Archive for October 2009
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|Edwin Black||October 26th 2009|
This article is based on the Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here
Just who were the Arabs and how did they begin?
Mesopotamia’s original peoples were an indistinct amalgam of Sumerian, Semitic, Indo-European, and other groups. The Arabs as a group were generally thought to be the scattered people who spoke a similar Semitic language and who, with few exceptions, dwelled stateless in the nearly empty desert far to the south that came to be known as the Arabian Peninsula. By legend and tradition, the Arabs were the descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham, who roamed the wilderness.
One of the earliest references to Arabs is found in the Old Testament, dating to about 900 BCE, when Chronicles II records that “the Arabs” offered tribute to Israel’s King Solomon. In 853 BCE, King Ahab of Israel sealed an alliance with “Gindibu the Arab,” who provided 1,000 camels, according to an Assyrian inscription. Two very different but related Arab groups arose. The first were the nomadic and colorful Bedouins, roving with their extended families and tending flocks in tow. The second group settled in oases on the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula and along the northern fringes of the Arabian Desert. Bedouins were especially known for adventurous caravans that fearlessly plied the deserts across the Mideast and northern Africa. Everywhere, they established formidable reputations as both traders and raiders. Bedouin travelers interacted with the Hebrews in Israel, the Babylonians in Mesopotamia, the Egyptians, and the Greeks. In fact, the Greeks were among the first to refer in written records to the desert peninsula as “Arabia.”
Proud and passionately independent, even the earliest recorded Arabs despised any attempt to dominate them. One poet wrote, “The worst evil that can befall a people… is that their necks are bent.” As a warning against any attempt to infringe their freedom, Bedouins were fond of ghazu, that is, audacious marauding, killing the men in other settlements, kidnapping their wives, and stealing their animals. Read more ..
Inside Latin America
|Eduardo Szklarz and Martin Barillas||October 26th 2009|
Cutting Edge correspondents
|Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner|
A law passed on October 10, 2009 in Argentina that will place controls on the media has generated suspicions that the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner hopes to actually restrict freedom of the press. The Law on Audiovisual Media came up for a vote in the Argentine Senate amidst widespread accusations of vote buying by the current executive. President Kirchner signed the bill in record time despite howls of protest, especially by the owners of Clarín – a centrist newspaper that also controls television holdings.
Opponents of the legislation affirm that it was approved by Congress in haste and without necessary debate over its merits and whether it would restrict constitutional freedoms. Observers in Buenos Aires claim to see the hand of former president Nestor Kirchner, the husband of the current executive, in the passage of the bill before the new Congress assembles on December 10. The climate of suspicion was heightened in view of the disdain with which the Argentine power-couple treated journalists, and harassment on the part of the government. According to some analysts, the Kirchner’s effort to restrict the media resembles that similarly used by their ally, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Read more ..
|Shoshana Bryen||October 26th 2009|
Cutting Edge Commentator
The July 2008 indictment of Sudan's Omar Bashir by the International Criminal Court includes three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. He is accused of running the campaign in Darfur that killed (using the lowest estimate the Court deemed reliable) 35,000 people directly and 100,000 more by related causes, and turned more than 2.5 million people into refugees. He is supposed to be arrested upon arrival in signatory countries-although his trips to the Arab world and Iran had the air of victory laps. But President Obama's envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force General Scott Gration, declared the genocide over. In June he said, "What we see is the remnant of genocide... the consequences of genocide... the results of genocide." Read more ..
|Diane Swanbrow||October 26th 2009|
A new survey released shows widespread consumer interest in buying plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). But the cost of the cars is much more influential than environmental and other non-economic factors as a predictor of purchase probabilities.
The survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,513 adults age 18 was part of the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. The findings were released at The Business of Plugging In: A Plug-In Electric Vehicle Conference in Detroit.
Overall, when given no cost or fuel-saving estimates, 42 percent of those surveyed said there was at least some chance that they would buy a PHEV sometime in the future. The researchers then asked respondents to rate the likelihood of purchasing a PHEV under three different cost-scenarios, each time assuming they would save 75 percent in fuel costs compared to a traditional, gasoline-powered vehicle. With each successive doubling of the price of PHEVs, the probability of purchase fell by 16 percentage points. Read more ..
Pakistan on Edge
|Walid Phares||October 26th 2009|
Cutting Edge terrorism analyst
The war between the Taliban and Pakistan continues to accelerate. Following a long string of Taliban attacks, Pakistan’s army is still in the midst of a massive ground operation in Waziristan.
But through this already-long fight, the press and other observers have only focused on the continuing bloodshed rather than the fact that the Taliban continue to launch suicide bombers and other types of attacks inside Pakistan’s cities against its police and military forces. There was ample warning two years ago that the Taliban’s war on Pakistan’s government and civil society, would widen following the assassination of Prime Minister elect Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. And so it is today. Read more ..
The Geologic Edge
|Sean Bettam||October 26th 2009|
According to a new study by geologists at the University of Toronto and the University of Maryland, the wealth of some minerals that lie in the rock beneath the Earth's surface may be extraterrestrial in origin.
"The extreme temperature at which the Earth's core formed more than four billion years ago would have completely stripped any precious metals from the rocky crust and deposited them in the core," says James Brenan of the Department of Geology at the University of Toronto and co-author of the study.
"So, the next question is why are there detectable, even mineable, concentrations of precious metals such as platinum and rhodium in the rock portion of the Earth today?” Brenan asks. He adds, “Our results indicate that they could not have ended up there by any known internal process, and instead must have been added back, likely by a 'rain' of extraterrestrial debris, such as comets and meteorites." Read more ..
The United Nations
|Gregg Rickman||October 26th 2009|
Cutting Edge Commentator
|Human Rights Council|
Last week’s consideration of the one-sided Goldstone Report has once again shown the fecklessness and bias of the Human Rights Council. Israel’s indictment by that body should come as no surprise to anyone who knows the UN. Israel simply cannot receive a fair hearing for any accusations placed against it there. As such, the Human Rights Council, and to be more accurate, the entire UN system is rigged against Israel making the process a kangaroo court.
In June 2008, while decrying the US refusal to continue its engagement with the Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch, could not avoid pointing out these important facts about the Council explaining, “In its first two years, however, the Human Rights Council has failed to address more than 20 human rights situations that require its attention, eliminated human rights monitoring in places desperately in need of such scrutiny, and adopted a long stream of one-sided resolutions on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories which failed to consider the roles and responsibilities of the Palestinian authorities and armed groups.”
Moreover, according to the Democracy Coalition Project study, “Human Rights Council Report Card, 2007-2008,” while “the Council considered numerous country situations throughout the year, it acted only on a few. It failed to effectively address several unfolding human rights crises, such as Zimbabwe and Tibet, or speak forcefully on ongoing situations as urgent as Darfur. The Council discontinued the mandates on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Group of Experts on Darfur, two areas of the world where gross and systematic human rights violations continue to take place.”
Since its inception, the Council has held 12 Special Sessions, with six directed at Israel. This sounds frighteningly familiar to the Council’s predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission. Between 2001 and when it was disbanded in 2006, the UN Human Rights Commission passed 26 resolutions and one decision that were critical of Israel. The situations in North Korea, Burma, and Sudan warranted a combined total of 11 resolutions and decisions during the same period. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Myriam Benraad and Mohamed Abdelbaky||October 26th 2009|
Amid the uncertainty over Egypt's impending political succession, Egyptian security forces have cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the country's largest opposition group, in an attempt to curtain MB participation in Egyptian political life. Since late June, the government has arrested dozens of mid- and high-level Islamists, including the leader of the movement's guidance council, Abd al-Muanem Abu al-Fatouh.
These Islamists oppose President Hosni Mubarak's bid for a sixth presidential term and reject his son Gamal as a potential replacement in 2011. After more than a decade of relative political moderation and successful deradicalization of the main Islamist groups, Cairo's policy of exclusion and persecution threatens to foment a return to radical Islamism in Egypt.
Muslim Brothers at an Impasse
Although formally outlawed, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has achieved important political gains over the past few years. In 2005, the group won eighty-eight seats in the national assembly through "independent" candidates, representing the largest opposition bloc to President Mubarak. The growing role of the MB in the political arena has emboldened its historical confrontation with the regime and found new impetus this summer after Egyptian security forces arrested hundreds of its members and leaders. While the current campaign is reminiscent of Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Sadat's repression of the Islamist movement in the 1960s and 1970s -- which resulted in the emergence of other radical factions -- this crackdown has created an unprecedented crisis for the MB.
As a result of constitutional amendments passed in 2007, it has become difficult for the movement to run in either parliamentary or presidential elections. In fact, the restrictive new electoral law, which allows only registered political parties to campaign, bans religious parties, and imposes tough conditions on "independent" candidates, makes it nearly impossible for the MB to participate. Last year, these restrictions resulted in the rejection of more than 800 MB candidates for local council elections. The movement also failed to win in elections for professional lawyers and journalist syndicates. Read more ..
|Kenneth Weisbrode||October 26th 2009|
News leaked recently that President Obama had called a group of historians to the White House a few months ago to educate him on the thinking of President Lyndon Johnson in late 1964 as Johnson weighed the possibility of ordering a major military escalation in Vietnam.
As we know, that fateful escalation came in 1965. Are we to conclude that Obama has Vietnam in mind as he considers sending more troops to Afghanistan? Most likely.
Experts will argue forever about whether the Vietnam War was a lost cause. But there was little doubt at the time that Johnson and his advisers would opt for escalation. Less clear cut was the question of his ability to keep the public on board.
Johnson failed to do this and was demonized for that failure. Obama surely must keep the public message front and center. Unfortunately, Johnson's legacy provides him with mixed guidance. Read more ..
|Martyn Drakard||October 26th 2009|
Cutting Edge Africa Correspondent
In his book Africa--Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, Richard Dowden quotes John Robertson, a Zimbabwean economist, on corruption. Robertson says: “We imagine corruption to be like a tick on a dog. There are some places in Africa where the tick is bigger than the dog.”
Transparency International’s 2009 Global Corruption Report (GCR) bears out Robertson’s insight. Yet, corruption in Africa does have its explanation. In her book Dead Aid, the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, writes: “Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and up until the 1990s, the Cold War had provided richer countries with the political imperative to give aid monies even to the most corrupt and venal despots in Africa. One of the features of the Cold War was the West’s ability and eagerness to support, bankroll and prop up a swathe of pathological and downright dangerous dictators from Idi Amin… to Mobutu Sese Seko… to Samuel Doe. Bokassa’s coronation as Emperor of the Central African Republic in 1977 alone cost $22 million.” This view is augmented by a World Bank study which found that as much as 85 percent of aid flows were used for purposes other than that for which they were initially intended, often diverted to unproductive, if not grotesque ventures.
According to Transparency International, Mobutu is estimated to have looted Zaire of $5 billion. Roughly the same amount was stolen from Nigeria by President Sani Abacha and placed in Swiss private banks. In Africa, natural resources such as oil, minerals and high-quality wood provide unlimited opportunities for personal wealth accumulation. Read more ..
|Samuel Edelman||October 26th 2009|
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), an academic community of over 28,000 scholars worldwide, wants to call to your attention that our call for essays up to 2,000-words analyzing the special relationship between the United States and Israel. Essays submitted should convey the mutual benefits of this deep-rooted, multi-faceted relationship, based on moral values, common strategic interests and shared humanitarian visions. The essays should be written in clear, jargon-free language for distribution among policy-makers, opinion-leaders, faculty and students across all academic disciplines. A title page should include the title of the essay and the author’s or authors’ name, address, academic affiliation (if any), email address, and daytime and evening telephone numbers. Source citations and bibliography should be included. Deadline for submission electronically is January 15, 2010. Essays will be academically reviewed by a panel of scholars with the best selected for electronic and paper publications and distribution. Essays should be sent to SPME at email@example.com .
|Samuel Edelman||October 26th 2009|
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
The Transfer Agreement: The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine. Edwin Black, a 25th anniversary edition, afterword by Abraham Foxman, Dialog Press. 2009. 430 pages.
Seventy-six years ago a small group of Jewish German Zionists met with the Nazis and created a device for the rescue of the German Jewish community called the Transfer Agreement. That agreement helped rescue my wife’s aunt and uncle. That agreement rescued more than 60,000 Jews and permitted the transfer of their wealth to the tune of more than 100 million dollars or just fewer than 1.7 billion dollars in today’s money.
It also caused rifts in the Jewish community in Jewish Palestine and the US that are still being felt today. It caused division and bitterness in the Zionist movement that still is felt today. It provided anti-Zionist, anti-Israel propagandists with ammunition to question the very founding of the modern State of Israel. It was, without a doubt, one of the many choice-less choices that would confront the worldwide Jewish community throughout the years of the Shoah. Yet, it had to be done.
Edwin Black’s 25th anniversary edition of The Transfer Agreement tells the story of this tragic success wonderfully. He lays out all of the characters involved, the ups and downs, the emotional responses, the feeling of many that a devil’s agreement was being put together. Black insightfully shows us that the perception of the Nazis was that the worldwide anti-German boycott was feared by the Nazi hierarchy.
The Nazis in many ways were fooled by their own anti-Jewish propaganda which railed against world Jewry allegedly in control of the world economy. Yet, the Zionist leadership in Palestine before the war understood perfectly how weak the world wide Jewish community really was. So in a kind of brilliant turnabout the Zionist leaders used the very same myths to gain Nazi agreement for thousands of German Jews and their wealth to be transferred out of Germany to Palestine. This continued until just before the war began in 1939. As Black points out the Transfer Agreement “stands alone as the sole asset rescue that actually worked.” Read more ..
Edge of the Road
|Matthew Lewis||October 19th 2009|
Center for Public Integrity
More than 50 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower sought to build an interconnected national transportation network bigger than any region or state could possibly construct alone. Recognizing every legislator's desire to deliver funds to local projects, the Bureau of Public Roads shrewdly decided to bind scores of them together in a comprehensive illustrated guide to help sell Eisenhower's vision. Quickly, "The Yellow Book" found its way to the desks of the U.S. Congress, satisfying districts throughout the country while creating an interstate highway system that, according to President Bill Clinton, "did more to bring Americans together than any other law of this century."
Decades later, though, America's surface transportation system—like the funding and policy decisions behind it—desperately lacks any sort of national vision. More than a hundred disparate federal programs constitute a maze through which billions of dollars pass in and out of Washington each year, chaotically making their way back to America's cities and towns. Read more ..
The Genetic Edge
|Elizabeth Reis||October 19th 2009|
Caster Semenya, the South African runner who won the women's 800-meter race at the World Track Championships in Berlin last month, has been unofficially declared intersexed. If she is, it means that she was born with some discrepancy between her external genitals, internal sex anatomy (ovaries or testes and her hormones and chromosomes.
The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) will not make its official ruling as to whether it considers Semenya a woman until November, but an increasing number of news outlets around the world have reported that she's "a hermaphrodite." What does this mean, exactly? The media's terminology itself reflects the ignorance and confusion surrounding intersex. Doctors and informed lay people no longer use the word hermaphrodite because it is vague, demeaning and sensationalistic. "Hermaphrodite" continues to conjure images of mythical creatures, perhaps even monsters and freaks. It's thus not surprising that most have rejected the label. Read more ..
|Soner Cagaptay||October 19th 2009|
The reaction in Turkey to the recent death of Ertugrul Osman, heir to the Ottoman throne and successor to the last Caliph, could not be more shocking. Islamists in kaftans and long beards recently gathered in Istanbul to bury the titular head of the world Muslim community, a scotch-drinking, classical music-listening Western Turk who until recently lived on New York City's Upper East Side.
The Islamists' embrace of Osman, a descendant of the westernized Ottoman sultans, provides a periscope into the Islamist mind: Islamism is not about religion or reality. Rather it is a myth and a subversion of reality intended to promote Islamism, a utopian ideology. Osman, raised by a line of West-leaning caliphs and sultans, loved Ataturk's Turkey, yet the Islamists abused his funeral and the memory of the caliphate, changing it into a symbol for their anti-Western, anti-secular and anti-liberal agenda.
Were Ertugrul Osman alive and were the Ottomans around today, he would be Sultan Osman V and no doubt, he would be going after the fundamentalists who abused his funeral in an attempt to distort his legacy.
Despite what the Islamists want the world to believe, the Ottoman caliphate was not anti-Western. The Ottoman Empire always interacted with the West -- an interaction that goes all the way back to 16th-century Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, who envisioned himself as the Holy Roman emperor. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Ottoman sultans and caliphs embarked on a program of intense reforms to remake the Ottoman Empire in the Western image to match up with European powers. To this end, the caliphs launched institutions of secular education, and paved the way for women's emancipation by enrolling them in those schools. By the beginning of the 19th century, the sultans and caliphs of the Ottoman Empire embodied Western life and Western values. The last caliph, Abdulmecid Efendi, considered the Ottoman state a Western power with a Western destiny. An enlightened man and avid artist, the caliph's sought-after paintings, including nudes, are on exhibition at various museums, such as Istanbul's new museum of Modern Art.
It is therefore wrong to represent the Ottoman Empire as the antithesis to the secular republic Ataturk founded in 1923. True, when Ataturk turned Turkey into a secular republic in 1923 by abolishing the Ottoman state and the caliphate, Ataturk did not eradicate the sultan-caliphs' legacy. Rather, he fulfilled their dream of making Turkey a full-fledged Western society. Ataturk's reforms are a continuation of the late Ottoman Empire -- he merely pursued Ottoman reforms to their logical conclusion. Read more ..
|Patrick Clawson||October 19th 2009|
So long as Iran continues to race ahead with its nuclear program, negotiations with the West risk being overtaken by events: the window for talks depends on Iran's inability to manufacture a nuclear weapon. For this reason, the focus has been on convincing Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment so that it cannot produce enough low-enriched uranium (LEU) to use as feedstock for the highly enriched uranium necessary for a nuclear bomb. The October 1 Geneva agreement between Iran and the P5+1, however, resulted in a different means of reducing the risk of an Iranian "breakout."
Rather than reducing the amount of LEU Iran produces, the new approach focuses on reducing the amount of LEU Iran has on its soil. Iran agreed to ship 80 percent of its current LEU stock -- 1,200 kilograms -- to Russia, which would leave Tehran with too little LEU from its declared facilities to make a bomb. If the deal goes ahead, various government estimates suggest that Iran will need eighteen months to produce enough LEU to return to its current level of 1,200 kilograms. For this reason, the P5+1 told Iran -- in no uncertain terms -- that prompt shipment of the full 1,200 kilograms to Russia is essential. Read more ..
The Weapon's Edge
|Alex Sanchez||October 19th 2009|
In mid-September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton critiqued Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chavez for his ongoing purchases of mostly Russian military equipment, arguing that this could trigger an arms race in South America. The statement has added fuel to the ongoing discussions about what form South America’s rearmament is taking and what this could come to mean for the security of the region. Observers fear an inter-state war could break out due to geopolitical tensions.
Ongoing reports about major purchases by Venezuela, Brazil, and Chile tend to blur the actual geo-security situation in the region, as several countries -- with Argentina as the most prominent example -- have carried out only limited military acquisitions. The common perception is that an arms race raises the possibility of conflict; however, the reality in South America (and Central America as well) is that interstate warfare has seldom occurred since World War II. Additionally, it is misleading to assume that all South American countries are carrying out their arms purchases with the same gusto as Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||October 19th 2009|
Cutting Edge Senior Contributor
In lawless Somalia, the Al Shabaab—“the Youngsters”—Muslim terrorist group has sent its gunmen into the streets of Mogadishu to gather up women who appear to violate Islamic law for wearing bras that they claim are “deceptive.” According to locals, Al Shabaabi round up women who appear to have firm bosoms and then inspects them to determine whether that firmness is natural or not. If the firmness is the result of wearing a bra, they are ordered to remove it and shake their breasts in the presence of the Al Shabaab men.
Al Shabaab—many of whose members appeared masked when in public—have forced Somali women to wear full veils. They whipped two girls on October 15, as other women have also been whipped, for wearing bras. Al Shabaab believes that women’s breasts should be firm naturally, or lie flat. Read more ..
Inside Saudi Succession
|Simon Henderson||October 19th 2009|
Since the Saudi announcement of the formation of an Allegiance Council in October 2006, most observers have assumed that it would have a major role in the appointment of a new crown prince and even a new king, but such a conclusion is increasingly far from certain.
The declared role of the council is to help appoint a crown prince after Abdullah dies and Sultan becomes king. As such, it was probably an idea that surprised Sultan, who most likely had assumed that he could choose his own crown prince. Under the new system, his choice would need to be approved by the wider family. And if Sultan's choice were voted down, he would have to accept a compromise pick selected by the other members of the council.
The creation of an Allegiance Council showed the limits of Abdullah's power. Since it would not come into operation until Sultan became king, theoretically, as king, he could simply change the rules of the council or abolish it completely. A further indication of the constraints on Abdullah's authority, or perhaps just another case of slow Saudi administration, was the December 2007 announcement of the council's members more than a year after its creation.
The setting up of the council seems to indicate Abdullah's belief that the arrangement from the time of Fahd's first stoke in 1995 until his death in 2005 was most unsatisfactory. The core aspects of the new council's articles deal with the possibility of either the king or crown prince—or both—being ill, or both dying. In the event that neither the king nor the crown prince is deemed fit to rule, a five-member transitory council would run state affairs for a week at most, choosing a new king and crown prince. But the articles did not truly grasp the challenge of an increasingly aged and decrepit leadership passing power to the next generation. Read more ..
The Genetic Edge
|Mark Fellows||October 19th 2009|
|Researchers Richard Lenski and Jeffrey Barrick|
A 21-year Michigan State University experiment that distills the essence of evolution in laboratory flasks not only demonstrates natural selection at work, but could lead to biotechnology and medical research advances, researchers said.
Charles Darwin's seminal Origin of Species first laid out the case for evolution 150 years ago. Now, MSU professor Richard Lenski and colleagues document the process in their own analysis of 40,000 generations of bacteria.
Lenski, Hannah Professor of Microbial Ecology at MSU, started growing cultures of fast-reproducing, single-celled E. coli bacteria in 1988. If a genetic mutation gives a cell an advantage in competition for food, he reasoned, it should dominate the entire culture. While Darwin's theory of natural selection is supported by other studies, it has never before been studied for so many cycles and in such detail.
"It's extra nice now to be able to show precisely how selection has changed the genomes of these bacteria, step by step over tens of thousands of generations," Lenski said.
Lenski's team periodically froze bacteria for later study, and technology has since developed to allow complete genetic sequencing. By the 20,000-generation midpoint, researchers discovered 45 mutations among surviving cells. Those mutations, according to Darwin's theory, should have conferred some advantage, and that's exactly what the researchers found.
The results "beautifully emphasize the succession of mutational events that allowed these organisms to climb toward higher and higher efficiency in their environment," noted Dominique Schneider, a molecular geneticist at the Université Joseph Fourier in Grenoble, France. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||October 19th 2009|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
The oil princes of Saudi Arabia became literal beggars at the United Nations climate talks that began at Bangkok on September 28. The oil kingdom demanded that they, along with other OPEC member nations, receive subsidies for revenues to be lost due to potential global warming.
Speaking on October 8, Mohammad S. Al Sabban, who led the Saudi delegation at the talks, claimed that a report by the International Energy Agency on OPEC revenues was seriously skewed. According to the IEA, OPEC revenues would still increase by more than $23 trillion between 2008 and 2030. This is four times the amount revenues increased between 1985 and 2007. Al Sabban said of Saudi Arabia “We are among the economically vulnerable countries,…This is very serious for us. He went on to say “We are in the process of diversifying our economy but this will take a long time. We don’t have too many resources.” Read more ..
|Jordy Yager ||October 19th 2009|
The Hill correspondent
Republican members of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus said the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has tried to plant "spies" within key national-security committees in order to shape legislative policy.
Reps. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), citing the book Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld that's Conspiring to Islamize America, called for the House sergeant-at-arms to investigate whether CAIR had been successful in placing interns on key panels. The lawmakers are specifically focused on the House Homeland Security Committee, Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committee.
"If an organization is connected to or supports terrorists [and] is running influence operations or planting spies in key national security-related offices, I think this needs to be made known," said Broun, who sits on the Homeland Security Committee. "So I join my colleagues here today in calling for action."
But the Office of the House sergeant-at-arms said that it has received no such request from any of the four Republicans and declined to speculate on how a request of that nature would be addressed. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||October 19th 2009|
Miami Herald reviewer
Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders. Alan Deutschman. Portfolio. 208 Pages.
Each of us may be the star of our own movie, but that doesn't guarantee an intriguing plot. In a similar fashion, most war stories recounted by business leaders are dull cautionary tales rather than inspiring works offering useful examples and actionable instructions.
In many cases, the problem is that deeds fail to match words. These captains of industry may be legends in their own minds who can glibly talk the talk, but may not walk the walk. No one is perfect, of course, but most leadership failures can invariably be ascribed to the disconnect between the walk and the talk.
We see it all the time in Washington, D.C., and in our local governments. Two-faced politicians, for example, call for austerity, slash spending on important programs yet reward allies, cronies and lackeys at the expense of the public. But when other supervisors fail to follow their own rhetoric, especially in business, there's a ripple effect. ``Leaders'' are supposed to lead, and their behavior is far more revealing and meaningful than mere words.
Alan Deutschman's short and readable book looks at a number of people and the failure and success they achieved for themselves and their organizations based on whether or not their actions aligned with their words. Military leaders, coaches -- even companies -- that were consistent in their rhetoric and practices are profiled, as well as those who failed to live up to their own responsibilities and standards. Read more ..
Inside Saudi Succession
|Simon Henderson||October 12th 2009|
The process by which government decisions are made in Saudi Arabia remains obscure despite continual analysis by diplomats, oil executives, foreign business executives, and others. The more well-informed analysts believe that the number and identity of the princes and nonroyal participants varies, depending on the issue. Important decisions are made by the king alone but usually once he feels a consensus has been reached. (The ulama-the senior Muslin clergy—have a leading role in making religious decisions, but since they depend on the king for their appointments, they are probably reluctant to oppose a royal family consensus. They can dither, however; when the Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized in 1979, the ulama reportedly took thirty-six hours to approve the use of military force.)
When consensus remains elusive, decisions are delayed. This was the case in the late 1990s when Crown Prince Abdullah was seeking to involve foreign companies in the development of the kingdom's natural gas resources. The decision was postponed and the proposal eventually dropped after opposition from the petroleum company Saudi Aramco and the Saudi ministry of oil, assumed to be backed by Abdullah's rivals in the royal family. (The exception that proves this rule is said to be Kind Fahd's decision to ask for U.S. military support after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Other senior princes, including then Crown Prince Abdullah, wanted time to consider other options, but they were overruled by Fahd.)
This decision-making process owes its origins to the traditional way decision are made in nomadic Bedouin Arab tribes—the so-called bedoucracy—in which the ruling sheikh consults with the elders of the tribe. The process is not one of equality, but it generally ensures loyalty and acquiescence rather than protest and revolt. Read more ..
Health Care Reform
|Greg D'Angelo||October 12th 2009|
All five of the congressional committees charged with drafting health care legislation have completed their plans. The congressional leadership will soon consolidate these measures into single pieces of legislation for their respective bodies, and floor votes in both the House and Senate are expected soon.
What is yet unknown is the true cost of these bills. Given the rapid evolution of these measures, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)—Congress’s official scorekeeper—has yet to issue a complete and final cost estimate.
Without such critical information, it is of course impossible to assess key promises made by President Obama and congressional leaders on whether these bills will rein in costs for families, businesses, and government; not add a “dime to the deficit”; and not raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 a year. Read more ..
Pakistan on the Edge
|Martin Barillas||October 12th 2009|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Pakistani Nuke on Parade|
Visiting London on a swing through Europe, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton admitted on October 11 her concern that Taliban insurgents in Pakistan are a growing threat to the South Asian country but denied that they are a risk to the its nuclear arsenal. Echoing her British counterpart, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Secretary Clinton dismissed fears that Pakistan’s nukes could fall into the hands of Islamic militants despite a bold attack on the army headquarters at Rawalpindi.
Secretary Clinton admitted in a press conference that Islamic militants were "increasingly threatening the authority of the state, but we see no evidence that they are going to take over the state. We have confidence in the Pakistani government and military's control over nuclear weapons." Miliband echoed Clinton’s public assurances. Read more ..
The Tracking Edge
|Lee Siegel||October 12th 2009|
|Radio Waves Test Wall Captures Image|
University of Utah engineers showed that a wireless network of radio transmitters can track people moving behind solid walls. The system could help police, firefighters and others nab intruders, and rescue hostages, fire victims and elderly people who fall in their homes. It also might help retail marketing and border control.
"By showing the locations of people within a building during hostage situations, fires or other emergencies, radio tomography can help law enforcement and emergency responders to know where they should focus their attention," Joey Wilson and Neal Patwari wrote in one of two new studies of the method.
Both researchers are in the university's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering – Patwari as an assistant professor and Wilson as a doctoral student.
Their method uses radio tomographic imaging (RTI), which can "see," locate and track moving people or objects in an area surrounded by inexpensive radio transceivers that send and receive signals. People don't need to wear radio-transmitting ID tags. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
|Edwin Black||October 12th 2009|
This article is based on the Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here
When the last Ice Age receded, some 10,000 years ago, some peoples migrated to the marshy plain between the Tigris and the Euphrates. This land, later known as Mesopotamia—or “the land between the two rivers”—is now modern Iraq. It became precious to the world as “the cradle of civilization.”
Of course, the very term cradle of civilization is imbued with the values of an advanced society determined to categorize primitive and ancient people in its own image. But what qualifies ancient Iraq as the cradle of civilization may speak volumes about its enduring relationship to the larger world and how our society still views that nation.
Disagreeing archaeologists incessantly push back their dates, resculpt their assessments and guesswork, and acrimoniously debate the facts depending on the latest dig and carbon dating. But this much seems settled: other groups and societies, predating ancient Mesopotamia by thousands of years, have displayed the ingredients of civilization.
Cave dwellers in South Africa, 70,000 years ago, recorded symbolic concepts with geometric designs engraved on ochre stones, revealing organized expression and abstract thinking.
The sensitive artisans of Lascaux, France, who 15,000 years ago painted some 600 sacred animal sketches on grotto walls and engraved nearly 1,500 more, are classed as “prehistoric.” Traveling deep into remote chambers of their grotto, the people of Lascaux carried inventive contrivances for illumination. By the flicker of torches and Stone Age lamps, these people created enduring works of exquisite cave art. Their complex works feature background hues of red, yellow, black, and brown, probably mouth-sprayed or blown through a hollowed bone. Delicately brushed and painted atop the backgrounds, animals are depicted in kinetic perspective and are anatomically correct. The artistry of the Lascaux people has become a gift for all time.
Their message, although undecipherable, has survived as long as any that followed. Similar cave art groups in the region date back 30,000 years. Little is known about the culture of French cave dwellers. But these societies do not qualify as civilizations, as the world sees it.
Read more ..
Confronting the Transfer Agreement
|Martin Barillas||October 12th 2009|
Spero Forum editor
Prize-winning investigative author Edwin Black, known for holding dozens of speaking events on each of his several books, has decided to participate in just a single presentation for the 25th anniversary re-release of his controversial volume The Transfer Agreement (Dialog 2009). The historic event, slated for October 30 in the Washington D.C. suburbs, is the first on the topic Black has agreed to in years, and will feature questions emailed from around the world. Articles and postings on the Internet and in Jewish and academic media have solicited questions in advance from readers, communal leaders and Holocaust survivors. For years, the author has declined interviews or speaking events on this topic.
Rather than deliver prepared remarks, Black will be interviewed by Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B'nai Tzedek. Mitchell Bard, editor of Jewish Virtual Library, will moderate and posit questions from both the audience and from those emailed in advance. Questions worldwide can be addressed at www.transferagreement.com or emailed to TAinquiry@edwinblack.com. Emailed questions must include a verifiable name and address. The Transfer Agreement event innovates the inclusion of questions previously submitted from those not present in the audience, a first for a book store author event.
Although Black is best known for books such as IBM and the Holocaust and War Against the Weak, his first bestseller was The Transfer Agreement, in 1984, chronicling the minute-by-minute dealings of Zionists and Nazis in 1933 that brought some 60,000 Jews and the equivalent of $1.7 billion dollars to under-developed Palestine. The controversial agreement rescued European Jews and assets, and helped create the Jewish State, but was the subject of a firestorm of outrage both during the 1930s and then again when Black’s book was first published in 1984.
The Transfer Agreement was awarded the Carl Sandburg Award for the best book of the year in 1984 and became the basis for Black’s entre into the world of Holocaust journalism. Quickly, however, the book became a cause célèbre for partisan recriminations among Israeli political parties, Holocaust deniers, and anti-Zionists. The book was the first to focus on assets as a central Holocaust issue, which at the time in the early 1980’s was considered a taboo approach to the subject. Read more ..
|Sam Orez||October 12th 2009|
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, an international organization of university academicians, is convening an international conference in Cleveland November 8-19 to analyze and debate some of the salient issues of Iran now in the news. Entitled, "The Islamic Republic of Iran: Multidisciplinary Analyses Of Its Theocracy, Nationalism, And Assertion Of Power," the conference brings together scholars, diplomats and experts from several countries. This Conference is being held in conjunction with the Program in Judaic Studies at Case Western Reserve University.
Keynote speakers include Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, Special U.S. Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation, Israeli Parliamentarian Effie Eitam, and Former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler of McGill University. Among the featured speakers and panelists are: Andrew Apostolu who sits on the Iran Desk of Freedom House, Edwin Black, award-winning author and investigative journalist, and Patrick Clawson, Washington Institute for Near East Policy executive director. Other speakers include Amir A. Fakhravar of the Iranian Enterprise Institute, Barry Rubin of the GLORIA Center in Israel, and Samuel Edelman, California State University-Chico and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
Panels will focus on Iranian anti-Semitism, Iran in the media, the concept of “pride and humiliation” in Iran, Shi'ism and Holy War, nuclear proliferation, human rights and “the rhetoric of genocide.”
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East has emerged in just a matter of months to become a preeminent voice on the key issues involving Israel and her neighbors. Read more ..
Brazil on the Edge
|Luis Fleischman||October 12th 2009|
Cutting Edge commentator
|Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva and Hugo Chavez|
For those concerned with hemispheric security, the big question has always been how do we contain Chavez‘s expansionist ambitions. Under the Bush Administration, the answer, in the words of a Republican Senator was, “containment of Hugo Chavez should be undertaken by Latin American countries.” This conception was consistent with the idea of a non-interventionist policy in Latin America.
Indeed, even under the hawkish Bush Administration the policy was one of good neighborhood plus trying to develop trade relations. In terms of Hugo Chavez, the policy was basically to ignore his hostile anti-Americanism and even his interventions in neighboring countries. The hope was that Latin Americans would eventually realize that Chavez was the bad guy and thus try to isolate him. This never happened. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Walid Phares||October 12th 2009|
Cutting Edge terrorism analyst
As soon as the Oslo committee issued its Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, an expected debate raged in America about the legitimacy of such a move so very early in a U.S. presidential term.
Soon, supporters of the "new direction" in U.S. foreign policy as well as academics will frame Obama's Nobel as a consolidation of a new world order, while the media outburst following the granting declaration will be forgotten. Hence, bypassing the noise of did-he-earn-it-or-not deliberations, let's ask: What is the strategy behind the decision to grant this particular trophy to the sitting American president?
To answer this, we simply can connect the dots between the statements made by the grantor and the grantee. Naturally every American must be proud, and many people around the world are happy for such a decision to honor the White House, although some U.S. leaders wished the committee had granted past presidents such as Bill Clinton for his gigantic efforts in worldwide humanitarian assistance.
The alternative choices are arguable, but this particular gesture isn’t about past achievements, as the committee and the recipient have concurred. It is about supporting a specific policy, which has been enunciated firmly during 2009 and is now being grounded in layers of moral recognition. This honored policy is to ensure that there will be no more American intervention overseas to provoke democratic change, let alone revolutions, particularly in the so-called “Muslim world.” Read more ..
The Rail's Edge
|Ronald D. Utt||October 12th 2009|
In April, President Barack Obama confirmed his commitment to fund a high-speed rail (HSR) program in the United States and extolled the potential benefits of the $8 billion for HSR that Congress included in the stimulus package. That commitment grew by another $5 billion ($1 billion per year) when the President released his budget for FY 2010, and in an act of almost unprecedented fiscal mushrooming, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) proposed to add another $50 billion. Yet, according to recent comments by the head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), little of these federal monies may go toward "real" HSR but instead appear likely to benefit some of the nation's for-profit freight railroads to achieve modestly higher speeds for existing, half-full Amtrak trains running on their tracks. Read more ..
|Peter Crail||October 12th 2009|
Arms Control Association
This report reflects the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation of the Iran nuclear program prior to the discovery of the secret Qom facility.
Since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began investigating Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear programs in late 2002, it has sought clarification for number of activities of particular concern regarding Tehran’s nuclear intentions.
The agency made little headway in getting answers from Iran until 2007, when Iran and the IAEA developed a work plan outlining steps Iran would take to provide more information on these activities. As part of this work plan, Iran agreed to address questions about work it carried out in the past, explain some of its contacts with the Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan nuclear smuggling network, and respond to claims by western countries that Tehran was engaged in work directly related to nuclear weapons. Read more ..
Edge on Germany
|Peter L. Rothholz||October 12th 2009|
Cutting Edge travel writer
Dresden, the capital of Saxony, was founded in the early 13th century, but the date that is indelibly etched on the minds of all Dresdeners is February 13, 1945 – the night when the city was razed to the ground in an iconic air raid and some 25,000 of its citizens perished. Prior to that fateful night, Dresden was one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and was often called “the Florence of the North.” Arguments have persisted ever since whether the raid was strategically justified or whether it was “Churchill’s revenge” for Coventry-- and the discussion continues.
What has happened, however, is that like the proverbial Phoenix, Dresden has risen from the ashes and has regained her stunning beauty. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||October 12th 2009|
Miami Herald reviewer
I Love You More Than My Dog: Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad. Jeanne Bliss. Portfolio. 198 pages.
If advertising is becoming increasingly diffuse and ineffective, and marketing has to go into stealth mode to have any effect, how the heck do you promote your business? Maybe by doing what you're supposed to do in the first place: taking care of your customers.
During the last century, I had a management gig at a wildly dysfunctional production house. It was a bizarre experience that had all the makings of an HBO comedy series (outline and treatment available upon request). I was struck by how they burned through customers, with little regard to building relationships by over-delivering -- or just delivering -- on promises and expectations.
This scorched-earth policy was extremely bad business given the cost of client acquisition versus retention. Whenever I grabbed the phone and tried to soothe a seething customer by listening to their concerns and providing solutions, they were palpably astonished and grateful just to be treated like human beings. It was a great (and thankfully brief) lesson.
Bliss began at Land's End, the Wisconsin-based mail order (later online) clothier renowned for superior customer service. She writes effusively of her experiences there and how management treated its employees extravagantly well, which sent a message that soon spread to its customers. Now, Land's End is considered the paradigm of consumer service, engendering fanatical and devout buyer loyalty, which also made the company an extremely profitable enterprise. Read more ..
|Ronald Henderson||October 12th 2009|
Reading the accounts of Edwin Black's re-released book, The Transfer Agreement
, I find the entire story anguishing. I must agree with Abraham Foxman who wrote: "Decades later, it is easy to employ judgmental hindsight. Those who do so were not there but seem to think that books, records, and movies can adequately recreate the context. We are talking about the thirties—a very bad time for European Jews. But no one back then could imagine how bad things would actually become.... In light of the bitter reality of the Holocaust and the world’s unwillingness to stop it, the decision to transfer Jews and their possessions to Palestine was a wise one." I also agree with the author's assessment that the whole world had agreements with the Nazi regime, and the Zionists were pursuing their's to rescue people and assets. In this case, it was not for pure profit or political expediency but to help save a people and help create a state, their safe haven in Israel. Yet like the author, Mr. Black, I too am haunted by his final thought when he writes: "Was it madness? Or was it genius?"
The Edge of Lobbying
|Matthew Lewis||October 5th 2009|
Center for Public Integrity
Speaking from a lofty perch not unlike the one he occupies as ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, Florida Representative John Mica looked out upon a sea of familiar faces last month at a suburban Dallas hotel. Mica was addressing the 12th Annual Transportation and Infrastructure Summit.
The conference drew more than 1,100 participants, including many veterans of transportation lobbying wars past and present. Among them: the CEOs of three of America’s freight railroad giants, directors of some of the West’s largest transit agencies, and representatives from engineering giants like Kansas City-based HNTB.
“I’ve had a chance to hear from some of you,” Mica told the luncheon crowd of transportation pros as they picked at a dessert of tiramisu, “but not all of you. … I need your ideas.”
“We don’t know if we can succeed,” he went on. “We know we can’t succeed without you getting involved.”
And with that the legislator pointed a finger back at the transportation lobby — a lobby that spent at least $45 million in Washington in the first half of this year, mostly to “help” Congress craft a new transportation bill. That lobby is composed of almost 1,800 entities of all stripes, and they are employing at least 2,100 lobbyists with intimate knowledge of transportation politics to make their cases.
Over the past two decades, this is the way federal transportation policy has largely been made in America — by a quasi-private club of interest groups and local governments carving out something for everyone, creating a nationwide patchwork of funded bypasses, interchanges, bridges, and rail lines with no overarching philosophy behind it. “Applying patches to our surface transportation system is no longer acceptable,” Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Eduardo Szklarz and Martin Barillas||October 5th 2009|
Cutting Edge Correspondents
|Former Argentine President Carlos Saúl Menem|
Carlos Saúl Menem, an ex-president of Argentina who is currently a senator in the South American republic, was accused on October 1 in Buenos Aires of obstruction of justice charges for his alleged part in covering up the so-called "Syrian connection" and Iranian involvement in the 1994 car-bombing that killed 85 people and injured hundreds more at the Jewish Mutual Association of Argentina (AMIA). Also brought to trial were Menem's brother Munir, police officials Jorge Palacios and Carlos Castañeda, and secret service officers Hugo Anzorreguy and Juan Carlos Anchezar. In addition, the now disgraced judge who heard the original case, José Galeano, was also brought to justice.
The "Syrian connection" is based on evidence about Alberto Jacinto Kanoore Edul, a textile merchant whose Syrian father Kanoore Edul was a donor to Menem's first presidential bid. According to prosecutor Nisman, the son was involved in launching the bombing at the AMIA. Menem himself is of Syrian extraction and his parents were born in Syria.
On July 10, 1994, eight days before the attack, Kanoore Edul phoned Carlos Telleldín about a used Renault van that was to be used in the attack. Among the evidence presented to the court is an entry in Kanoore Edul's datebook that includes the telephone number of Moshen Rabbani—a cultural attaché at the Iranian embassy who has been linked to the bombing. Rabbani received the Renault van in question from Kanoore Edul.
According to a decision by federal judge Ariel Lijo, Menem while in the presidency used his office to influence the Argentine Ministry of Justice and secret services in order to protect a Syrian family involved in the deadly bombing and mislead the investigation. The defendants are accused of misuse of authority, destruction of evidence, repeated lying under oath, as well as the cover-up. Read more ..
Confronting the Transfer Agreement
|Edwin Black||October 5th 2009|
From the New York Jewish Week
During the first months of the Hitler regime, in 1933, leaders of the Zionist movement concluded a controversial pact with the Third Reich which, in its various forms, transferred some 60,000 Jews and $100 million—almost $1.7 billion in 2009 dollars—to Jewish Palestine. In return, Zionists would halt the worldwide Jewish-led anti-Nazi boycott that threatened to topple the Hitler regime in its first year. Ultimately, the Transfer Agreement saved lives, rescued assets, and seeded the infrastructure of the Jewish State to be.
Fiery debates instantly ignited throughout the pre-War Jewish world as rumors of the pact leaked out. That acrimony was rekindled in 1984 with the original publication of my book The Transfer Agreement—and has never stopped. Why?
Simply put, The Transfer Agreement came out a decade ahead of its time. When the book first appeared, in 1984, the world was still preoccupied with the enormity of Nazi genocide. The world’s emphasis was on the murderous events of the war years. Organized remembrance was collectively fighting an anti-Semitic revisionist movement that was trying to deny or minimize the Holocaust with rabid pseudo-history. Few had spoken of the financial aspects of the Holocaust until I did. Few had publicly ever used the words “Zionist” and “Nazi” in the same sentence until I did.
For perspective, consider that the very first television attempt to treat the Holocaust was a TV series called “The Holocaust,” which aired in 1978—the same year neo-Nazis marched through Skokie. That was the year, 1978, I began researching The Transfer Agreement. At the time, the Second Generation movement of children of Holocaust survivors was just forming. The First World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors was only in the planning stage. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which received its charter in 1980, was several years and many controversies away from opening. Organized Holocaust education was essentially nonexistent. For society and for survivors, the dominant priority was coming to grips with the genocide—not the assets.
What has changed in 25 years? Read more ..
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