As Easter approaches, Israel’s UN ambassador warns of “the Middle East war on Christians,” rising persecution in Islamic countries. Notes that Israel’s Christian population is growing.

crossAs Jews celebrate Passover and Christians celebrate Easter this week, Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, has written an excellent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on the intense persecution followers of Jesus Christ are facing in Islamic countries.

He notes that there is an “exodus” of Christians leaving the Middle East today, just as Jews had to flee many Arab countries in the 20th century. That said, he also points out that Israel “is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today, in large measure because of the freedoms Christians are afforded.”

I commend the article to your attention, and encourage you to share it with others.

THE MIDDLE EAST WAR ON CHRISTIANS

Muslim-majority nations are doing to followers of Jesus what they did to the Jews.

By Amb. Ron Prosor, Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2014

This week, as Jews celebrate the Passover holiday, they are commemorating the Bible’s Exodus story describing a series of plagues inflicted on ancient Egypt that freed the Israelites, allowing them to make their way to the Holy Land. But over the past century, another exodus, driven by a plague of persecution, has swept across the Middle East and is emptying the region of its Christian population. The persecution is especially virulent today.

The Middle East may be the birthplace of three monotheistic religions, but some Arab nations appear bent on making it the burial ground for one of them. For 2,000 years, Christian communities dotted the region, enriching the Arab world with literature, culture and commerce. At the turn of the 20th century, Christians made up 26% of the Middle East’s population. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 10%. Intolerant and extremist governments are driving away the Christian communities that have lived in the Middle East since their faith was born.

In the rubble of Syrian cities like Aleppo and Damascus, Christians who refused to convert to Islam have been kidnapped, shot and beheaded by Islamist opposition fighters. In Egypt, mobs of Muslim Brotherhood members burn Coptic Christian churches in the same way they once obliterated Jewish synagogues. And in Iraq, terrorists deliberately target Christian worshippers. This past Christmas, 26 people were killed when a bomb ripped through a crowd of worshipers leaving a church in Baghdad’s southern Dora neighborhood.

Christians are losing their lives, liberties, businesses and their houses of worship across the Middle East. It is little wonder that native Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries—yet in many cases they find themselves equally unwelcome. Over the past 10 years, nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes. Many settled in Syria before once again becoming victims of unrelenting persecution. Syria’s Christian population has dropped from 30% in the 1920s to less than 10% today.

In January, a report by the nondenominational Christian nonprofit organization Open Doors documented the 10 most oppressive countries for Christians; nine were Muslim-majority states noted for Islamic extremism, and the 10th was North Korea. These tyrannical regimes uphold archaic blasphemy and defamation-of-religion laws under the guise of protecting religious expression. In truth, these measures amount to systematic repression of non-Islamic groups.

Last year in Saudi Arabia, two men were prosecuted for the “crime” of converting a woman to Christianity and helping her flee the Islamic kingdom. According to the Saudi Gazette, one of the men, a Lebanese, was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes, and the other man, a Saudi, was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes. Those are relatively mild sentences in Saudi Arabia, where conversion to another religion is punishable by death.

The “justice system” in other Islamic nations is not particularly just for Arab citizens, but it is uniquely oppressive for Christians. Radical Islamists in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa are using an ancient law called the “dhimmi pact” to extort local Christians. The community is faced with a grim choice: pay a tax and submit to a list of religious restrictions or “face the sword.”

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressions of political dissent are regarded as acts of blasphemy. Last summer, three Iranian Christians caught selling Bibles were found guilty of “crimes against state security” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. They were relatively lucky. The regime has executed dozens of people for the so-called crimes of “waging war against God” and “spreading corruption on Earth.”

The scene unfolding in the Middle East is ominously familiar. At the end of World War II, almost one million Jews lived in Arab lands. The creation of Israel in 1948 precipitated an invasion of five Arab armies. When they were unable to annihilate the newborn state militarily, Arab leaders launched a campaign of terror and expulsion that decimated their ancient Jewish communities. They succeeded in purging 800,000 Jews from their lands.

Today, Israel, which I represent at the United Nations, is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today, in large measure because of the freedoms Christians are afforded.

From courtrooms to classrooms and from the chambers of Parliament to chambers of commerce, Israeli Christians are leaders in every field and discipline. Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab Israeli, has served as a Supreme Court justice since 2003 and Makram Khoury is one of the best-known actors in Israel and the youngest artist to win the Israel Prize, our highest civic honor.

Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest living in Israel, recently told me: “Human rights are not something to be taken for granted. Christians in much of the Middle East have been slaughtered and persecuted for their faith, but here in Israel they are protected.”

Nations that trample on the rights of their people sow the seeds of instability and violence. The uprisings that have erupted across the Middle East are evidence that the region’s Holy Grail has become the pursuit of freedom, democracy and equality. Let us hope that this quest bears fruit before it is too late for the region’s remaining Christians.

Mr. Prosor is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

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>> Report on my meeting with Jordan’s Ambassador to the U.S.

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Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

CHARLES SCHWAB: High-Frequency Trading a “Growing Cancer… Corrupting Our Capital Market System”

The following statement has been issued by The Charles Schwab Corporation

 

Schwab serves millions of investors and has been observing the development of high-frequency trading practices over the last few years with great concern. As we noted in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal last summer, high-frequency trading has run amok and is corrupting our capital market system by creating an unleveled playing field for individual investors and driving the wrong incentives for our commodity and equities exchanges. The primary principle behind our markets has always been that no one should carry an unfair advantage. That simple but fundamental principle is being broken.

High-frequency traders are gaming the system, reaping billions in the process and undermining investor confidence in the fairness of the markets. It’s a growing cancer and needs to be addressed.  If confidence erodes further, the fuel of our free-enterprise system, capital formation, is at risk. We can’t allow that to happen. For sure, we still believe investing in equities is a primary path to long-term wealth creation, and we believe in the long-term structural integrity of the markets to deliver that over time for individual investors, which is all the more reason to be vigilant in removing anything that creates unfair advantage or undermines investor confidence.

On March 18, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his intention to “continue to shine a light on unseemly practices in the markets,” referring to the practices of high-frequency trading and the support they receive from other parties including the commodities and equities exchanges. He has been a consistent watchdog on this matter. We applaud his effort and encourage the SEC to raise the urgency on the issue and do all they can to stop this infection in our capital markets. Investors are being harmed, and they shouldn’t have to wait any longer.

As Michael Lewis shows in his new book Flash Boys, the high-frequency trading cancer is deep. It has become systematic and institutionalized, with the exchanges supporting it through practices such as preferential data feeds and developing multiple order types designed to benefit high-frequency traders. These traders have become the exchanges favored clients; today they generate the majority of transactions, which create market data revenue and other fees. Data last year from the Financial Information Forum showed this is no minor blip. High-frequency trading pumped out over 300,000 trade inquiries each second last year, up from just 50,000 only seven years earlier. Yet actual trade volume on the exchanges has remained relatively flat over that period. It’s an explosion of head-fake ephemeral orders – not to lock in real trades, but to skim pennies off the public markets by the billions. Trade orders from individual investors are now pawns in a bigger chess game.

The United States capital markets have been the envy of the world in creating a vibrant, stable and fair system supported by broad public participation for decades. Technology has been a central part of that positive story, especially in the last 30 years, with considerable benefit to the individual investor. But today, manipulative high-frequency trading takes advantage of these technological advances with a growing number of complex institutional order types, enabling practitioners to gain millisecond time advantages and cut ahead in line in front of traditional orders and with access to market data not available to other market participants.

High-frequency trading isn’t providing more efficient, liquid markets; it is a technological arms race designed to pick the pockets of legitimate market participants. That flies in the face of our markets’ founding principles. Historically, regulation has sought to protect investors by giving their orders priority over professional orders. In racing to accommodate and attract high-frequency trading business to their markets, the exchanges have turned this principle on its head. Through special order types, enhanced data feeds and co-location, professionals are given special access and entitlements to jump ahead of investor orders. Last year, more than 95 percent of high-frequency trader orders were cancelled, suggesting something else besides trading is at the heart of the strategy. Some high-frequency traders have claimed to be profitable on over 99 percent of their trading days. Our understanding of statistics tells us this isn’t possible without some built in advantage. Instead of leveling the playing field, the exchanges have tilted it against investors.

Here are examples of the practices that should concern us all:

  • Advantaged treatment: Growing numbers of complex order types afford preferential treatment to professional traders’ orders, most notably to jump ahead of retail limit orders.
  • Unequal access to information: Exchanges allow high-frequency traders to purchase faster data feeds with detailed information about market trading activity and the specific trading of various types of market participants. This further tilts the playing field against the individual investor, who is already at an informational disadvantage by virtue of the slower Consolidated Data Stream that brokers are required by rule to purchase or, even worse, the 15- to 20-minute-delayed quote feed they have public access to.
  • Inappropriate use of information: Professionals are mining the detailed data feeds made available to them by the exchanges to sniff out and front-run large institutions (mutual funds and pension funds), which more often than not are investing and trading on behalf of individual investors.
  • Added systems burdens, costs and distortions of rapid-fire quote activity: Ephemeral quotes, also called “quote stuffing,” that are cancelled and reposted in milliseconds distort the tape and present risk to the resiliency and integrity of critical market data and trading infrastructure.  The tremendous added costs associated with the expanded capacity and bandwidth necessary to support this added data traffic is ultimately borne in part by individual investors.

There are solutions. Today there is no restriction to pumping out millions of orders in a matter of seconds, only to reverse the majority of them. It’s the life-blood of high-frequency trading. A simple solution would be to establish cancellation fees to discourage the practice of quote stuffing. The SEC and CFTC floated the idea last year. It has great merit. Make the fees high enough and they will eliminate high-frequency trading entirely. But if the practice is simply a scam, as we believe it is, an even better solution is to simply make it illegal. And exchanges should be neutral in the market. They should stop the practice of selling preferential access or data feeds and eliminate order types that allow high-frequency traders to jump ahead of legitimate order flow. These are all simply tools for scamming individual investors.

The integrity of the markets is at the heart of our economy. High-frequency trading undermines that integrity and causes the market to lose credibility and investors to lose trust. This hurts our economy and country. It is time to treat the cancer aggressively.
 

Charles Schwab, Founder and Chairman
Walt Bettinger, President and CEO

 

Hat tip: Zero Hedge

Doug Ross @ Journal

Establishment GOP vs Grassroots: Civil War or Growing Pains?

Guest post by Stephen Kruiser

Because I am a nice guy and don’t want anyone to waste their time, here is a quick list of those who won’t enjoy this post: 

1) People working for Mitch McConnell’s reelection.

2) People who come from families that internalize everything rather than fight it out and get it over with. 

3) People who are Mitch McConnell. 

The last several weeks have brought to the fore some ugly realities that the establishment GOP was hoping it could deal with using its go-to conflict resolution strategy: put it off, hope the problem goes away and then perhaps a nap. 

1966 Republican PartyLed by a host of Republican senators whose most notable achievement is getting elected a lot, the old guard has been busy publicly admonishing the more Tea Party-minded additions to the fold that they don’t know anything. 

Because they haven’t been elected a lot. 

Now, I will concede that, yes, the establishment dinosaurs do have a knack for winning elections. However, the gaps in between those victories tend not to be filled with much to crow about unless you’re a fan of things like the Department of Homeland Security, Medicare expansion or being part of a team that’s only won the popular vote in a presidential election once in twenty five years. 

A school of thought is emerging amongst us extremists that it might be rather refreshing if they applied some of that ability to battle and prevail over Democrats in elections to the legislative process. 

So a schism is erupting that sees one side yelling, “Hey, we win elections and stuff!” and the other side responding, “Yeah, but you’re kind of hosing us once you do!” 

The eruption, however, isn’t from a new source of conflict. In fact, this is a decades-old ideological volcano in the GOP that has had spectacular consequences after blowing up in the past. 

This New York Times article almost deserves a sentence by sentence examination but let’s just grab a couple of chunks and look at them. 

After the budget standoff ended in crushing defeat last week and the political damage reports began to pile up for Republicans, one longtime party leader after another stepped forward to chastise their less seasoned, Tea Party-inspired colleagues who drove the losing strategy.

“Let’s face it: it was not a good maneuver,” Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the senior Senate Republican and supporter of the deal that ended the showdown, said on Thursday in an interview from his Capitol Hill office. “And that’s when you’ve got to have the adults running the thing.”

Hatch is indeed “seasoned”. Four hundred and thirty seven years old and serving his fiftieth term (okay maybe only his seventh) in the Senate, Hatch can not only win elections but will more than likely survive the zombie apocalypse. 

By the way, Hatch was first elected to the Senate largely by campaigning on the premise that his three term incumbent opponent had been in Washington too long.  You can’t make this stuff up.

The adults Hatch mentions are the same grown-up election winners who brought the Republican party to the point where it was helpless to stop the passage of Obamacare. 

These same adults also spent the last debt ceiling showdown whining about Ted Cruz rather than discussing the ticking time bomb of debt that will one day blow up this economy. These adults actually sped up the countdown timer on the bomb. 

But, hey, winning elections and stuff. 

Oh, the “political damage” from the “crushing defeat” was so overwhelming for the GOP that less than three weeks later President Obama’s job approval hit an all-time low

The obvious reason for this swan dive in The Lightbringer’s approval numbers is that Obamacare had a rocky start.  Because it’s awful. 

I believe it was Ted Cruz who was mentioning that a lot in September and early October. Silly unseasoned kid. 

Let’s look at one other thing from the Times article: 

The moment draws comparisons to some of the biggest fights of recent Republican Party history — the 1976 clash between the insurgent faction of activists who supported Ronald Reagan for president that year and the moderate party leaders who stuck by President Gerald R. Ford, and the split between the conservative Goldwater and moderate Rockefeller factions in 1964.

Some optimistic Republicans note that both of those campaigns planted the seeds for the conservative movement’s greatest success: Reagan’s 1980 election and two terms as president.

Oh, the Times will be the Times-there is nothing “optimistic” about it, that’s actually what happened. 

The Republican party is not, and has not been for quite some time, an ideological lock-step affair. That’s something that we should be celebrating rather than having fits about. If you don’t like in-fighting and you want to pretend a lot, the other guys would love to have you. 

The present battle is a most necessary one not only for the future of the party but the future of the country. 

The problem with the “capitulation for the sake of fighting another day” approach the GOP has taken for decades is that it allows the Democrats to push the center ever leftward by increments. We are now at a point where the nation’s wealth is shifting to those who bloat and perpetuate the federal behemoth. The IRS is going to punish you if you don’t purchase something that is going to be far more expensive now that it is required than it was when it was a free choice. 

Shall I go on? 

Let’s say your case for maintaining the status quo on either side isn’t a very strong one at this juncture.  In a sane world, anyone seeking to oust the people who have been in charge while the country headed down this path would be lauded.  Instead, we are demonized by a GOP establishment that is eerily in concert with the MSM and the Democrats. 

Whenever I talk to my more moderate Republican friends (and I have many) about challenging incumbents their side of the conversation is always filled with the same excuses masquerading as reason.

I have no problem with incumbents being challenged but this just isn’t the right time/challenger.

And: “You (Tea Party people) just need to find better candidates.” 

My only response to them now is, “How are you not at the point where you want to go out and find better candidates?!?!?!?” 

If you can survey the political landscape in America for the past twenty years and are OK with at all that has gone on while Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the adults in the GOP have held sway in the party then you and I definitely have a problem

If you think it’s all right for McConnell to be reelected and continue his capitulating reign of “meh” while the progressives in the Democrat party run roughshod over the Constitution, your liberties and anything else they can get their filthy statist paws on then yes, we are going to fight about some things. 

The “another day” and “next time” approach to governance employed by GOP leadership in recent years isn’t a strategy, it’s a pathetic reality avoidance mechanism. 

And it is ruining the country. 

The Republicans had better find a way to provide, and articulate that they are providing, a clear contrast to the Democrats. That they have done both so poorly for several years is the real problem the party is facing. Not demographics the culture or whatever other monsters they want to find under the bed. 

Decimating economically crippling policy before it becomes law is far more important than whether everybody is happy in the Senate lunchroom.  And if you want to continue to enjoy your rights you may want to think about getting behind candidates and legislators who aren’t afraid to lose friends while thwarting the statist onslaught. 

There is no inherent virtue in bipartisan cooperation with an opponent who never gives anything in return. In fact, it’s becoming rather dangerous. Republicans could use some leaders who grasped this simple fact. They don’t have any at present. 

So, yeah, let’s fight for the party. 

If those of you fond of the GOP status quo want to remain true to form and just wait to fight another day while we run you over I’m OK with that too. 

 

 

Stephen Kruiser is not only a comedian, but he’s also a grassroots activist who has been working to rebuild the Republican party for decades. 

Photo credit: Sent to FreedomWorks by Twitter follower @justusthem

 

Doug Ross @ Journal