Tag Archives: Arab

Compulsory Conscription For Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox

 

 

Israel’s Plesner Report recommended 80% of the ultra-Orthodox should serve in Israel’s military  or face criminal sanctions if they don’t. The report would reduce the length of service to 24 months where regular citizens now serve for three years. The aim of this report is to replace the old so-called Tal Law.

When the country began, David Ben-Gurion exempted the haredi at the urging of an advisor. The reasoning was based on religious grounds and had to do with the group’s study of the Bible. It has existed as a source of tension within Israel ever since.

Of course, the Haredi politicians reacted with outrage, calling the document evil and malicious. However, representatives of the Plesner group noted that national service was a religious concept and a Torah commandment. Torah does not oppose military service if a religious lifestyle is accommodated. However, the debate is far from ended, but definitely moving in the direction of compulsory conscription for the haredi.

 

Several years ago, I was walking through the Jewish sector of the Old City. A disturbance had erupted on the Temple Mount caused by Moslem boys throwing rocks at tourists. As I passed by an archeological sight, I saw at least a hundred girls in military uniforms with rifles sitting in the enclosure. Aged 18 to 20, the young women were ready to charge the Temple Mount if the disruption continued. Seeing women armed and ready to shoot stops one in their tracks. Of course, women have always served in Israel, but not without tensions.

Shani Boianjiu wrote in The New York Time about her experience in the military when the secular Jewish world encounters the ultra-Orthodox. She described an incident where she made the mistake of “touching” a soldier during a training exercise. Her job was to teach combat soldiers how to use their personal weapons. During the boot camp exercise, Shani’s task was to make sure that soldiers didn’t fall off balance. The squadding position could be awkward unless the soldiers were positioned correctly. Recognizing an error, she lightly kicked a soldier to expose how unbalanced he was. The man didn’t move. From behind, she put her hands on his shoulders. The man suddenly began screaming, “I observe touch.” Even though Shani was the man’s superior officer and trainer, she had violated a religious rule the military observed.

In her article, Shani Boianjiu, who is secular, described the tension in the military that ancient religious rules often create. One of these statues is that a women cannot touch a weapon in a man’s presence. Once while trying to demonstrate a grenade launcher, as soon as she actually put a finger on the weapon, her trainees disappeared. Their was no problem in being instructed by a women or having her point at the weapon. However, once she picked it up, the ultra-Orthodox soldiers cleared out. Why? While she never could get the point, it had to do with an ancient saying about women and instruments of war not mixing.

One of the major reasons these religious Jews feel they should be exempted from military serve is because of women working as military personnel. Currently, women compose about 30% of the IDF. Another one of these strange rules is that ultra-religious men are not allowed to hear women sing. Shani concluded that the tolerance of Israel’s leaders for religious needs at the expense of others is deeply unfair.

The struggle goes on and must soon come to some resolute as the old Tal Law has now run out. Prime Minister Netanyahu must make a major decision. Soon.

 

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TALKING OUT OF BOTH SIDES OF OUR MOUTH U.S. CONCERNS AND THE MIDDLE EAST

TALKING OUT OF BOTH SIDES OF OUR MOUTH

U.S. CONCERNS AND THE MIDDLE EAST

 

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

            Pictures of the Syrian Army’s air fleet always feature Russian Mi-25 Hinds. Russia has been supplying helicopters to Syria for years and continues to do so. Back in June, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern to the Russians that they were shipping gun ships to the Assad regime in Syria.

Did her complain stop them?  No.

Herein is a strange little story and a big contradiction.

The United States continues to develop and maintain lucrative contracts with Rosoboronexport, a Russian arms firm that has the main role in supplying the Assad government with the arms to repress the rebels fighting the central government. What make this story particularly interesting is that Rosoboronexport is not a private business. Far from it, the company is a state corporation.  Since 2007, the organization has been the single state intermediary agency for arms shipments. The records of arms shipments made it clear that the port of Oktyabrsk in Southern Ukraine has been sending ship loads of armaments straight to Syria.

Get ready for an amazing and straight little twist in this tale. The US government is currently committed to a $375 million deal with Rosoboronexport for the purchase of 21 Mi-17 helicopters to be used by the Afghan Air Force. The latest transactions with the Russian company were made on November 3, 2011.

This particular contract didn’t go unnoticed. A letter from both Republican and democrat senators to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta demanded a cancellation of the contracts. Pentagon Under-Secretary James Miller rejected the senator’s letter, saying the helicopter acquisition was critical for the Afghan’s security.

Huh?

Doing business with the country propping up Syria is critical?  With millions of Americans out of work, we can’t built a comparable helicopter in America? Even if it is easier to train pilots on a Russian system, can this investment of American dollars be justified in today’s economy while we scream about Syrian atrocities created by this exact helicopter? Something’s definitely wrong with this picture.

By the way Rosoboronexport still sells weapons to Iran.

Back in 1982, Jack Lemon and Sissy Spacek made a movie entitled Missing, based on a true story. A conservative business man goes to South America looking for his missing son, a left-wing journalist. The America ambassador expresses concern but the country has been in a revolution and no one is sure about what is happening. The punch line is that the CIA pulled off the revolution and killed Lemon’s movie son. The boy had been in a morgue while the American government lied to Lemon. Costa-Gravas (the director) left the audience wrung out as they realize the duplicity of the American system.

Sound familiar?

Are we getting the flim-flam treatment from government leaders? Afraid so. And we wonder why Israel doesn’t trust America’s dealings with Iran? Straight talk doesn’t often come for Washington because the conversation has traveled such a convoluted path under the table.

Why don’t we have more leverage with Russia? Might hurt business.

Question: This blog surprise you? What are you going to do about the problem?

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HOW’S EGYPT COMING ALONG?

The media has not said much about the “Arab Spring” lately. Could be that
summer’s coming and the world is waiting for hot news to explode from Iran. Whatever.

During the lull, we should take a look at Egypt and see what’s unfolding. All is not quiet on the Western front!

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political gains have provided a worrisome trend
that could be a factor in causing more instability in the Persian Gulf region. Unending demonstrations in Egypt remain a factor in creating unrest. Recently, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador and shut down their diplomatic mission because of protests over the detention of an Egyptian lawyer. The Saudi’s position was that the lawyer was arrested on suspicion of smuggling drugs. Street protestors in Egypt disagreed and started demonstrations that threatened Saudi staff member.

The incident doesn’t amount to much but demonstrates the unsettledness that still
has a major impact on Egyptian affairs. Moslems continue to dominate; Copic Christians remain frightened. A state of conflict between the emerging culture and what had existed under Mubarak continues. In the midst of this turmoil, Egyptians will have a national election on May 23.

How’s that in a country that has virtually never embraced democracy?

The Egyptian man-on-the-street isn’t sure what to think. Former government
officials have faced off against newcomers in a battle over who wasn’t Mubarak’s big
buddy. Until the upheaval, the ruler of the country sat in an exceptionally high place
overseeing the state and politics. Mubarak and Sadat before him were like pharaohs
embodying divine and earthly rule. A ruler’s health and wealth could not even be
examined in the press. One journalist who tried to approach Mubarak about his wealth ended up in jail for even speculating about it. Today the candidates take jabs at each other about every possible subject. The debate leaves people confused. Political respectability is going down the drain.

The citizens have never seen such attacks and don’t know how to respond.

The presidential race has turned into turmoil and confusion. As two of the prominent candidates debated, a simple question revealed the new landscape in Egypt. A moderator asked about the health condition and wealth of each man. Probably having a clue about what was coming, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh presented a copy of his medical records, revealing slight blood pressure and diabetes. Arm Moussa wasn’t as well prepared and claimed the entire issue was a smoke screen. And so the debate goes on with the audience mystified by such personal attacks and candor from their potential leader.

What will May 23 bring? A startled electorate certainly will not be electing
another pharaoh. Possibly the question of reopening the peace treaty with Israel will be somewhere in the mix. Egypt’s ruling military generals probably remain as concerned as any group in the country. The crisis from a year and a half ago may have eased some, but the revolution is far from over.

Keep your eye on Egypt. How the country votes may yet prove to be a
telling omen of what the Arab Spring now means.

Question : Do you think Egypt will come out of this chaos a stronger country?
Could we be entering another stage of confusion? Is there any light at the end of the
tunnel?

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MEET THE MOSSAD MAN

Meir Dagan remains a robust, bald-headed man with squinting eyes that peer out of narrow glasses. Ariel Sharon once said that Dagan’s specialty was severing an Arab’s head form his body. Dagan no longer comments on such epitaphs and turns his attention elsewhere. During his unprecedented eight-year term, he restored the agency’s prestige. Many of his efforts have proven highly significant including the assassination of Imad Moughniyet, Hevbollah’s notorious chief of operations, and the strike that stopped Syrian’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

And his hobbies? Dagan paints. Horses. Olive trees. An old man with his worry beads. Oil painting is his hobby. A man of contrasts, indeed!

Some years ago, I met and shook hands with Menahem Begin when he was Prime Minister. The moment felt electric, and I knew I was talking to a man who had the broadest possible grip on the pressing issues of state. Meir Dagan is of such a caliber.

In an recent interview in The Jerusalem Post, Dagan talked about his views developed from years in the military and working as the head of Israel’s finest espionage agency. Anymore interested in the Middle East will do well to consider his point of view. Meir Dagan loves his country and respects the struggle Israelis are facing. His perspective is worth considering.

In contrast to the current Prime Minister as well as the Minister of Defense, Meir Dagan is not for bombing Iran immediately . His opinions cover a wide range of possibiities. Here’s some what he thinks:
• Military action cannot disarm the core factor in Iranians nuclear quest. That factor is knowledge.
• Israel’s air force can make a significant strike, but the issue is the outcome of such an attack. It could produce an uprising of terrible proportions.
• Iran is not an Israeli problem. (Although their prime target would be Israel). Iran is an international problem that should be faced by the international community.
• The Iranian government is in a difficult position. Sanction are hurting and a new generation will not likely tolerate repressed civil rights that now exist. Time isn’t on their side.

Meir Dagan trusts the President of the United States to stand behind his pledge to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He maintains Israel should remain confident in that promise. Dagan is not saying that a military option should be taken off the table, but he is firmly maintaining that it should be the last option used.

Obviously, many citizens and soldiers within Israel would disagree with Dagan’s conclusions, but they would also highly respect them. Rather that opposing the Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Dagan is offering an alternative point of view with much to consider. He is promoting further debate and discussion. No one could ever doubt the fearlessness and courage of this warrior with a powerful history behind him. Dagan is challenging Israel (and us) to seek a better solution than bombs. His ideas are worthy of a second look.

Question: Does Meir Dagan’s argument give you any second thoughts?

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The Smoking Gun in Syria

The Smoking Gun in Syria

 

Everyone morning when I turn on the television, I get a new episode of the Syrian story, relating more data on how many the government has killed of its own people. The survivors call for international help, but relief doesn’t come. The United Nations failed to stop the war. (Thanks to Russian and Chinese vetos) The lack of response only affirmed Israel’s belief that the UN cannot be counted on to prevent war and make peace. So, putting my newspaper aside, I ask myself, “Who owns the smoking gun in Syria?”

Surprise ! Surprise! It’s the Russians!

Like a chapter straight out of the old Cold War days, the Russians are once again standing behind the curtains, trying to act anonymous but not able to pull it off. The spot light is on Moscow.

Here’s the bottom line.

The Russians have been providing arms to Syria for years. Soviet-designed truck-mounted rocket launchers, rifles, self-propelled howtizers, etc. come in the front door everyday from Russia. During the attack on Homs, the American state department released statellite images of Soviet-era tanks and rocket launchers aiming at the city. Sure enough, Ivan the Terrible was at work again.

The fact is now clear that without Russia’s backing, including food, medical supplies, and equipment, the Assad regime would essentially be finished. Russian armaments are prolonging the war. Deputy Defense Secretary Anatoly Antonov insisted no Russian weapons were used against the resurgents  in Syria, but of course he offered no proof. Another old Cold War tactic.

What do the Russians get out of the struggle?  Rosoboronexport, a Russian state-owned weapons trading company, has been shipping to Syria while raking in a hefty income for Russia. Whether you call it rubles, dollars, or whatever, it’s big income for Russia.  A veteran security specialist at the Congressional Research Service noted that the value of Russian Arms more than doubled from 2007-2010 returning of $4.7 billion to Russia. No small potatoes there! More than two million Russians are employees in the arms production business. Can’t afford to offend that huge section of the electorate either!

We might note in passing that the only remaining military installation outside of the former Soviet territory is a naval station at Tartus in Northern Syria. Interesting.

Why have the Russians so forcefully resisted an arms embargo against Syria? That one’s not hard to figure out! Ivan doesn’t want anyone toying with his bank account. What raises the ante is that the Russians lost billions of dollars of arms business because of the sanctions against Iran and the fall of Libya. However, after the fall of Qaddafi, Syria increased purchases including buying Yak-130 light attack planes for $550 million.

What do we have here? That old smoke-filled backroom where the good old boys make deals is alive and well. Unfortunately, for Russia and Syria the world is fundamentally united against them. Even the Arab League opposes Assad’s actions. What’s next? I’m certainly not sure and I know of no one who is. However, you can bet the Russians will keep cranking the cash register.

The Soviet Union is gone, but the Russians remain the Russians. Smoking-gun and all.

Question:

Should the United States intervene and begin arming the rebels? If Russia continues to back the Syrian government, can we allow this balance of power to continue?

 

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Update on Jordan

UNDATE ON JORDAN

In a recent blog, I noted that King Abdullah had missed the target by 10 feet in some of his recent remarks he made about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Jordanian miscalculations are not a new experience. The Soviet Union had urged King Hussein, Abdullah’s father, to join the attack on Israel during theYom Kippur War, promising him full military support. The result was that Jordan lost the West bank, their portion of Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount. A miscalculation indeed!

In his statements a few weeks back, Abdullah blamed Israel for the failure of peace talks without mentioning that the Palestinians had pulled out, gone to the United Nations, and sought independent recognition for statehood. Of course, the Palestinian ploy has gone nowhere.

I felt it might be helpful to note how the situation in Jordan appears to be developing subsequently. Once again, King Abdullah may have, at the least, a portion of his head in the sand. The larger issue is his personal concern for his government’s survival. With the Arab spring breaking out across the Middle East, Jordan is not exempted. In America, springtime seems to be coming a bit early this year. I’ve got a hunch that Abdullah may be concerned about unexpected tulips springing up in his own front yard.

A revolution in Jordan might roll in like a spring tornado.

The truth is that Palestinians are discriminated against in Jordan. King Hussein ran Yassar Arafat and his followers our of Jordan and into Lebanon because they became a threat to the country’s solidarity. In public statements Abdullah has called on Jordanians to end class divisions that “have marginalized Palestinians citizens of the Hashemite Kingdom.” Unfortunately, the public statements don’t fit his private practice. Two former senior Jordanian officials have said Abdullah’s actual policy has been to sustain discrimination. One of the Wikileaks expose’s was statements from former prime minister Tahir Masri as well as one of Abdullah’s former senior adviser’s, Adnan Abu Odeh. They confirmed Abdullah’s discrimination policy.

Even though Abdullah’s wife is from a Palestinian refugee family, his discriminatory policies extended to withdrawing passports from Palestinians. Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Lean Whitson commented, “Jordan is playing politics with the basic rights of thousands of its citizens.” Additional issues and problems currently exist in Jordan.

Today the Palestinians constitute a majority in Jordan. In spite of his public comments, King Abdullah has private worries.  The Palestinian population could turn on him and knock his government into the stream flowing through the Arab spring. The truth is that Jordan’s Palestinians are fed up with him. Ant-Israeli rhetoric won’t heal the discontents of dispossessed people. He gets no exemptions from his problems by attacking Israel. King Abdullah has best keep his eyes on his backyard and make sure the gate stays locked. I bet he keep his personal body guards on high alert.

Stand by! The news from Ammon could heat up this spring!

Question:

Do you believe Jordan could experience an Arab upraising against the King and the Hashemite Kingdom like Egypt and other Arab countries have experienced? Would King Abdullah survive?

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ISRAEL CAN’T WIN REGARDLESS

ISRAEL CAN’T WIN REGARDLESS

Jews know what it feels like to have the press and public opinion against them. They’ve been faced with the problem forever.

France’s Dreyfus Case in the 1890’s sent Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus to Devil’s Island to live under hellish conditions. As the evidence demonstrated, Dreyfus was not guilty although convicted . In 1896, a French solider was discovered to be the real culprit. The anti-Semitism and injustice convinced Theodor Herzel that it was time to start a Jewish state and 50 years later Israel came into being.

Nothing new for Jews. Being blamed for something they didn’t do was an old story.

I’ve been following how events are reported internationally for over 40 years. After reading stories in the American press, I would turn to the Jerusalem Post (which I read religiously every week) and find a different view. I’m not promoting an attack on the press and I remain suspicious of people who react negatively every time a story comes out that they don’t like. However, I am pointing out that there has been a consistent misrepresentation of much that has happened in Israel. Often, it turns out that some journalist needed a story for headquarters and blews an anthill into a Himalayan mountain. I’ve been in Jerusalem and observed minor demonstrations in the Temple Mount area that were later reported as if they have been catastrophic warfare. My eyes told me a different story. Often a half-truth can be more destructive than an outright lie.

Recently, Jordan’s King Abdullah II blamed Israel for the deadlocked Mideast peace process. King Abdullah said the problem was Israel’s “unilateral policies.” He forgot to mention that Yassar Arafat had walked out of talks held by President Bill Clinton because Israel had offered him more than anyone expected, but Arafat knew the war would be over and he didn’t want to stop fighting Israel. Israelis left the Gaza Strip they had taken in battle and walked away. What did this offer get them? Rockets fired daily into Israelis cities. The PLO pulled out of peace talks this Fall and went to the United Nations in an end-around attempt to gain recognition as a nation. Israel didn’t pull out of the peace talks; the Palestinians did!

Our present problem is facing up to the current critical situation as Iran continues to pursue building a nuclear arsenal. Regardless of the American government talk about pressing sanctions, Israel knows that the Obama administration will not order US forces to take military action to stop Iran’s journey down a path that will lead to catastrophe. Israel must face up to the situation alone and without American support.

Nothing new – but it is distressing to say the least.

My point? Will Rogers may only have known what he read in a newspaper, but we can’t settle for that today. I’m suggesting that you take a broader view. Look at many newspapers, including the foreign press. Turn off the politicians running for national office as they’ll say anything to get a few votes. Build up a back log of data to inform you on what is the truth. The world has come to our doorstep. We need to be ready to decipher the issues!

Question:

Is the media possibly prejudiced? How can Israel get a fair deal with the press? Do you believe everything you read in the newspapers of see on television?

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FIGURING WHY RELIGIOUS PARTICIPANTS LIKE TO KILL Part 2

FIGURING WHY RELIGIOUS PARTICIPANTS

LIKE TO KILL

Part Two

            A number of years ago, I was on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem standing near the Al-Aqsa Mosque when I was approached by a Muslim. The man’s eyes flashed with anger and he demanded that I leave the area. In turn, I told him I had as much right to be there as he did. As I watched his fists clench, I realized I was about to be seriously assaulted and backed off. In his opinion, I was an infidel. Could resistance have gotten me killed? On the spot!

In Part One, I insisted this blog isn’t about Muslim bashing. Rather, it is about clarifying why in recent years similar hostilities have become rampant. And they have!

The issue is not “Islamophobia” and misunderstanding Muslims assaults. Christians in many Muslim dominated nations live in constant fear. For example in Nigeria, Christians have been severely persecuted for a long time. A group called Boko Haram vowed to kill all Christians in Nigeria. Over 350 churches were destroyed. The government of Sudan tormented Christians for decades. Leaders in The Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches had to flee Kenya with their families because of Muslim attacks. When Egyptian Coptic Christians, making up 11 percent of the population, marched in Cairo, Egyptian Security Forces drove their trucks into the crowd killing 24 people and injuring over 300. As Islamist prepared to take control in Egypt, over 200,000 Copts fled the country. Christian minorities had lost the protection of their societies.

Anti-Christian violence is a serious, growing, and under reported situation.

In America, the government owes protection to Muslim minorities. Everyone has the right to worship in anyway they choose. The problem is that ideal is not understood around the world. The February 13, 2012 special edition of Newsweek suggested the USA has leverage through the amount of aid and trade we have with these persecuting countries. With the billions of dollars we invest in these offending nations, the American government can pressure countries to no longer tolerate the “Christophobia” being practiced in their streets. Newsweek reported action is long overdue.

When I read these accounts and stories, they remind me of the fact that there is nothing new in these battles. It sounds like a return to the Crusades when Christian warriors on July 15, 1099 marched on Jerusalem and took the city after a bloody struggle with Muslims. Eventually Saladin the Magnificent recaptured the city in October 1187. Distrust, hate, and suspicion have not dampened over the centuries. In our time, we are experiencing another recurrence of these ancient battles.

How can we respond? Jews and Christians need to react according to their faiths and call for understanding and tolerance. We must not return an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Jesus taught that we should love our enemies. I don’t know of a better solution to this ancient crisis?

Question

Is attempting to return love for hate too naive and unrealistic in these tense situations in the Middle East? What can we do to pressure the government to recognize and respond to the persecution of Christians by using economic and political pressure?

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REVOLUTION, RIOTS, OR RENEWAL

REVOLUTION, RIOTS, OR RENEWAL

or

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

Should you give a flip about what happens in the Middle East? Since your well-being could depend on the outcome of a struggle, you betcha!

The United States could quickly get sucked into a new armed struggle with Iran. The current Arab uprisings have turned that corner of the world upside down. Is it spring or winter over there? No one can say, but we better think about it. I certainly am.

Here’s some fact we should discuss today.

After Wael Ghonim helped start the Egyptian revolution with his internet attacks, experts from the U.S. Department of State to the Kremlin were shocked to discover Cairo’s Tahir Square exploding with protests and Mubarak fall from power. After the riots quieted, it was not clear whether this was renewal or ruckus. It still isn’t. Fireworks time is not over in Egypt.

The centuries old war between the Shiites and Sunnis rocks on in Iraq, threatening to topple any achievement the American presence made. It’s a little like the Methodist and Baptist shooting it out over how much water is needed in baptism. It’s no better across the border in Iran. Internal religious tension has only increased sectarian mistrust in Iran. Moreover, stepped-up sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program are punishing the economy and the Khamenei regime remains shaky.

And then there’s Syria, a country that I have visited and find most intriguing. In future blogs, I’ll described some of that experience. For all practical purposes, the Syrians are already in a civil war. Syrian President Barar Al-Assad watched the Arab Leagues observes run from his country while the brutal killing of thousands of Syrian citizens continues. No one knows whether Assad really believes the tides might turn in his favor or whether he is nothing but a tool of the military junta led by his brother Maher, called a ruthless murderer by many observers. I found Syria to have all the earmarks of an old-fashioned dictatorship.

Getting the picture? The fuse is already burning and I smell smoke in the air.

Of course, the outcome in Lybia appears more positive. New President Moncef Marzouki believes the democratic process is now irreversible. Recently, masses of citizens in Tunis, Tunsia, also marched to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the end of the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that helped spark the entire Middle East Revolution. I find encouragement in those situations.

In the on-going blogs, I will analyze what is occurring in these various states as well as concentrate on developments in Israel. I intend to give you a balanced and politically unbiased picture of this critical time of change.

We are living in one of the most important moments in recent history. There’s too much at stake to let this time slip passed us.

Question:

What’s your sense of what’s on the horizon? Do you doves descending or smoke going up?

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