Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Speaking of What's Left Out...

William Easterly writes on AidWatch about NOT being invited to the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in NYC:
Last week, some people wanted to meet up with me at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting in New York. I was a little embarrassed to tell them I was not invited to CGI, and in fact have never been invited to CGI. Actually, there is a long list of distinguished groups wise enough to have never invited me to anything.

I think each of us who makes some kind of public comment on anything have some places where we are welcome (INs) and others where we are not (OUTs). I thought it might be entertaining if I told you mine.

Coincidentally, I’m also working on a paper with some co-authors about export specializations that occur by destination country market, where there does not seem to be much rhyme or reason to which country markets a given exporter penetrates compared to other similar countries they do not. Maybe the same is true with intellectual markets.

Indeed, with some exceptions, I can’t detect much pattern in my INs and OUTs. It does not break down neatly by ideology or political spectrum, for example. There are many possible explanations: (1) my work is stupid, and some people are clever enough to figure this out, (2) my work is brilliant, and some people are too dumb to figure this out, (3) I’ve offended important people at some places but not others, (4) I have messages that are welcome at some places but not others, (5) some of my OUTs may have stricter standards than my INs (although I would NOT say that about those INs so kind as to invite me).

Some interesting exceptions to my IN and OUT pattern are (1) aid agencies, and (2) universities. Invitations to (1) and (2) include a representative spectrum and I don’t detect any OUTs in either category (although feel free to nominate yourself as an OUT if you have disinvited me without my knowledge).

Gabriel Pieterberg on Shlomo Sand's Invention of the Jewish People

A friend just called to tell me about this book review in New Left Review, which finally explains to me why Claude Lanzmann's filmed interviews with Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook) and Samuel Merlin (stars of my documentary Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?) were not included in Shoah:
He is no stranger to controversy and confrontation. In 1983 he took part in a heated exchange over Zeev Sternhell’s Ni droite, ni gauche: l’idéologie fasciste en France, and later drew the ire of Claude Lanzmann with his 2002 book in Hebrew, Film as History, in which he not only passed scathing judgement on Lanzmann’s Shoah, but also revealed that the film had been secretly funded by the Israeli government. When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? too has attracted agitated commentary, as well as gaining considerable commercial success: its Hebrew edition was on the bestseller list for several months, and the French translation has been through three editions, selling over 25,000 copies and winning the Aujourd’hui Award. Its appearance in English from Verso later this year is sure to stir further debate.

Defund ACORN and Halliburton!

Since according to my understanding of Gen. McChrystal's interview with 60 Minutes, Halliburton is part of the reason we're losing Afghanistan (btw, whey were they allowed to continue receiving US government contracts after moving their corporate HQ to an Arab Gulf State?), I'm with Arianna on this:
Arianna was a guest on MSNBC's "Morning Meeting" today and she confronted a blogger for the conservative website over conspiracy theories linking ACORN to the White House. Arianna noted that since the U.S. government has stopped giving money to ACORN as a result of their recent scandal, it is only fair that we stop doling out public funds to companies such as Halliburton. Halliburton is accused of defrauding the government out of billions of dollars in Iraq.

Read more at:

General McChrystal's Sunday 60 Minutes Interview

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Copyright Alliance Begins Petition Campaign

I signed this letter--and you can, too, at this link:
Dear President Obama and Vice President Biden,

We, the undersigned, are just a few of the more than 11 million artists living, working, and creating across the United States. Our work brings significant cultural and economic value to our society - and contributes $1.52 trillion to the nation's GDP. Yet that value is being disregarded as our rights and incentives to create are increasingly under threat.
Hear us as we speak with one voice about the importance of creators' rights.

We are the essence of America. Since the founding of our country, our work has provided light in the darkness of conflict, humor in the depths of sadness, beauty in the face of ugliness, and reason in the dysfunction of division.
We serve as the foundation of our communities; you find us in schools, performance halls, libraries, museums, community centers, and movie houses. We enrich our culture with a wide range of creative expression, including music, film, software, video games, writing, photography, graphics, and other visual arts.

We contribute in some way to every single industry in the country. Many of us are self-employed. All of us work hard and pay taxes.

Yet, we are under assault. Our rights to control the distribution, use, and reproduction of our works in our vibrant digital age are dismissed by many who do not understand the value we bring to society. They tell us to work harder, create better, and give our works away. Some think that they should control our works and that they should be able to appropriate, perform, and copy them how they please, without our consent, benefit, or participation.

Our freedom as creators lies in the Constitutional rights we cherish, rights given to us to promote our culture. Without these rights, our ability to pursue our creative dreams and to meet the high expectations of those who benefit from our creative works is significantly diminished. As a result, all Americans will suffer.

Mr. President and Vice President, hear our call. We know you understand the value our creative contributions bring to our society and economy, and we know you can encourage our citizens to respect our rights. Please pursue policies supportive of the rights of artists and the encouragement of our creative efforts. Without the proper respect for our rights and works today, it will become even more difficult for us to create in the future.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Benjamin Netanyahu's UN Speech

(ht ShiratDvorah)

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nearly 62 years ago, the United Nations recognized the right of the Jews, an ancient people 3,500 years-old, to a state of their own in their ancestral homeland. I stand here today as the Prime Minister of Israel, the Jewish state, and I speak to you on behalf of my country and my people.

The United Nations was founded after the carnage of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. It was charged with preventing the recurrence of such horrendous events. Nothing has undermined that central mission more than the systematic assault on the truth.

Yesterday the President of Iran stood at this very podium, spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants. Just a few days earlier, he again claimed that the Holocaust is a lie. Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee. There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people. The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments. Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews. Is this a lie?

A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Those plans are signed by Hitler's deputy, Heinrich Himmler himself. Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered. Is this too a lie?

This June, President Obama visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. Did President Obama pay tribute to a lie? And what of the Auschwitz survivors whose arms still bear the tattooed numbers branded on them by the Nazis? Are those tattoos a lie? One-third of all Jews perished in the conflagration. Nearly every Jewish family was affected, including my own. My wife's grandparents, her father's two sisters and three brothers, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins were all murdered by the Nazis. Is that also a lie?

Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries. But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency? A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state. What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations!

Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews. You're wrong. History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on the Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others. This Iranian regime is fueled by an extreme fundamentalism that burst onto the world scene three decades ago after lying dormant for centuries.

In the past thirty years, this fanaticism has swept the globe with a murderous violence and cold-blooded impartiality in its choice of victims. It has callously slaughtered Moslems and Christians, Jews and Hindus, and many others. Though it is comprised of different offshoots, the adherents of this unforgiving creed seek to return humanity to medieval times.

Wherever they can, they impose a backward regimented society where women, minorities, gays or anyone not deemed to be a true believer is brutally subjugated. The struggle against this fanaticism does not pit faith against faith nor civilization against civilization.

It pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.

The primitivism of the 9th century ought to be no match for the progress of the 21st century. The allure of freedom, the power of technology, the reach of communications should surely win the day. Ultimately, the past cannot triumph over the future. And the future offers all nations magnificent bounties of hope. The pace of progress is growing exponentially.

It took us centuries to get from the printing press to the telephone, decades to get from the telephone to the personal computer, and only a few years to get from the personal computer to the internet.

What seemed impossible a few years ago is already outdated, and we can scarcely fathom the changes that are yet to come. We will crack the genetic code. We will cure the incurable. We will lengthen our lives. We will find a cheap alternative to fossil fuels and clean up the planet.

I am proud that my country Israel is at the forefront of these advances by leading innovations in science and technology, medicine and biology, agriculture and water, energy and the environment. These innovations the world over offer humanity a sunlit future of unimagined promise.

But if the most primitive fanaticism can acquire the most deadly weapons, the march of history could be reversed for a time. And like the belated victory over the Nazis, the forces of progress and freedom will prevail only after an horrific toll of blood and fortune has been exacted from mankind. That is why the greatest threat facing the world today is the marriage between religious fanaticism and the weapons of mass destruction.

The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge? Will the international community confront a despotism that terrorizes its own people as they bravely stand up for freedom?

Will it take action against the dictators who stole an election in broad daylight and gunned down Iranian protesters who died in the streets choking in their own blood? Will the international community thwart the world's most pernicious sponsors and practitioners of terrorism?

Above all, will the international community stop the terrorist regime of Iran from developing atomic weapons, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world?

The people of Iran are courageously standing up to this regime. People of goodwill around the world stand with them, as do the thousands who have been protesting outside this hall. Will the United Nations stand by their side?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging. Rather than condemning the terrorists and their Iranian patrons, some here have condemned their victims. That is exactly what a recent UN report on Gaza did, falsely equating the terrorists with those they targeted.

For eight long years, Hamas fired from Gaza thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets on nearby Israeli cities. Year after year, as these missiles were deliberately hurled at our civilians, not a single UN resolution was passed condemning those criminal attacks. We heard nothing - absolutely nothing - from the UN Human Rights Council, a misnamed institution if there ever was one.

In 2005, hoping to advance peace, Israel unilaterally withdrew from every inch of Gaza. It dismantled 21 settlements and uprooted over 8,000 Israelis. We didn't get peace. Instead we got an Iranian backed terror base fifty miles from Tel Aviv. Life in Israeli towns and cities next to Gaza became a nightmare. You see, the Hamas rocket attacks not only continued, they increased tenfold. Again, the UN was silent.

Finally, after eight years of this unremitting assault, Israel was finally forced to respond. But how should we have responded? Well, there is only one example in history of thousands of rockets being fired on a country's civilian population. It happened when the Nazis rocketed British cities during World War II. During that war, the allies leveled German cities, causing hundreds of thousands of casualties. Israel chose to respond differently. Faced with an enemy committing a double war crime of firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians, Israel sought to conduct surgical strikes against the rocket launchers.

That was no easy task because the terrorists were firing missiles from homes and schools, using mosques as weapons depots and ferreting explosives in ambulances. Israel, by contrast, tried to minimize casualties by urging Palestinian civilians to vacate the targeted areas.

We dropped countless flyers over their homes, sent thousands of text messages and called thousands of cell phones asking people to leave. Never has a country gone to such extraordinary lengths to remove the enemy's civilian population from harm's way.

Yet faced with such a clear case of aggressor and victim, who did the UN Human Rights Council decide to condemn? Israel. A democracy legitimately defending itself against terror is morally hanged, drawn and quartered, and given an unfair trial to boot.

By these twisted standards, the UN Human Rights Council would have dragged Roosevelt and Churchill to the dock as war criminals. What a perversion of truth. What a perversion of justice.

Delegates of the United Nations,

Will you accept this farce?

Because if you do, the United Nations would revert to its darkest days, when the worst violators of human rights sat in judgment against the law-abiding democracies, when Zionism was equated with racism and when an automatic majority could declare that the earth is flat.

If this body does not reject this report, it would send a message to terrorists everywhere: Terror pays; if you launch your attacks from densely populated areas, you will win immunity. And in condemning Israel, this body would also deal a mortal blow to peace. Here's why.

When Israel left Gaza, many hoped that the missile attacks would stop. Others believed that at the very least, Israel would have international legitimacy to exercise its right of self-defense. What legitimacy? What self-defense?

The same UN that cheered Israel as it left Gaza and promised to back our right of self-defense now accuses us - my people, my country - of war crimes. And for what? For acting responsibly in self-defense. What a travesty!

Israel justly defended itself against terror. This biased and unjust report is a clear-cut test for all governments. Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists?

We must know the answer to that question now. Now and not later. Because if Israel is again asked to take more risks for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow. Only if we have the confidence that we can defend ourselves can we take further risks for peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All of Israel wants peace.

Any time an Arab leader genuinely wanted peace with us, we made peace. We made peace with Egypt led by Anwar Sadat. We made peace with Jordan led by King Hussein. And if the Palestinians truly want peace, I and my government, and the people of Israel, will make peace. But we want a genuine peace, a defensible peace, a permanent peace. In 1947, this body voted to establish two states for two peoples - a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted that resolution. The Arabs rejected it.

We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years: Say yes to a Jewish state. Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel. This is the land of our forefathers.

Inscribed on the walls outside this building is the great Biblical vision of peace: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They shall learn war no more." These words were spoken by the Jewish prophet Isaiah 2,800 years ago as he walked in my country, in my city, in the hills of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem.

We are not strangers to this land. It is our homeland. As deeply connected as we are to this land, we recognize that the Palestinians also live there and want a home of their own. We want to live side by side with them, two free peoples living in peace, prosperity and dignity.

But we must have security. The Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves except those handful of powers that could endanger Israel.

That is why a Palestinian state must be effectively demilitarized. We don't want another Gaza, another Iranian backed terror base abutting Jerusalem and perched on the hills a few kilometers from Tel Aviv.

We want peace. I believe such a peace can be achieved. But only if we roll back the forces of terror, led by Iran, that seek to destroy peace, eliminate Israel and overthrow the world order. The question facing the international community is whether it is prepared to confront those forces or accommodate them.

Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the "confirmed unteachability of mankind," the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them.

Churchill bemoaned what he called the "want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong."

I speak here today in the hope that Churchill's assessment of the "unteachability of mankind" is for once proven wrong. I speak here today in the hope that we can learn from history -- that we can prevent danger in time. In the spirit of the timeless words spoken to Joshua over 3,000 years ago, let us be strong and of good courage. Let us confront this peril, secure our future and, God willing, forge an enduring peace for generations to come.

"Hashem Oz LeAmo Yiten, Hashem Yivarech et Amo Bashalom."
May G-d give strength to his people, may G-d bless his people with peace.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Arianna Huffington Reports from Israel

Now, Arianna Huffington is visiting Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM -- I arrived in Tel Aviv, at the Ben Gurion Airport, at 6:30 Sunday evening and went straight to the Yoezer Wine bar, a charming restaurant in Jaffa, housed in an old stone building that dates back to the Ottoman Empire.

I was there to have dinner with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his wife Nili, who were leaving at midnight for Washington for meetings at the White House, as well as prominent Israeli venture capitalist, Meir Barel, of Star Ventures, fellow Greek Sabby Mionis, and Avital Leibovich, the spokesperson for the Foreign Press Division of the Israeli military.

Barak is Israel's most decorated soldier. A warrior turned politician, he is a former Prime Minister and Labor Party leader who was asked to join Netanyahu's government. Their relationship dates back 25 years, to when Barak was a grad student at Stanford and Netanyahu was a grad student at MIT. Another bond between the two would-be rivals is the close friendship of Barak and Netanyahu's brother Yonatan, a commando who was killed in the famed raid on Entebbe in Uganda.

During dinner, Barak's security detail stood guard around the table, guns at the ready and on full display. One of the guards stood directly behind the Defense Minister. Even though he was stationary, his eyes -- and, it seemed, his brain -- were in constant motion. He was an adrenaline rush come to life. In comparison, the Secret Service detail that guards the U.S. president seems positively laid back.

During his time as Prime Minister, Barak ended Israel's military occupation of southern Lebanon, and was part of the failed Camp David summit with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat. Given this, I asked him to compare George W. Bush's leadership to Obama's when it comes to Israel. "I'm an ABB," he said. "Anyone But Bush. Obama is investing a lot of his political capital in the peace process, and it's important that we don't waste this moment."

And what would it take to break through the current stalemate? "The Palestinian Authority," he told me, "needs to accept becoming an independent Palestinian state even before the borders are finalized."

Read more at:

Lockerbie Families Protest Gaddafi UN Speech

Fox News reports:
Relatives of those who died in the Lockerbie bombing will protest outside the United Nations in New York when Libyan Colonel Muammar Qaddafi addresses the General Assembly.

Many are angry the Libyan leader has been granted a visa to attend the gathering just a few months after the only man convicted of the bombing, Abdel Baset al Megrahi, arrived in Tripoli to a boisterous welcome.

Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds by Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, despite pressure from the U.S. State Department and senior members of Congress to keep him incarcerated in Scotland.

Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, who was 17 when her father Frank boarded Pan Am flight 103, has helped to coordinate the rally, harnessing support from Libyan-American activists, former employees of Pan Am and a group representing the families of 9/11 victims.

"I can't believe it's been over 20 years and we're still talking about this," she told Sky News. "The problem is releasing the only man convicted of this crime has opened up everything again."
BBC News story here:
Protesters have greeted Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on his arrival at the United Nations in New York.

Relatives of Lockerbie bombing victims were among those demonstrating against the Libyan leader, who was to address the general assembly.

Supporters of the formerly outcast North African leader also gathered outside the UN to welcome him.

The release of the Libyan man convicted of the 1988 attack over southern Scotland caused controversy in America.

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who is terminally ill, was freed on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government in August.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has rented his suburban NY estate to the Libyan leader, who has likewise been officially welcomed to the United States by the Nation of Islam's Minister Louis Farrakhan. BP's reported role seems to have been forgotten, at least in the news media.

Joshua Foust on American Interpreters in Afghanistan

From the New York Times:
American officers and enlisted soldiers repeatedly told me how vital interpreters are. Yet there remains no standardized way for units to use them, which can lead to insulting incidents like the one Brooklyn had to endure.

Often, the insults are more subtle, but more personal. In Khost Province, I met an interpreter named Afzal, who worked for a team of Army civilians doing economic and cultural research. Afzal had helped this team for several years, through three rotations of leadership and personnel. He had been trying for a long time to get a visa from the State Department to come to the United States, something many interpreters hope for because of threats to their families. Eventually, extremists began posting threatening letters on his door overnight.

Afzal told me that two years earlier, the team’s leader, a lieutenant colonel, had promised to submit the paperwork for the visa and vouch for his status as an interpreter, but he apparently never did. The next team leader, another officer, made the same promise, but also apparently never followed through. It was not until the arrival of the third team leader, a civilian, early this year that Afzal was able to submit his application. The delay has complicated the procedure — for this year the State Department cut the number of available visas for interpreters from Afghanistan and Iraq to 50 from 500.

Brooklyn told me that the occasional grumpy officer wasn’t her only problem. She also complained about Mission Essential Personnel’s sloppy management, saying that the company tended to hire elderly interpreters, unsuited for rough travel in a war zone, just because they passed a language test. She said the contractor was unresponsive to complaints of sexual harassment and mistreatment.

There is also a growing number of stories of local interpreters who have been denied medical treatment. According to CorpWatch, a group that monitors military contractors, an interpreter named Basir Ahmed was fired for “failing to show up for work” last year when he was recuperating from shrapnel wounds to his leg received from a homemade bomb that exploded while he was on patrol with American forces near the Pakistani border.

In winning hearts and minds, how we treat Afghans as individuals matters more than how many Taliban we kill or how many roads we build. If we cannot treat our military interpreters with basic respect, why should Afghan civilians trust us to help them remake their nation?

Why is The Washington Post Playing Games with McChrystal's Report?

According to today's paper, the Post sat on its copy of the leaked McChrystal Afghanistan report for 24 hours while consulting with Obama administration officials--then published an article last Monday. However, the last time I checked, the papers editors hadn't posted the report itself on their web page...and there's nothing on Google. How can we decide whether the Post story got it right? How can the public evaluate McChrystal's claims? Why is the paper playing "drip, drip, drip" games with its readers. And, as I asked about the Osama Bin Laden transcript from last week: Whatever happened to the public's right to know?

MEMO TO WASHINGTON POST EDITORS: Stop playing "I know something you don't know." Start reporting the news in full.

FBI Destroyed Walter Cronkite Files

From USA Today (ht FOIABlog):
A search of the agency's main index of the subjects of FBI investigations found some records tied to Cronkite's name were destroyed in October 2007, the FBI said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by USA TODAY. Cronkite's death in July at age 92 made any FBI files about him available for release under the federal law.

The FBI should have preserved records about Cronkite, who anchored CBS' newscasts from 1962 to 1981, said Scott Hodes, a former top lawyer in the FBI's records office. All FBI records on such a prominent person should have been saved under the FBI's policies, Hodes said.

"You're not supposed to destroy records that are historically valuable," Hodes said. "Somebody should have known who Walter Cronkite was."

FBI spokesman Bill Carter said the agency works with the National Archives to try to ensure historically important records are preserved. He did not respond to requests for further information Tuesday.
More on this story at

Monday, September 21, 2009

Daniel Pipes on the Nature of War

Pipes is writing about the Israeli-Arab conflict in Middle East Quarterly, but IMHO he could be writing about the US in Iraq or Afghanistan:
Rabin's mistake was simple and profound: One cannot "make peace with one's enemy," as he imagined. Rather, one makes peace with one's former enemy. Peace nearly always requires one side in a conflict to be defeated and thus give up its goals.

Wars end not through goodwill but through victory. "Let your great object [in war] be victory" observed Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese strategist. "War is an act of violence to compel the enemy to fulfill our will," wrote his nineteenth-century Prussian successor, Karl von Clausewitz in 1832. Douglas MacArthur observed in 1951 that in "war, there is no substitute for victory."

Technological advancement has not altered this insight. Fighting either continues or potentially can resume so long as both sides hope to achieve their war goals. Victory consists of imposing one's will on the enemy, compelling him to give up his war ambitions. Wars typically end when one side gives up hope, when its will to fight has been crushed.

Defeat, one might think, usually follows on devastating battlefield losses, as was the case of the Axis in 1945. But that has rarely occurred during the past sixty years. Battlefield losses by the Arab states to Israel in 1948-82, by North Korea in 1953, by Saddam Hussein in 1991, and by Iraqi Sunnis in 2003 did not translate into despair and surrender. Morale and will matter more these days. Although they out-manned and out-gunned their foes, the French gave up in Algeria, the Americans in Vietnam, and the Soviets in Afghanistan. The Cold War ended, notably, with barely a fatality. Crushing the enemy's will to fight, then, does not necessarily mean crushing the enemy.

Arabs and Israelis since 1948 have pursued static and opposite goals: Arabs fought to eliminate Israel; Israelis fought to win their neighbors' acceptance. Details have varied over the decades with multiple ideologies, strategies, and leading actors, but the twin goals have remained in place and unbridgeable. If the conflict is to end, one side must lose and one side win. Either there will be no more Zionist state or it will be accepted by its neighbors. Those are the only two scenarios for ending the conflict. Anything else is unstable and a premise for further warfare.

The Arabs have pursued their war aims with patience, determination, and purpose; the exceptions to this pattern (e.g., the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties) have been operationally insignificant because they have not tamped hostility to Israel's existence. In response, Israelis sustained a formidable record of strategic vision and tactical brilliance in the period 1948-93. Over time, however, as Israel developed into a wealthy country, its populace grew impatient with the humiliating, slow, boring, bitter, and expensive task of convincing Arabs to accept their political existence. By now, few in Israel still see victory as the goal; almost no major political figure on the scene today calls for victory in war. Uzi Landau, currently minister of national infrastructure, who argues that "when you're in a war you want to win the war," is the rare exception.

Charles Crawford on the Crisis in the Balkans

From Diplomat Magazine:
In 1991 Western capitals were stunned by the abrupt collapse of the Soviet Union. Above all they wanted someone to be legally responsible for the Soviet nuclear weapons stockpiles now situated in four supposedly independent new countries (Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus) while these weapons were restored to Russian soil and control. So the only realistic option was to recognise those previous internal boundaries as new international frontiers, and get on with treating the new governments there as grown-ups.

However, Yugoslavia was collapsing in rancorous circumstances, rival demands for self-determination to the fore. The West looked at Slovenia (predominantly Slovene-populated, borders mainly not contested) and decided to have its cake and eat it. Slovenia handily ticked both boxes: internal borders as new international borders, plus self-determination for the Slovene people.

Which was fine for Slovenia. But not for Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro or Serbia, the other five republics in communist Yugoslavia, each with its own ethnic/national identity tensions. And no-one was interested in the sizeable category of ‘Yugoslavs’ – people not identifying themselves with one ethnic community.

Urged on by Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, Serbs across Yugoslavia demanded to stay under one national roof. Other communities wanting to break from Yugoslavia would pay a price – and not take ‘Serbian lands’ with them.

You know the rest. Calamity in today’s tranquil Europe. War. Refugee columns. Ethnic cleansing. War crimes. The ICTY war crimes tribunal set up. NATO bombing. Dayton. Rambouillet. More NATO bombing. Kosovo run by the UN. Milosevic sent to ICTY and dies in prison. Kosovo declares independence from Serbia in 2008, but is still not recognised by the majority of either the world’s countries or its population.

Why is Kosovo not more widely recognised, even by all European Union members? For various reasons.

A feeling that regardless of the history of the matter Kosovo sets an unwise precedent too far for a region breaking away on its own terms. Unease about NATO’s intervention and underlying motives. Plus residual sympathy for Belgrade in many capitals who liked Tito’s communist-lite, allegedly non-aligned Yugoslavia.

Russia too has been angered. Moscow thought that when the Soviet Union broke up it had struck a Basic Deal with Western capitals over new borders in Europe, namely that any such problems would be dealt with in partnership with Moscow, not by confrontation.

Hence to me at least it was no surprise when Russia last year pounced as Georgia tried to resolve on its terms some long-running problems with separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia sent in troops to protect those territories from Georgia, and quickly recognised them as two new independent states.

Russia’s policy has been a total failure in winning wider international recognition for these territories as new states. But a pretty good success (so far) in terms of Moscow asserting that the former Soviet Union is a ‘space’ where its rules now prevail, with Western policy-makers warned to back off.

Plenty of other examples are bubbling away with more or less intensity. In Iraq, complex ethno-religious negotiations are needed to keep the country together, with the Kurds keen to get maximum autonomy over ‘their’ oil-fields. China and Tibet. Scotland. Belgium.

Recently I chatted to a NATO officer now in Bosnia. I gave my old line that in Bosnia with its three rival communities (Bosniacs/Muslims, Serbs, Croats) three different constitutional outcomes made theoretical sense:

* One country, one entity (checks and balances to stop any one community dominating)
* One country, three entities (each community gets ‘its’ space within a single polity)
* One country, 18 entities (ie radical decentralisation via cantons to help diffuse ethnic tensions)

What made no sense was what we had all agreed at Dayton: one country, two entities. That outcome flowed from unwise tactical decisions made in 1992/93 with no strategic eye on the eventual ethno-constitutional implications. As I had written in a telegram to London, Bosnia had started as an ethnic omelette – it was now three hard-boiled eggs. ‘What a refreshingly honest view’, replied the officer wistfully.

Diplomacy. Building on what exists (ie racial, ethnic, religious tensions going back centuries) and accepting that good fences make good neighbours, as appears to be the policy for the break-up of what remained of Yugoslavia into Serbia + Kosovo + Montenegro?

Or building towards what we outsiders insist has to exist, hoping to compel people to cooperate nicely within single state frameworks that they dislike and distrust, as we have done in Bosnia?

Two utterly different philosophies and policies, applied to places a few miles apart which for some 70 years were part of one country.

Foolish Consistency? Or Foolish Inconsistency?

From Westphalia to West failure?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What Happened to 60 Minutes?

Tuned in after the football game tonight, hoping to see a new edition in its entirety--and found that not only was the episode a repeat, it was only 20 minutes long...Doesn't that violate some FCC "truth in advertising" regulations?

I guess some suits at CBS just waited until Don Hewitt died to start messing with his success...won't be long now before it goes off the air, if they keep up this sort of stuff, IMHO...

Of course, I turned off the TV.

Friday, September 18, 2009

In Praise of Central Aisles

Seating plan of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow

Yesterday, I had an unexpected argument with a working architect about theatrical seating plans. I blurted out, uninvited, that I really hoped he would put center aisles for audiences in his designs because it was a hassle climbing over all the members of the audience to get in and out of seats in modern theatres. It was an offhand remark, and I expected he would just smile patiently.

However, he took immediate umbrage, which really surprised me. I was told that my position was illogical. He said he'd show me on a diagram that aisles on the side were just the same as center aisles, and that "the best seats in the house" were wasted in designs featuring a center aisle.

I responded that emotionally, as an audience member, I felt trapped without a center aisle, that I preferred a choice of pathways into and out of my seat. He responded that I didn't know what I was talking about, that most theatres were now designed without center aisles. I shot back that maybe that was a factor in the decline of live theatre. He said he didn't think theatre had declined. Etc.

When I got back home, with the help of someone I know, I spent some time googling on the internet. So I learned some interesting things about theatre architecture. According to the late Stanford University theatre professor Wendell Cole's 1954 article, "Some Contemporary Trends in Theatre Architecture," the kind of seating plan I particularly dislike had been invented by Richard Wagner for his Bayreuth Festspielhaus in 1876. It was specifically designed to showcase Wagnerian Opera. It is called, in the trade, "Continental Seating." As part of his German aesthetic (no doubt somehow descended from Lutheranism as well as Modernism), Wagner stripped away decorations, boxes and balconies--replacing the traditional Opera House horseshoe ring with a fan-shaped design featuring seats on risers, like a stadium.

As in a stadium, such a architecture requires locating many seats too far back to hear properly (except, perhaps for the crashing noise of Wagnerian Opera or a contemporary rock concert--no wonder shows are mostly miked today, and actors no longer learn how to project their voice to fill a room). Not surprisingly, despite an absence of pillars to support balconies, sightlines from seats located on the far sides have only "partial views." Traditional theatres group most of the audience in front of the stage, increasing seating capacity through the addition of balconies and boxes.

Richard Pilbrow, a British theatrical designer, is another critic of "Continental Seating." In a 2000 Theatre Communications Group article, A Lively Theatre, he raised some of the concerns I had shared with the architect. An excerpt:
The 20th century has not been a good time for theatre architecture.

In the years from the 1920s to the 1970s, the world became littered with overlarge, often fan-shaped auditoriums that are barren in feeling and lacking in intimacy--places that are seldom conducive to that interplay between actor and audience that lies at the heart of the theatre experience. Why do theatres of the 19th century feel so much more "theatrical"? And why do so many actors and audiences prefer the old to the new?
Pilbrow blamed Wagner, and his idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, for starting the modern trend. Likewise, he pointed out: "With hindsight, there were actually far too many bad seats--almost all those more than half way back--and the lack of encircling audience made the theatre seem more an antiseptic lecture hall than a theatre."
Architects, engineers and theatre people were all consumed by the urge to build new "democratic" frontal-view, fan-shaped theatres. This came to be coupled with the then-fashionable simplicity of the modern architectural movement. The result has been many theatres that today seem quite dreadful: vast auditoriums with the majority of seats to the rear, entirely lacking in any intimacy or "theatricality," and with poor acoustics to boot.
Luckily, he said, theatre designers had realized the error of their ways.

However, nothing I read seemed to make the point that the "best seats in the house" have more than the characteristic of central location. The reason that critics demand "two on the aisle" is the same reason that a central aisle is, in fact, central to good theatre. It is easy to leave if the show is not very entertaining. To have to clamber out across the laps of perhaps a dozen or more members of the audience is a deterrent to an quick getaway...which raises the stakes of attending a theatrical performance.

For, unlike the architect, who dealt with the theoretical ideal of designing seating for theatrical performances audiences wanted to see, traditional theatres were designed with the understanding that many shows are not worth seeing at all. Thus, a central aisle gives two sets of spectators aisle seats that are also near the center sightline--impossible with "Continental Seating." You want a seat near the aisle AND near the center. Traditional theatres fill up from the center outwards. So, a half-full house would be both near the central aisle and the central sightline. That's the beauty of traditional theatre design.

"Continental Seating," on the other hand, forces a choice between sitting in the center and sitting on the aisle. Yikes! Thinking of a play like a long airline flight, gives some understanding. What if you need to go to the bathroom? Who wants a middle seat?

In addition, a central aisle adds a "social networking" dimension to a night at the theatre (as do boxes and balconies). One may scan the audience to spot friends, enemies, and celebrities--then wander up and down the aisle during intermission, in order to work the room. Aisles, boxes and balconies also gives one something to look at, when attention drifts from the stage. It offers increased legroom at the best seats. And enables the cast to do Oprah-style audience interaction--to make entrances and exits amidst the audience. Sometimes a visible walkout by an audience member is a liberating experience for other theatregoers.

In sum, traditional central aisle seating plans recognize this reality of theatrical experience: Sometimes, the "best seat in the house" is the one that may be exited expeditiously.

President Obama's Rosh Hashanah Greeting

(ht Huffington Post)

Charles Crawford on Obama's Missile Withdrawal

Yesterday I said what I thought. However, The former British Ambassador to Poland (and other places) has a different view:
So the problem with the Obama Administration's Russian Reset button approach lies in the apparent assumption that Russia and the USA can move towards a new substantive partnership which gives the USA significant new gains which Russia will be happy to support. This partnership can not be.

At the root of it, Russian foreign policy ambitions have nothing to do with ideals or principles but only a strange self-absorbed zero-sum nationalist-tsarist idea that whatever territory Russia at some point has conquered is ipso facto 'Russian' for ever. Where those lands are no longer in Russia itself, Russia must have some sort of psychological or strategic edge there, and other influences (Europeanisation, Westernisation) necessarily subtract from that and are a threat.

America by contrast does have real universalist ideals and principles, however much they are sneered at in America itself and more widely round the planet. Even if the execution of its policy is (inevitably?) often incoherent, messy and contradictory, Washington looks at the Middle East, Africa and other strategic problems in their own terms - what might work to get a substantively respectable and fair and stable outcomes, preferably in a way which increases freedom for ordinary people.

Which is why when the going gets tough, Russia will never do more than the bare minimum to give the Americans real help against obnoxious states and extremists and terrorists. Much better for Moscow to keep the prospect of such help dangling like a carrot indefinitely, so that Russia can negotiate from greater strength far down the road as and when its power has grown and America's has diminished.


The optimistic interpretation of this Obama move is that he has given up something that really did not count for much in strategic reality terms so as to get some other modest diplomatic gains (all with a keen eye on Obama's poll ratings), wrapping it up in vast spin about a 'huge move' to make it look bold and statesmanlike. Poles and Czechs are too right-wing for Democrats, so get a sharp clip round the ear followed by a perfunctory kiss to make up. The Russians know that it is all (mainly) rubbish, but piously applaud the 'wisdom' of it so as to make themselves look more powerful than they are. No real change.

The pessimistic interpretation is that there really has been a 'huge shift' in US foreign policy and President Obama is ready to put at risk all the gains for freedom, pluralism and progress achieved around the world by Ronald Reagan with a little help from his friends, in the hope of creating a new world order based around a diminished unambitious USA in sly cahoots with left-collectivist post-democratic polities (EU, Russia, China) and sundry unhealthy pre-democratic Islamic regimes.

Erev Rosh Hashanah, 9-18-09, Washington, DC

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Another Good Move by President Obama...

Cancelling "missile defense" in Poland and the Czech Republic.

These were symbolic, token, "tripwire" installations--which the Russians believed violated a promise made to Gorbachev that NATO would never expand into the former Warsaw Pact, extracted in exchange for withdrawing Russian troops from Europe. When Russia was weak, the US pushed ahead. Now that the US is weak, Russia could be expected to push back. Since, IMHO, a strong Russia makes Europe behave in a more pro-American fashion, and a weak Russia allows Europeans to play their traditional Talleyrand diplomacy, a strong Russia and a weaker Europe is in American interests. Look, for example, at British perfidy in releasing the Lockerbie bomber in exchange for a BP oil concession. Russia has plenty of oil, so would probably be a more dependable ally than Britain (as we saw in World War II, where the Soviet Army bore the brunt of battle). All the Russians wanted, when I was living in Moscow, was to be treated as an "equal partner" instead of a "defeated foe." We didn't do it when we could have negotiated from a position of strength. Now that we are in trouble in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration is hopefully doing it...although from a Bush administration-created position of weakness that means the price paid to Russia (and inevitably China) is higher than had a similar deal been struck on September 12, 2001. Eight wasted years, eight trillion wasted dollars...but as Winston Churchill famously noted: You can count on Americans to always do the right thing--after they have exhausted every possible alternative.

Even Polish-American geostrategist Zbigniew Brzezinski has finally changed his tune, now saying that the US cannot manage without making Russian and Chinese security deals, as detailed in his current Foreign Affairs article, An Agenda for NATO: Towards a Global Security Web.

With Russia and China on our side, I think we may see the Iranians change their tune. Iran was divided between the Russians and the British once before, and they probably don't want their country split in pieces again.

Bravo, Mr. President! With real help from Russia and China, and the withdrawal of Old and New Europe from the field of battle (IMHO, it was a mistake to reactivate the German Army and the Japanese Navy in this war, pure symbolic and poorly thought out tokenism), I doubt the current worldwide Islamist fundamentalist insurgency will last too much longer...

Bin Laden's Book Club

A friend just sent emailed this link to Bin Laden's Book Club...from Foreign Policy Magazine:

Juan Cole Posts Bin Laden Transcript

Thank you, Professor Cole! Shame on the rest of the news media...

Cole's transcript of Bin Laden's September 13th speech comes from the US Government's Open Source Center (which despite its name, was not open to the general public, last time I checked. Instead of open source material, I saw a password-protected login box and this message referring me to a private, paid information service: "You have reached a United States Government computer system. Unauthorized access is prohibited by U.S. Public Law 99-474 (the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986) and can result in administrative, disciplinary, and/or criminal proceedings. If you are not an authorized user, exit this system immediately. Use of this system constitutes consent to monitoring at all times.

If you are not eligible for an account because you do not have an official U.S. Government purpose, you may subscribe to OSC information through World News Connection (WNC), an on-line news service. Please contact WNC at or at 1-800-3-DIALOG"
Praise be to God, Who created people to worship Him, ordered them to be just, and permitted the wronged to mete out fair punishment to the wrongdoer.

American people: This address to you is a reminder of the causes of 11 (September) and the wars and consequences that followed and the way to settle it once and for all. I mention in particular the families of those who were hurt in these events and who have recently called for opening an investigation to know its causes. This is a first and important step in the right direction among many other steps that have deliberately gone in the wrong direction over eight barren years that you have experienced.

The entire American people should follow suit, as the delay in knowing those reasons has cost you a lot without any noteworthy benefit.

If the White House administration, which is one of the two parties to the dispute, has made it clear to you in the past years that war was necessary to maintain your security, then wise persons should be eager to listen to the two parties to the dispute to know the truth, so listen to what I am going to say.

At the beginning, I say that we have made it clear and stated so many times for over two decades that the cause of the quarrel with you is your support for your Israeli allies, who have occupied our land, Palestine. This position of yours, along with some other grievances, is what prompted us to carry out the 11 September events. Had you known the magnitude of our suffering as a result of the injustice of the Jews against us, with the support of your administrations for them, you would have known that both our nations are victims of the policies of the White House, which is in fact a hostage in the hands of pressure groups, especially major corporations and the Israeli lobby.

One of the best persons to explain to you the causes of the events of the 11th is one of your citizens, a former veteran CIA agent, whose conscience awoke in his eighth decade and decided to tell the truth despite the threats, and to explain to you the message of the 11th. So he carried out some activities for this purpose in particular, including his book Apology of a Hired Assassin.

As for explaining the suffering of our people in Palestine, Obama has recently acknowledged in his speech from Cairo the suffering of our kinfolk there, who are living under occupation and siege. Things will become clearer if you read what your former president, Carter, wrote about the racism of the Israelis against our kinfolk in Palestine, and also if you listened to his statement weeks ago during his visit to the destroyed and besieged Gaza Strip. He said in that statement that the people of Gaza are treated more as animals than human beings. For us God suffices, and He is the best disposer of affairs.

We should have a lengthy pause at this point. Any person with an iota of mercy in his heart cannot but sympathize with those oppressed elderly, women, and children living under the deadly siege. Above that, the Zionists pound them with US-made incendiary phosphorous bombs. Life there is tragic beyond limits, to the point that children die b etween the arms of their parents and doctors due to the lack of food and medicine and the power outages. It is indeed a disgrace for world politicians who are content with that, and their loyalists, who are behaving as such with prior knowledge and premeditation, and under the influence of the Israeli lobby in America. The details of that are explained by two of your fellow citizens. They are John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their book The Israel Lobby in the United States.

After reading the suggested books, you will know the truth and you will be severely shocked at the magnitude of deception that has been practiced against you. You will also know that those who make statements from inside the White House today and claim that your wars against us are necessary for your security are in fact working along the same line of Cheney and Bush, and propagating the former policies of intimidation to market the interests of the relevant major corporations, at the expense of your blood and economy. Those in fact are the ones who are imposing wars on you, not the mujahidin. We are just defending our right to liberate our land.

If you thoroughly consider your situation, you will know that the White House is occupied by pressure groups. You should have made efforts to liberate it rather than fight to liberate Iraq, as Bush claimed. The White House leader, under such circumstances, and regardless of who he is, is like a train driver who cannot but travel on the railways designed by these pressure groups. Otherwise, his way would be blocked and he would fear that his destiny would be like that of former President Kennedy and his brother.

In a nutshell, it is time to free yourselves from fear and intellectual terrorism being practiced against you by the neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby. You should put the file of your alliance with the Israelis on the table of discussion. You should ask yourselves the following question so that you can determine your position: Do you like the Israelis’ security, sons, and economy more than your security, blood, sons, money, jobs, houses, economy, and reputation? If you choose your security and stopping the wars — and this has been shown by opinion polls — then this requires that you act to stop those who are tampering with our security on your end. We are prepared to respond to this option on sound and fair foundations that have been mentioned before.

Here is an important point that we should pay attention to with regard to war and stopping it. When Bush assumed power and appointed a defense secretary [Donald Rumsfeld] who had made the biggest contribution to killing more than two million persecuted villagers in Vietnam, sane people predicted that Bush was preparing for new massacres in his era. This was what took place in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Obama assumed power and kept the men of Cheney and Bush — namely, the senior officials in the Defense Department, like Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus — sane people knew that Obama is a weak person who will not be able to stop the war as he had promised and that he would procrastinate as much as possible. If he were to decide, then he would hand over command to the generals who oppose this aimless war, like the former commander of troops in Iraq, General Sanchez, and the commander of the Central Command who was forced by Bush to resign shortly before leaving the White House due to his opposition to the war. He appointed instead of him a person who would escalate the war. Under the cover of his readiness to cooperate with the Republicans, Obama made the biggest trick as he kept the most important and most dangerous secretary from Cheney’s men to continue the war. The days will show you that you have changed only faces in the White House. The bitter truth is that the neoconservatives are still a heavy burden on you.

Once again, if you stop the war, then that is fine. If you choose not to stop the war, then we have no other option but to continue the war of attrition against you on all possible axes, just as we did with the Soviet Union for 10 years until it disintegrated, with the grace of God. Continue the war for as long as you wish. You are fighting a desperate, losing war that is in favor of others. There seems to be no end in sight for this war.

Russian generals, who learned lessons from the battles in Afghanistan, had anticipated the result of the war before its start, but you do not like those who give you advice. This is a losing war, God willing, as it is funded by money that is borrowed based on exorbitant usury and is fought by soldiers whose morale is down and who commit suicide on a daily basis to escape from this war.

“This war was prescribed to you by two doctors, Cheney and Bush, as a cure for the 11 September events. However, the bitterness and losses caused by this war are worse than the bitterness of the events themselves. The accumulated debts incurred as a result of this war have almost done away with the US economy as a whole. It has been said that disease could be less evil than some medicines.

Praise be to God, we are carrying our weapon on our shoulders and have been fighting the two poles of evil in the East and the West for 30 years. Throughout this period, we have not seen any cases of suicide among us despite the international pursuit against us. We praise God for this. This proves the soundness of our belief and the justice of our cause. God willing, we will continue our way to liberate our land. Our weapon is patience. We seek victory from God. We will not give up the Al-Aqsa Mosque. We hold on to Palestine more than we hold on to our souls. Continue the war as long as you wish, we will never bargain over it (Palestine).

“Endless war will not tire me
For I am now fully grown and strong
For this, my mother begot me (lines of poetry)
Peace be upon those who follow guidance.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ghanaian King is Washington, DC Secretary

From today's Washington Post:
Peggielene Bartels lives in Silver Spring and works as a secretary. When she steps off an airplane in Ghana on Thursday, arriving in the coastal town her family has controlled for half a century, she will be royalty -- with a driver, a chef and an eight-bedroom palace, albeit one in need of repairs she will help finance herself.

"I'm a big-time king, you know," said Bartels, seated at her desk at the Ghanaian embassy just off Van Ness Street NW, where she has worked for almost 30 years.

In the humdrum of ordinary life, people periodically yearn for something unexpected, some kind of gilded escape, delivered, perhaps, by an unanticipated inheritance or a winning lottery ticket.

In Bartels's case, that moment arrived 15 months ago. The phone in her condominium awoke her at 4 a.m.

"Hello, Nana," said the overseas caller -- a relative, as it turned out -- employing a title Ghanaians use to refer to people of stature, from kings and queens to grandparents.

"What you mean, 'Nana?' " answered Bartels, 55, who has no grandchildren -- or children, for that matter. Her husband lives overseas. She thought the call was a prank.

The 90-year-old king of Otuam, a town of 7,000 residents an hour's drive from Ghana's capital, had just died, the caller said. The king, as it happened, was Bartels's uncle. The town elders had performed a ritual to choose his successor, praying and pouring schnapps on the ground and waiting for steam to rise as they announced the names of 25 relatives. The steam would signify which name the ancestors had blessed as the new king.

Bartels, the caller said, was Otuam's new Nana, with power to resolve disputes, appoint elders and manage more than 1,000 acres of family-owned land
It turns out that my Facebook friend Eleanor Herman is writing a book about her:
The king already has a biographer, Eleanor Herman, a historian whose published works include, "Sex With Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry and Revenge," and "Sex With the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers and Passionate Politics." Herman met Bartels at a reception at the Ghanaian embassy and became intrigued when Bartels described herself as a secretary, but added, "I'm also a king."

"A king of what?" the writer asked.

That led to a lunch, and more lunches, and now Herman is accompanying the king to Otuam. "You have an average human being who suddenly finds herself in a position of power," Herman said. "It's a story that brings into play all the human elements of life: you have power, she's going to have deal with male chauvinism, there may be cases of greed. How is she going to change it?"

Did New Osama Bin Laden Tape Trigger Queens Terror Raids?

There's a transcript of Osama Bin Laden's September 13, 2009 videotape on It suggests a link to the Queens raids, a "call to arms" for further attacks on the US. Unfortunately the entire transcript is not available. What ever happened to the public's right to know? Are all journalists now completely lame? Where's the AP transcript? Anyhow, here's what Memri put up for the public:
Osama Bin Laden in New Message: Stop the War Or We Will Continue to Fight You 'On All Possible Fronts' – Like We Did Against the USSR Until It Disintegrated; Our Weapon Is Our Patience, Victory Will Come From Allah; Read Carter, Mearsheimer, and Walt

Osama bin Laden: "Oh American people — I address this speech to you as a reminder of the reasons for 9/11 and for the ensuing wars and consequences, and as a reminder of the way to end them from the core. I especially address the relatives of the people harmed in those events, who have recently demanded that an investigation be started into their reasons. This is an important first step in the right direction, among many steps taken deliberately in the wrong direction in the past eight lean years that you have been through. The American people in its entirety should follow in their footsteps, because the delay in understanding these reasons has cost you dearly, with no benefit to speak of.

"The White House administration, which is one of the two sides to the conflict, has told you, in the years that have passed, that the war is necessary to maintain your security. But wise people should make sure that they listen to both sides in a conflict, in order to know the truth. So lend me your ear.

"First, let me say that we have declared many times, over more than two and a half decades, that the reason for our conflict with you is your support for your Israeli allies, who are occupying our land of Palestine. It was this position of yours, along with some other injustices, that drove us to carry out the events of 9/11. If you knew how much we suffer from the injustice that the Jews inflict upon us, with the support that your administration provides them, you would know that both of our nations are victims of the policies of the White House, which is, in fact, held hostage by the lobbies, especially by the large corporations and the Israeli lobby.

"One of the best people who can explain to you the reasons for 9/11 is one of your own citizens, a former top CIA agent, who had pangs of conscience in the eighth decade of his life, and decided to tell the truth despite the threats and to explain the message of 9/11 to you. He has several works, including a book titled Apology of a Hired Killer (sic)...
Unfortunately the free transcript ends there. I think Osama bin Laden is praising former President Jimmy Carter, Stephen Walt, and John, at least we all know which side they are on. The New York Times published a discussion of Bin Laden's book choices in a blog post that can be found here (with an apology for not explaining why they are "controversial...") But the Times didn't post a transcript of Bin Laden's speech...

Meanwhile, CNN had this account:
(CNN) -- An audio message purportedly from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has accused President Barack Obama of being unable to fulfil his election pledge to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Osama bin Laden is seen in an image taken from a videotape that aired on Al-Jazeera in September 2003.

The tape emerged on radical Islamist Web sites, just two days after the United States marked the eighth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"To the American people, this is my message to you: a reminder of the reasons behind 9/11 and the wars and the repercussions that followed and the way to resolve it," the message said.

"From the beginning, we have stated many times ... that the cause of our disagreement with you is your support of your allies, the Israelis, who are occupying our land in Palestine. Your stance along with some other grievances are what led us to carry out the events of 9/11."

The video plays the audio over a undated photograph of bin Laden. The video also shows a banner with the American flag as the backdrop and an image of the New York City skyline with the twin towers of the World Trade Center -- destroyed in the 9/11 attack -- still standing, said terrorism analyst Laura Mansfield.

CNN could not independently authenticate bin Laden as the speaker in the 11-minute video posted on Sunday by As-Sahab Media -- al Qaeda's production company.

Obama was "a vulnerable man who will not be able to stop the war, as he promised, but instead he will drag it to the maximum possible extent," the message said.

Though U.S. troops no longer patrol Iraq's major cities and a large number have left, tens of thousands remain in the country and are expected to stay for years to come.

The message claims that the Obama administration is under the influence of the Republican White House it replaced, pointing out that the president kept Robert Gates as defense secretary -- a holdover from the Bush administration.

"Prolong the wars as much as you like. By God, we will never compromise on it (Palestine), ever," the message continued.

Mansfield noted that the video brings no new images of the elusive bin Laden, who was last seen in footage two years ago on the sixth anniversary of the terror attacks.

Bin Laden has released audio messages since then, most recently on June 9.
Walid Phares' analysis here.

Anti-Israel UN "Human Rights" Report Based on NGO Propaganda

From NGO Monitor:
Goldstone Report: 575 pages of NGO "cut and paste"

The 575-page Goldstone report is primarily based on NGO statements, publications, and submissions (70 references each for B’Tselem and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and more than 30 for Al-Haq and Human Rights Watch). In its analysis of NGO submissions and testimony, NGO Monitor found numerous false and unsubstantiated allegations. Nevertheless, the Goldstone committee simply copied the NGO biases, flawed methodology, and false claims, rendering the entire report invalid.

Goldstone’s press conference in New York and the report’s recommendations constitute another step in the Durban Strategy, crystallized at the 2001 NGO Forum, using the language of human rights and international law as weapons in the political war to isolate and demonize Israel, and restrict legitimate responses to terror.

Still no “human shields” in Gaza. Following HRW and Amnesty, paragraph 495 ignores evidence that contradicts Goldstone’s predetermined conclusions: “Although the situations investigated by the Mission did not establish the use of mosques for military purposes or to shield military activities, the Mission cannot exclude that this might have occurred in other cases.”

The report copies NGO distortions of international law, including:

Promotion of the false legal claim invented by the PLO Negotiation Affairs Department (and promoted by NGOs such as B’tselem, HRW, Amnesty) that Gaza remains “occupied” after the 2005 disengagement (p. 9). The political objective of this distortion is to manufacture humanitarian obligations that do not exist under international law. (The ICRC, in contrast, had acknowledged that Gaza is an “autonomous territory.” However, after the release of the Goldstone report, the ICRC changed its website to promote the biased conclusion of the Mission.)

The classification of the Gaza police force as “civilian” (paras. 33-34) even though independent studies have shown that more than ninety percent were members of Hamas’ military wing and active combatants.

The claim that under the Geneva Convention (para 28) Israel has a duty to supply food to Gazans. No such duty exists and the Commission does not cite to any specific provision of the Convention to support its claim. For more on NGO distortions of international law regarding Gaza, see NGO Monitor’s report on the topic.

Paragraph 493 claims that the failure of armed Palestinian groups “to distinguish themselves from the civilian population by distinctive signs is not a violation of international law in itself.” This is patently false. The adoption of civilian dress is a violation of the IHL obligation against perfidy.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Goldstone’s report asserts that the “data provided by non-governmental sources with regard to the percentage of civilians among those killed are generally consistent …” (para. 30). There is no such “consistency” -- the numbers claimed by these organizations differ by the hundreds. Goldstone also fails to note the major lack of credibility in PCHR’s data, such as characterizing two leading Hamas military figures, Nizar Rayan and Siad Siam, as civilians. And as researchers have shown, the B’Tselem data, while different from PCHR’s, is also unreliable.

Prior to the report’s release, Goldstone made several public statements that the Commission’s work was “not judicial. This is not a court.” (This claim was used to defend Prof. Christine Chinkin’s membership on the committee, who should have recused herself because of prejudicial comments made during the war.) In contrast, the report draws legal conclusions, asserting (without basis) that “the normative framework for the Mission has been general international law, the Charter of the United Nations, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law” (para 15). But these legal judgments are issued without any evidentiary procedures in place, including the right to cross-examination or guarantees of due process.

A Visit to Longwood Gardens

A couple of weeks ago, someone I know and yours truly visited Longwood Gardens, a botanical garden in a former DuPont estate located just outside Philadelphia. It was a bargain at $16.00--better than Disneyland. Clearly, Pierre S. DuPont succeeded in creating his own private Chicago World's Fair. The crowd was multi-national and multi-cultural, with lots of Asians, South Asians, and Russians promenading among the ferns and fountains. The giant greenhouse (4.5 acres under glass) featured a Fall vegetable festival, as shown in the picture and described in the official blog.

Not to be missed: the lotus gardens, the lake, the DuPont house, the former Casino, and the gigantic Aeolian organ. "Autumn's Colors" themed displays on show now... Plus, fireworks and fountain special displays at various times during the year. More visitor information, here.

Now, That's a Good Idea...

From Radio Iowa:
An Iowa congressman is pushing the idea of honoring the late Norman Borlaug with a statue in the U.S.Capitol. Borlaug, a native of Cresco, Iowa, won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in plant genetics...

William Easterly: "Development" = Imperialism + Colonialism - Racism

From AidWatch:
How the British Invented “Development” to Keep the Empire and Substitute for Racism
By William Easterly

During the early years of World War II, Japan won major victories (such as the capture of Singapore) against the British and threatened India. Japanese propaganda pointed to British racism and offered themselves as the defenders of non-white peoples. The British feared that non-white people in the colonies might side with the Japanese rather than their colonial masters. The British had to come up with a new justification for colonial rule to replace the unpopular and increasingly implausible idea that they were a superior race destined to rule inferior races. In response, they invented the concept of economic development.

This story is told in an undeservedly obscure book by Suke Wolton, 2000, Lord Hailey, the Colonial Office, and the Politics of Race and Empire in the Second World War, (I have this thing for obscure development history books; this one is ranked #4,399,430 on Amazon)

The Japanese charge of British racism was certainly correct. They were so racist they thought even nonwhites acknowledged their own inferiority, like when Julian Huxley referred to the natives’ “childlike belief in the white as an inherently superior being.” After World War I, the Americans and British shot down a League of Nations resolution for Racial Equality proposed by the Japanese. The Colonial Office said in 1939 “most Africans are still savages.”

But during the dark days when the British were losing World War II, the racism was no longer allowed to be so explicit. The Labor Minister in 1941 banned the N word for Africans and “coolies” for Indians. The Colonial Office further told the BBC that the N-word should be “discouraged” on the radio. A further breakthrough caused the BBC to drop the word “native.”

But something more positive was needed to put the Empire in a good light. A long-time colonial official, Lord Hailey came up with the idea in 1941 of redefining the Empire’s mission as “promotion of native welfare.” (I guess he didn’t get the BBC memo about “native.”) And he argued the colonies could only develop with Britain’s help (sound familiar?) In short, Hailey said:

A new conception of our relationship…may emerge as part of the movement for the betterment of the backward peoples of the world, which stands in the forefront of every enlightened programme for …postwar conditions.

To repress independence movements, however, Hailey made a distinction between political development and economic development: “Political liberties are meaningless unless they can be built on a better foundation of social and economic progress.” (A line that autocrats have been using ever since.) The Colonial Office thought many colonies “little removed from their primitive state,” so “they will probably not be fit for complete independence for centuries.”

Of course, changing the language from racist to economic development did not mean racism suddenly disappeared. As Wolton shows, “the white Western elites still believed in their fundamental superiority.” In the end, Wolton says, “The major powers would continue to be able to determine the future of the colonial territories – only this time the source of their legitimacy was based less on racial difference and more on their new role as protector and developmental economist.” After the war, even more officials went out to the Empire in what became known as the “second colonial occupation.”

Why does this history matter today? After all, the Empire fell apart much sooner than expected, and racism did diminish a lot over time. And I do NOT mean to imply guilt by association for development as imperialist and racist; there are many theories of development and many who work on development (including many from developing countries themselves) that have nothing to do with imperialism and racism.

But I think the origin of development as cover for imperialism and racism did have toxic legacies for some. First, it meant that the concept of development was determined to fit a propaganda imperative; it was NOT a breakthrough in thought by economists. Second, it followed that development from the beginning would stress the central role of Western aid to help the helpless natives (which shows up in the early development theories like the “poverty trap” and the “Big Push,” and the lack of interest in local entrepreneurs and market incentives). Third, the paternalism was so extreme at the beginning that it would last for a long time – I still think it is widespread today, especially after today’s comeback of the early development ideas in some parts of the aid system. And this history also seems strangely relevant with today’s “humanitarian” nouveau-imperialism to invade and fix “failed states” like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Membership in the development elites is far more diverse than in Lord Hailey’s time, but I fear that, to use Wolton’s words, “in the end, the elites still believe in their fundamental superiority.”

Afghan President Calls for Investigation into Death of Afghan NY Times Reporter

Could this be one reason why the NY Times runs op-eds calling Hamid Karzai corrupt? A NY Times "fixer" (their term, not ours) is killed, and their reporter leaves his body behind?

Also, why doesn't the British Government want an investigation? Do they have something to hide? Story from Agence France Presse:
KABUL — President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday ordered a second investigation into the killing of an Afghan reporter during a British commando raid that rescued his Western colleague, his office said.

The president told the interior ministry and National Directorate for Security to re-open inquiries into the death last week of Sultan Munadi, a 34-year-old father of two.

Karzai issued the order after meeting Munadi's family at his palace in Kabul and hearing their version of the events that led to his death.

Munadi and Stephen Farrell, both working for The New York Times, were snatched by Taliban rebels while investigating suspected civilian deaths in a NATO air strike in the northern Kunduz province earlier this month.

A dramatic airborne commando raid last Wednesday saw British-Irish citizen Farrell whisked to safety but Munadi killed in the crossfire, his bullet-riddled body left at the scene for his family to collect.

Karzai met Munadi's father and brother and "assured them of a serious investigation into his death," the presidency said.

Based on investigations carried out by Qurban Mohammad, the reporter's father, and witnesses, Munadi's "martyrdom case is totally different to what is said by media and coalition forces," said the statement.

"Listening to Qurban Mohammad, the president ordered the interior ministry and National Directorate of Security to launch a re-investigation," it said.

Initial investigations showed Munadi was killed by gunfire at close-range, the statement said.

Munadi's brother Mohammad Osman told AFP that he believed the fatal shot entered vertically from under his chin and was fired from such close range that it left burn marks on the skin around the wound.

"He had a gun shot from under his chin with a skin burn. This is not possible unless he is shot with gun barrel touching his skin," said Osman.

Munadi's death caused heartbreak and anger among his colleagues, some of whom accused international forces of double standards in their dealings with Afghans and Westerners.

The operation sparked a blacklash over the use of British troops with reports saying that negotiations had been under way to free the pair and after a British soldier, and an Afghan woman and child were also killed in the raid.

It has been unclear whether Munadi was killed by insurgents or troops.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband rebuffed calls for an inquiry, insisting the raid was the only way to secure the men's release.
Meanwhile, Reporters Sans Frontiers has also called for an investigation:
Call for probe into Afghan journalist’s death during British rescue operation
Published on 16 September 2009

Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth Secretary of State for Defence London United Kingdom
Paris, 16 September 2009

Dear Secretary of State,

There has been a great deal of emotion and anger in Afghanistan and internationally about the death of Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi in the operation carried out by British special forces on 9 September to rescue Munadi’s British colleague, Stephen Farrell.

We urge you to order an investigation that will shed light on the problems and errors that led to this tragedy. We also ask you to publish its findings and to sanction those responsible.

Several aspects of this commando operation continue to be unclear. We do not doubt that the aim was to rescue the two journalists, who had been kidnapped a few days earlier by Taliban militants, and to spare them a long and difficult captivity.
But we think the investigation needs to explain why a decision to carry out a military operation, involving a serious risk to both the soldiers and the hostages, was taken so quickly and without consulting all the parties. You were personally involved in this decision. Why did you not await the outcome of the negotiations that were under way with the Taliban?

According to the various accounts available of how the operation unfolded, the British soldiers knew there were two hostages, a westerner and an Afghan. They even had photographs of Farrell and Munadi. When he was killed, Munadi was obviously unarmed and, shouting in English, had just identified himself as a journalist. What led the British or Afghan combatants to open fire at that precise moment? What were the rules of engagement that had been given to the British commandos?

Munadi’s body was left at the scene of the operation. His family members were forced to fetch his body themselves from a very dangerous region. How is it possible that the body of one of the two hostages was abandoned in this fashion? Wasn’t the goal to take care of both the British journalist and his Afghan colleague?

As we said in the press release we issued on the day Munadi died, we consider that all options, including military ones, have to be considered in kidnapping cases.

But it is important that all these questions are answered. The need to know the truth is pressing, not only for Munadi’s family and colleagues but also for the family and colleagues of the British soldier who died in this operation.

We trust you will satisfy our hopes.

Jean-François Julliard Secretary-General

My Sony VAIO warranty claim has finally been resolved...

I just got a refund to cover repair costs--after writing a certified letter to the CEO of NetSolutions. Lesson: NEVER GIVE UP.

NY Daily News Footage of Queens Terror Raid

Am I the only one who finds the way police dressed disturbing? What message does it send to ordinary citizens...that America is a police state? Surely there must be a lower-key way to handle such incidents...If the box above doesn't work, here's a link to the Daily News URL.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

House of Representatives Condemns Cong. Joe Wilson Heckling

I was against throwing shoes at President Bush, and so heartily approve of yesterday's House resolution condemning Cong. Joe Wilson (R-SC) for heckling President Obama. From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — Representative Joe Wilson was formally rebuked by the House on Tuesday for his outburst during President Obama’s health care address. The vote came after a Congressional clash over civility that showcased the deep partisan divisions in the House.

In a mainly party line vote of 240 to 179, the House held that by shouting “You lie” during the president’s speech Mr. Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, committed a “breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House.”
Full text of House Resolution 744 here.

Simon Johnson on Obama's Wall Street Speech

From Baseline Scenario:
And, of course, the real issues were not mentioned at all.

1) The largest financial institutions have to be made smaller — aim to make them under $100bn in assets, roughly the size of CIT Group which even this Treasury was willing to leave to its own devices. We can do it with legislation now or by regulatory fiat next time the behemoths get into trouble, but we should do it before they ruin us.

2) The people who run banks like to talk about “skin in the game” in various contexts, but they generally have only a small proportion of their wealth at risk in these financial institutions. This is not a panacea of course, but it is completely fair to ask them to stake a large part of their fortunes. If they respond that this is not fair because all kinds of things can happen that are beyond their control, you should say, “Agreed – so split your bank up and manage something much smaller.”

3) The revolving door between Wall Street and Washington is out of control. There is no way people should be able to go directly (or even overnight) from a failing bank to designing bailout packages to benefit such banks. In any other industry, in any other country, and at any other time in American history, this would have been seen as an unconscionable conflict of interest. Let’s get our principles back and impose a 5 year moratorium on such flows in either direction.

4) The way the Fed operates means that, in the absence of tough regulation, the finance industry has at its disposal the world’s greatest ever bailout machine. Our financial elite knows this and is acting accordingly.

Brandeis was scathing about the individuals behind the financial structures. For him, it was about power and it was about control. He was appalled by how big finance operated and he worked hard – an uphill slog – to rein it in.

But Brandeis never saw anything like what we have now experienced, with regard to the amount of taxpayer money that the banks are able to expropriate when downside risks materialize. The big banks that Brandeis feared did not, in the end, dominate the 20th century. But they are back now, with unfettered power and an arrogance that spells trouble.

Ultimately, we will put the banks back in their regulatory box or they will bankrupt us all.

How Come The New York Times Isn't Covering This Story?

Are only white, British-Irish passport-holding, NY Times staffers worth saving? Afghan NY Times reporter (called a "fixer" in some news accounts) Sultan Munadi's father doesn't think so. He thinks it merits an investigation...something the New York Times could do, if anyone cared about Afghan employees. Do New York Times editor Bill Keller and publisher Pinch Sulzberger disagree? From the BBC:
The father of an Afghan journalist who died when British forces tried to rescue him from the Taliban is demanding a full enquiry.

The British reporter Stephen Farrell was freed unharmed in the raid. However, his Afghan colleague, Sultan Munadi, a British soldier and two Afghan civilians died during exchanges of gunfire.

It is reported that twelve Taliban fighters were also killed.

Afghan journalists have voiced concerns that the British reporter was rescued whilst his Afghan counterpart died.
BTW, now that it is all over, one lasting result of this affair for journalism was that it corrupted Wikipedia as part of an official NY Times policy of news suppression and censorship--which failed to help Sultan Munadi one bit... I hope his family sues the New York Times in an American court.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Obma to Wall Street: "Act Responsibly!"

On the eve of Pittsburgh's G-20 Summit, the President tells Wall Street to get its act together:
At the same time, we have to recognize that what's needed now goes beyond just the reforms that I've mentioned. For what took place one year ago was not merely a failure of regulation or legislation; it wasn't just a failure of oversight or foresight. It was also a failure of responsibility -- it was fundamentally a failure of responsibility -- that allowed Washington to become a place where problems -- including structural problems in our financial system -- were ignored rather than solved. It was a failure of responsibility that led homebuyers and derivative traders alike to take reckless risks that they couldn't afford to take. It was a collective failure of responsibility in Washington, on Wall Street, and across America that led to the near-collapse of our financial system one year ago.

So restoring a willingness to take responsibility -- even when it's hard to do -- is at the heart of what we must do. Here on Wall Street, you have a responsibility. The reforms I've laid out will pass and these changes will become law. But one of the most important ways to rebuild the system stronger than it was before is to rebuild trust stronger than before -- and you don't have to wait for a new law to do that. You don't have to wait to use plain language in your dealings with consumers. You don't have to wait for legislation to put the 2009 bonuses of your senior executives up for a shareholder vote. You don't have to wait for a law to overhaul your pay system so that folks are rewarded for long-term performance instead of short-term gains.

The fact is, many of the firms that are now returning to prosperity owe a debt to the American people. They were not the cause of this crisis, and yet American taxpayers, through their government, had to take extraordinary action to stabilize the financial industry. They shouldered the burden of the bailout and they are still bearing the burden of the fallout -- in lost jobs and lost homes and lost opportunities. It is neither right nor responsible after you've recovered with the help of your government to shirk your obligation to the goal of wider recovery, a more stable system, and a more broadly shared prosperity.

So I want to urge you to demonstrate that you take this obligation to heart. To put greater effort into helping families who need their mortgages modified under my administration's homeownership plan. To help small business owners who desperately need loans and who are bearing the brunt of the decline in available credit. To help communities that would benefit from the financing you could provide, or the community development institutions you could support. To come up with creative approaches to improve financial education and to bring banking to those who live and work entirely outside of the banking system. And, of course, to embrace serious financial reform, not resist it.

Just as we are asking the private sector to think about the long term, I recognize that Washington has to do so as well. When my administration came through the door, we not only faced a financial crisis and costly recession, we also found waiting a trillion dollar deficit. So yes, we have to take extraordinary action in the wake of an extraordinary economic crisis. But I am absolutely committed to putting this nation on a sound and secure fiscal footing. That's why we're pushing to restore pay-as-you-go rules in Congress, because I will not go along with the old Washington ways which said it was okay to pass spending bills and tax cuts without a plan to pay for it. That's why we're cutting programs that don't work or are out of date. That's why I've insisted that health insurance reform -- as important as it is -- not add a dime to the deficit, now or in the future.

There are those who would suggest that we must choose between markets unfettered by even the most modest of regulations, and markets weighed down by onerous regulations that suppress the spirit of enterprise and innovation. If there is one lesson we can learn from last year, it is that this is a false choice. Common-sense rules of the road don't hinder the market, they make the market stronger. Indeed, they are essential to ensuring that our markets function fairly and freely.
Personally, I favor more than self-regulation...perhaps a special financial-services tax on Wall Street companies and executives, to help repay the bailout...and who knows, maybe it could pay for single-payer health-care, too?