concerned with delivering humanitarian aid, but rather with sending a political message. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu labeled the latest incident nothing more than an attempt “to provoke and slander Israel’s name.” He noted, “If human rights were really important to these activists, they would have sailed for Syria.” Speaking of the true intent behind the Estelle voyage, Prosor said, “They understand that it is much easier to face news cameras in Tel Aviv than bullets in Damascus.”

    Israel is continually portrayed as oppressors of Palestinians in Gaza, accused of denying the people access to basic needs. But as Prosor pointed out, “There is not a single civilian good that cannot enter Gaza.”

    Stories like the Estelle are just minor events that the media will continue to jump on in support of the effort to demonize Israel. Watch for this event combined with recent attacks in Gaza to stir up more animosity against Israel and give more support to the enemies that surround them.