...Views from mid-Atlantic
15 July 2006

I don't know why I should be surprised, but I was nevertheless by this clear-eyed editorial on the Middle East situation published in today's New York Times. It hits all kinds of nails on the head, except in one respect.

The Times blames Hamas and Hezbollah for the current mess, as they should, and says Iran and Syria should share responsibility, as they should. But there's also this rather gormless advice: "Israel is fully justified in treating these two incidents as unacceptable acts of aggression. But it needs to better adapt its methods to the circumstances it now faces. The point is to weaken and isolate Hamas and Hezbollah, while denying them opportunities to rally broader Arab support. To that end, Israel must focus its fire much more directly at the leaders and fighters of these two groups, and do far more to minimize the damage to civilian bystanders."

The thing about terrorists is that they deliberately embed themselves with the civilian population in the hope that innocent civilians will be killed, giving them plenty of PR ammunition to use against the forces trying to get at them. It works, of course. The chorus of protests over Israel's actions against Hamas and Hezbollah have all centred around civilian casualties. Had there been none, public opinion would have run much harder against the two terrorist groups. Israel plainly doesn't want to be the villain, and sometimes goes quite far out of its way to try not to be, but it must strike some kind of balance between effectiveness and the avoidance of civilian casualties.

I pay a lot of attention to what is said in Forward, the newspaper of record of the Jewish community in the US. It is obviously well-connected in Israel, and tends to be able to paint a much more nuanced picture of Israeli events than other media. On the matter of the aim of this current exercise, Forward says Iran has provided Hezbollah's latest long-range missiles, able to reach deep into Israel, for the purpose of deterring an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

"According to Israeli press reports, Israel's intelligence community is convinced that Iran approved Hezbollah's July 12 cross-border attack in which two Israeli soldiers were abducted and seven killed. By igniting the Israeli-Lebanese border, Israeli diplomats said, Iran is trying to divert attention from its standoff with the West over Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons."

Maybe that's one of their goals, but I was re-reading some of Michael Oren's really excellent book, Six Days of War, last night, and came across a description of Yasser Arafat's first al-Fatah guerrilla action against Israel in 1964. His immediate aim was to blow up a pump in Israel which moved Galilee water into the Negev desert. In order to do it, he entered Israel from Lebanon in the north. It was a failure...the explosives didn't go off and he and his men were arrested trying to get back into Lebanon, but Oren said "Their action, they hope, will provoke an Israeli retaliation against one of its neighbouring countries - Lebanon itself, or Jordan - igniting an all-Arab offensive to destroy the Zionist state."

That's more like it. Deterring an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities may be a tactical aim, but the strategic aim is surely to provoke Israel into an invasion of Lebanon, which might put the Israelis in the way of destroying, or shifting, Hezbollah's infrastructure, but which would also wreck Lebanon's fledgling government - something guaranteed to dismay the countries of the West, especially the US, in a big way. It would destroy and probably radicalise a Middle East democracy-in-the-making and drive a wedge between Israel and the US, its principal ally. It would restore Syria's control over Lebanon, probably, and also enhance greatly Iran's and Syria's positions in the power structure of the Middle East.

I read a report from Stratfor yesterday (it's the British equivalent of DEBKA, self-consciously much farther up the food chain and, I think, about half as good), which speculated that Israel would invade Lebanon. I'd be very surprised if they did. The Israelis are nothing if not intelligent in the matter of war, and I should have said they are unlikely to do what their enemies want them to do, especially not something quite so potentially destructive. They won't put much stock in the chances of being able to negotiate their way out of this, and while they'll go along with it for a while in order to be seen to be going along with it, sooner rather than later, they are likely to take bold, unexpected action to short-circuit the situation. If I were a betting man, I'd say some kind of strike against Syria, or even Iran itself, are better bets than an invasion of Lebanon.

Is it possible that one of the reasons for the bizarre behaviour of ex-CIA analyst Valerie Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson, is that they're just not terribly bright? Jim Kouri seems to think so. He's a vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and also a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org), and he thinks the lawsuit they've filed against Duck Cheney and others is a huge mistake. "The actual trial -- if this ridiculous lawsuit even gets that far -- will be an interesting one. Politically motivated trials usually are. It's obvious Plame and Wilson love the spotlight, as well, and not being particularly bright people they'll probably provide grist for the mill of the blogosphere. Why? Well...discovery. "Attorneys representing Cheney, Rove, Libby and others will insist on seeing documents, e-mails, telephone records, etc. How did Wilson get picked to go to Niger in the first place? Besides Plame's recommendation that her husband get the Niger job, who at the CIA actually dispatched Wilson to Africa? Also, what reporters or Democrat lawmakers and leaders did Wilson or Plame communicate with?

Kouri believes, as many do, that the Wilsons have a lot of explaining to do. "Plame and Wilson colluded to hurt the Bush presidency for their left-wing friends, and expected their actions would not be exposed. Plame sent her husband, a Washington, DC fop, to investigate whether or not yellow-cake uranium in Niger was transported to Iraq prior to the war. Wilson, with no investigative or intelligence experience, came back to America and wrote his report on his trip...for the New York Times.

"Of course, his real report to the Senate Intelligence Committee contradicted his NY Times op-ed, but that didn't matter to the Bush-haters, the America-bashers, and the antiwar activists who really aren't antiwar, they're only anti-US victory."

14 July 2006

The silence of the international community over the Middle East situation is a little hard to read - is it that countries like Jordan and Egypt, France and the US are working behind the scenes, or are they waiting for the situation to play itself out a little more before getting involved? It certainly is becoming plainer and plainer that these are not random acts that Israel is having to deal with, but part of something planned by Iran and its partner, Syria, in quite some detail. I wish I could see the aim of the exercise more clearly than I can. I read something this morning speculating that Iran was looking to take people's attention away from its nuclear ambitions at a critical time. I doubt that. This is far too elaborate to have been planned in a couple of weeks, and far too elaborate to have such an insignificant payoff.

It does seem to me that there are signs that people are not as quick to believe the Hamas/Hezbollah poor-little-us line as once they were. Even the Guardian carried, embedded among other articles suffused with the usual anti-Israel froth, a piece that painted quite a realistic picture of the situation, although it was denounced in the shrillest of terms by some of their commenting readers. The Telegraph had a similar piece. "...Whether Israel's assault on Hizbollah's Lebanese infrastructure will lead to open warfare is questionable. To start with, the Lebanese government, newly liberated from its Syrian occupiers, is in no position to defend itself against Israel's military superiority. It has no air force and no army that could compete with the Israelis.

"Likewise the Syrians, for all their recent imports of Russian, Chinese and North Korean military hardware, know better than to take on the Israelis, who last month demonstrated their air superiority by 'buzzing' the summer palace (described as a simple residence, a humble home by most of the anti-Israeli press) of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad with their American-made F-16 fighters."

True enough. And that makes second-guessing the Iranians and the Syrians more difficult. They, and other Middle Eastern countries have fought the Israelis before and lost. Are they being as silly as they have been before, and persuading themselves that this time, a fight will have a different outcome? Or do they have something more subtle in mind, perhaps a shift in the balance of public opinion in the Middle East against the US and Israel, and those who support the US in its attempts to deal with Iraq and encourage democracy in the region?

The very sad thing about whatever it is they have in mind is that it plainly infers contempt for Lebanon, which, as I said yesterday, simply wants to go about its business. The country and its government are being used as if they counted for nothing in the game that is being played.

For a little light relief from all this depressingly weighty stuff, read Josh Gerstein's New York Sun story, headlined A Novel-Like Tale Of Cloak, Dagger Unfolds in Court. "The narrative about a veteran State Department official smitten with a younger Taiwanese intelligence officer reads like a John le Carre novel," he says.

"However, the story - replete with romantic encounters and cloak-and-dagger tradecraft - is laid out not in a book, but a little-noticed 43-page court filing submitted last week by federal prosecutors in Virginia. The unusually-detailed account is part of the government's effort to withdraw from a plea agreement it reached last year with one of the State Department's highest ranking Asia experts, Donald Keyser. Keyser pleaded guilty in December to charges that he lied about his relationship with the Taiwanese agent, Isabelle Cheng, and concealed a visit he made to Taiwan in 2003. The American diplomat also admitted to keeping thousands of classified documents at his Fairfax Station, Virginia, home."

That New York jury didn't take long to convict Korean fixer Tongsun Park of Oil-for-Food skulduggery yesterday. Reuters has barebones details. Claudia Rosett will probably post some kind of round-up today, I'd guess. And James Bone at the London Times has finally, after more than a week, updated his site with some speculation on whether Park will "sing", as he puts it. "You're a 71-year-old man with diabetes, hypertension and a kidney transplant. You've been in federal lock-up since you were virtually abducted from a plane in Mexico City on a trip from Canada to Panama in January. Today you are facing up to five years in prison - which could be a life term - after a jury took less than a day to convict. And there's an additional felony charge with another five-year max looming in Washington DC. Do you sing?

"It's not too late for Tongsun Park. Although he blew his chance at a plea bargain, he can still trade his secrets about the Oil-For-Food scandal for a lighter sentence. His trial left many unanswered questions: What happened to the $1 million in cash he got from Iraq in 1996 while serving as a conduit to then-UN chief Boutros Boutros Ghali? Who were those unnamed people he had to 'take care of'? What did Park tell Maurice Strong, then a top aide to current UN chief Kofi Annan, about the source of his $1 million investment of Iraqi money into a failing company controlled by Strong?"

UPDATE: Claudia Rosett has finished her wrap-up of the Tongsun Park trial. Among other things, she says "...Park's trial can be viewed as the best argument in ages for letting the UN...stay in the country. The UN itself operates immune to any system of justice, with a resulting lack of accountability that explains much of its corruption, both financial and political. But at least the UN's current location puts within reach of the law some of the private players who feed illicitly off the U.N. stew of money, secrecy, diplomatic immunity, and privilege.

"A few other countries deserve respect for delving into their own roles in the $18 billion or more in exploitation, scamming, skimming, and oil smuggling that flourished under the UN's relief program for Iraq. Australia, India, and even France have launched inquiries. But in scores of UN member states where Oil-for-Food left a wide and greasy trail - in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, and Vietnam, to name just a few - the idea of any serious investigation is apparently seen as a complete joke. In places such as Canada, home to tantalizing leads, the authorities appear to be snoozing at the switch. On Cyprus, where former Oil-for-Food director Benon Sevan now resides beyond reach of US extradition, there has been no visible follow-up by Cypriot authorities to allegations by the UN's own $35 million probe that Sevan took $147,000 in Oil-for-Food payoffs. (Sevan says he is innocent.)"

Wired News has posted pictures of some of blogger Christopher Howarth's most excellent collection of ray guns. I particularly liked the Hellboy Samaritan Revolver, but I don't think it is really a ray gun. It's a gun gun, modelled, I'd guess, on the one Deckard uses in Blade Runner.

13 July 2006

The news from the Middle East is pretty sad. The extent to which the Hamas and Hezbollah provocations were orchestrated by Iran and Syria is starting to emerge. Yesterday's brief White House statement says simply that the US holds "Syria and Iran, which have provided long-standing support for Hizballah, responsible for today's violence."

DEBKAfile says Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, flew to Damascus last night. "He will remain in Damascus for the duration of the crisis in line with the recently Iranian-Syrian mutual defense pact. His presence affirms that an Israeli attack on Syria will be deemed an assault on Iran. It also links the Israeli hostage crisis to Iran's nuclear standoff with the West. The Syrian army has been put on a state of preparedness. DEBKAfile's military sources add that the Iranian air force, missile units and navy are also on high alert.

"DEBKAfile's counter-terror sources report Hizballah acted on orders from Tehran to open a second front against Israel, partly to ease IDF military pressure on the Hamas in the Gaza Strip."

The saddest part of this is that Lebanon, which really just wants to go about its business, has been caught in the middle. This article in the LA Times explains some of the nightmarish situation the country finds itself in: "As Lebanon's largest political party and most potent armed force, Hezbollah has long been described as a 'state within a state' - a Shiite Muslim minigovernment boasting close ties to Iran and Syria. But Wednesday's move across the border to capture two Israeli soldiers went a step further: Hezbollah acted as the state itself, threatening to drag Lebanon into a war...

"Wednesday's raid made clear Hezbollah's position.

"Basically, they are saying, 'to hell with Lebanese politics.' I never thought Hezbollah would disregard so much the Lebanese politics and mood," said Goksel (Timur Goksel, a former United Nations spokesman and advisor who teaches at the American University of Beirut)..."It is certainly a very clear message that they are not going to disarm. It's quite a gamble for them."

"Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, author of Hezbollah: Politics and Religion" and a professor at the Lebanese American University, said it was apparent that Hezbollah had never intended to give up its weapons. 'They joined the government for the exact opposite reason - to shield the resistance. It becomes harder now for the government to turn around and say, 'We reject [Hezbollah's guns],' because they'd be addressing themselves," she said.

"The state is auxiliary to Hezbollah, which is really the army and the state."

The New York Sun, in an editorial, recalls that when Israeli troops withdrew from Southern Lebanon back in 2000, the leaders of the Jewish state were under no illusions about the delicacy of the situation they were leaving behind. "At a cabinet meeting on May 24, 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak stated 'that Israel places responsibility for quiet in southern Lebanon on the Lebanese and Syrian governments, and that any firing on IDF soldiers or civilians within Israel's borders would be considered as an act of war which would be met with appropriate action.'

"That same day, Mr. Barak wrote to his top general, 'No one knows better than I that the war is not yet over. We may yet face hard days ahead, days of fire and battle.'"

Claudia Rosett continues her blog coverage in National Review Online of the trial in New York of Korean fixer Tongsun Park, which is going to the jury today. "So where are the missing UN records? Prosecutor Edward O'Callaghan laid out in court on Tuesday that it is standard UN practice to keep a log of visitors to UN Secretary-General's official residence in Manhattan. The entries in the logbook usually include the name, date and times of arrival and departure. It is then UN procedure to store the filled volumes in the basement of the official residence. These logbooks are potentially of interest, because some of the testimony in this case has involved allegations of meetings at the official residence between Tongsun Park and Boutros-Ghali.

"But here's the mystery. O'Callaghan said that when UN security staff went looking last year for the residence logs from the Boutros-Ghali era, which spanned January 1992 to December, 1996, they found only one volume, covering April 1995 to August 1996. (O'Callaghan flashed across a large screen before the jury an exhibit gleaned from that log, showing what appeared to be some 20 visits by Tongsun Park). The jury heard that 'the basement was accessible to the secretary-general, his family, and the secretary-general's residential staff, including security, housekeeping and cooking staff.'

"Since Boutros-Ghali moved out, the only family in residence has been that of Kofi Annan. Can Boutros tell us more? Can Kofi? ... should we ask the cook?"

A European proposal to require drug companies to prove their products can do no harm, has dismayed the director general of the US Center for Global Growth. Writing in the Washington Times, Richard W. Rahn says that "In effect, the REACH proposal will require companies using any of more than 30,000 commonly used chemical compounds in their products (that daily protect and make our lives better) plus any new compounds they may develop to prove the chemical will do no harm in almost any quantity.

"The proposal is sheer lunacy from both a health and a safety point of view, and will be economically destructive not only to Europeans but to those who export to or import from Europe.

"The argument is that perhaps as many as 4,500 lives could be saved each year if people were not exposed to chemical compounds in excessive quantities. The science behind this number is highly doubtful, but what should be obvious is hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives will be put in danger each year as a result of banning both highly desirable, and in fact necessary, chemical compounds of one sort or another. The proposed regulations will be extremely costly to business, arbitrary in their effect, and so onerous on small and medium-size businesses that many of them will have to withdraw from the market.

"If the Europeans pass the regulation, in one stroke they will have increased their already disastrous unemployment rates, and denied themselves many products they need for safe and healthy lives. The only winners will be all of the new bureaucrats who will be hired to administer the impossible."

Reggae guys are getting a hard time this year. Appearances by Buju Banton and Beenie Man were cancelled in England a short time ago because of protests by gay activists. Yahoo! News says the same thing has happened in New York to Beenie Man and a group I don't know, called T.O.K. "Citing concerns about potential violence, an organizer on Wednesday canceled a reggae concert meant to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS after protesters complained two of the scheduled performers were anti-gay.

The organizer, LIFEbeat, came under fire by black gay activists and bloggers after it was announced that Jamaican dancehall artists Beenie Man and the group T.O.K. were scheduled to perform during a July 18 concert at Webster Hall. Protesters asked that the artists be dropped or forced to denounce controversial lyrics."

And Caribbean Net News says: "Gay activists in Denmark staged a demonstration on Tuesday ahead of a concert by Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton, who regularly causes controversy with gay-bashing lyrics. Some 250 protesters, waving signs urging 'zero tolerance for homophobia' and and an end to 'murder music', lined up outside The Rock, the concert hall where Banton was to play a few hours later."

The London Times says the winner of this year's Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest (worst possible opening paragraph for a book) was this: "Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said 'you've had your last burrito for a while', whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean."

Sorry - doesn't do it for me. I liked this one, probably because it's so close to the kind of writing one reads and hears daily in Bermuda: "A single sparkling tear fell from Little Mary's cheek onto the sidewalk, then slid into the storm drain, there to join in its course the mighty waters of the Los Angeles River and, eventually, Long Beach Harbour, with its state-of-the-art container-freight processing facilities."

12 July 2006

In a a National Review article, Claudia Rosett reflects on what the testimony being given at the trial of Korean fixer Tongsun Park says about the UN: "The point here is disclosure. When it comes to the private business deals of officials holding high positions of public trust - a description that presumably applies to UN under-secretaries - secrecy is a very bad idea. Public disclosure serves as a vital safeguard against potential conflicts of interest. What much of the testimony in the Park case has so far underscored is that no such standards apply at the United Nations - which preaches transparency and modern good governance, but practices secrecy and patronage more in keeping with the Dark Ages.

"This has become an increasingly disturbing setup as the UN in recent years has greatly expanded its roster of special advisers, personal envoys, goodwill ambassadors, $1-per-year under-secretary-generals, and the like, all wielding the clout of the UN logo and many of its perquisites. Annan in particular has been handing out high UN-rank hither and yon, creating new bureaucratic programs, anointing personal emissaries, and recruiting 'public-private' UN partners, with no corresponding requirements that these folks tell the public how their UN perches might mesh with their private business dealings."

"As you read this, a small group of intrepid, pink-nosed Brits are creeping through the Gambian jungle, dodging crocodiles and cobras, in the hope of spotting the legendary 'ninki-nanka'. (OK, it sounds like a Goon Show plot, but bear with me.)" The Independent's Science and Technology reporter says "This fabulously named creature is said by locals to resemble a giant reptile, up to 30 feet long and dwelling in the murk of the mangrove swamps.

"The 'dragon' is rumoured to look rather like a game of zoological 'consequences', possessing the body of a crocodile, the neck of a giraffe and the head of a horse with three horns. Less fantastically, the team's leader, Richard Freeman of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, suspects the ninki-nanka of being a species of colossal monitor lizard. 'Whatever the truth,' he says, 'this is the first dedicated expedition to search for this animal.'" Which may not be surprising.

You'd have thought that no matter what people's political views, the news that the budget deficit is being reduced at a more rapid rate than foreseen must be encouraging. Apparently not. A Bush administration success is apparently more than the left can bear. The carping and complaining, on blogs, at any rate, is like a kind of hysteria. Nonetheless, the reality is, as the Wall Street Journal notes: "The remaining budget deficit of a little under $300 billion will be about 2.3% of GDP, which is smaller than in 17 of the previous 25 years. Throw in the surpluses rolling into the states, and the overall US 'fiscal deficit' is now economically trivial.

"This would all seem to be good news, but some folks are never happy. The same crowd that said the tax cuts wouldn't work, and predicted fiscal doom, are now harrumphing that the revenues reflect a windfall for 'the rich'. We suppose that's right if by rich they mean the millions of Americans moving into higher tax brackets because their paychecks are increasing.

"Individual income tax payments are up 14.1% this year, and 'nonwithheld' individual tax payments (reflecting capital gains, among other things) are up 20%. Because of the tax cuts, the still highly progressive US tax code is soaking the rich. Since when do liberals object to a windfall for the government?"

"...As for the 2003 tax cuts, the current revenue boom is one more argument for making them permanent. They are now set to expire in 2010, and, even if they are extended, federal revenues will continue to climb as a share of GDP as more taxpayers earn higher incomes and move into higher tax brackets. If liberal Democrats are really determined to soak the rich - and we don't doubt it for a second - they'll also vote to make the tax cuts permanent."

At the National Review, the editor of GeoInvestor.com and a former editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, William P. Kucewicz, explains how cutting taxes translates to a more robust economy. "Finance is the sine qua non of economic growth. Without it, risk-taking is stymied, knowledge can't be commercialized, and an economy stagnates. Access to credit creates new businesses through the mechanism of venture capital and expands existing ones by facilitating purchases of new technology, plant, and equipment. Households similarly tap the credit market to finance homes, cars, and other consumer durables."

11 July 2006

Haaretz asks an obvious question: "What moved Khaled Meshal to hold a press conference yesterday, of all days, without saying anything new? Last week his deputy, Musa Abu Marzuk, told Al-Hayat newspaper that 'there is not one Palestinian who wants to free the abducted soldier without...the release of Palestinian prisoners.' Meshal's statement yesterday was almost identical."

The answer, the papers says "is that after the recent flood of statements, Meshal wanted to make it very clear that he was Hamas's sole political architect. Such public displays usually take place after the failure of secret negotiations or when someone wants to take credit for an expected success.

"Meshal's statement covered both options. As long as Israel does not announce its readiness to release Palestinian prisoners in an exchange, Meshal's statement precludes an initiative, by Mahmoud Abbas or by Ismail Haniyeh, to violate the boundaries of Palestinian consensus as he designated them. But if Israel does decide to release prisoners, Meshal can take sole credit for the political victory since he publicly set the rules for the exchange. In effect, even if Abbas and Haniyeh obtain a direct or indirect agreement with Israel, the result will in any event appear to have been dictated by Meshal and will count as a concession by Israel."

Interestingly, Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority, has an article in the Washington Post this morning, putting his view of things in the Middle East to the American people. In part of it, he moves to short-circuit the kind of question and answer that Haaretz has given: "In addition to removing our democratically elected government, Israel wants to sow dissent among Palestinians by claiming that there is a serious leadership rivalry among us. I am compelled to dispel this notion definitively. The Palestinian leadership is firmly embedded in the concept of Islamic shura, or mutual consultation; suffice it to say that while we may have differing opinions, we are united in mutual respect and focused on the goal of serving our people. Furthermore, the invasion of Gaza and the kidnapping of our leaders and government officials are meant to undermine the recent accords reached between the government party and our brothers and sisters in Fatah and other factions, on achieving consensus for resolving the conflict. Yet Israeli collective punishment only strengthens our collective resolve to work together."

At first glance, his op-ed is a kind of Central Casting view of the situation. He ends by saying "If Israel will not allow Palestinians to live in peace, dignity and national integrity, Israelis themselves will not be able to enjoy those same rights. Meanwhile, our right to defend ourselves from occupying soldiers and aggression is a matter of law, as settled in the Fourth Geneva Convention. If Israel is prepared to negotiate seriously and fairly, and resolve the core 1948 issues, rather than the secondary ones from 1967, a fair and permanent peace is possible. Based on a hudna (comprehensive cessation of hostilities for an agreed time), the Holy Land still has an opportunity to be a peaceful and stable economic powerhouse for all the Semitic people of the region. If Americans only knew the truth, possibility might become reality."

But it is encouraging that underlying the whole document is the unspoken acknowledgement that Hamas's early refusal to consider doing anything more creative with Israel than violently wiping it off the map of the Middle East, might have been a little unrealistic.

Claudia Rosett, in her Notebook on National Review Online covers more of the Tongsun Park case in New York: "While the testimony plays out in front of the jury, some intriguing people have been turning up in the audience on behalf of Tongsun Park's defense team - including a former director of the FBI.

"On Friday morning, a neatly-dressed fellow named William Livingstone approached me in the courtroom, saying he'd come up from Washington to help Park's defense do a better job of organizing its dealings with the press. He gave me a card which said he is a senior vice president at Global Options Inc. - a Washington-based consulting firm that describes itself on its website as 'a private CIA, Defense Department, Justice Department, and FBI, all rolled into one.'

"During a break, I ran into Livingstone speaking in the hall with a white-haired gentleman who is listed by Global Options as a member of their advisory board, retired federal judge and former FBI director, William Sessions. Sessions somewhat less eagerly gave me a business card for his Washington law firm, Holland & Knight, and said he had come to look in on the trial as an adviser. During the mid-day break, Sessions and Tongsun Park's defense team all lunched together in the courthouse cafeteria.

"On a related note: Tongsun Park launched a web site during the first week of the trial, which appears to be registered to Global Options - though it's not clear who is actually providing the content: http://www.tongsunpark.com/. The site talks about Park's modesty, some of his ventures involving Ghana, Zaire, Taiwan, France, and so forth, saying among other things Tongsun Park was at one point the CEO of the Canadian nuclear power company, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). An AECL spokesman told me Friday that Park was never CEO, although he did work for the company as a consultant. My repeated queries to the web site about this have received no response."

The Washington Times's columnist, Michael Barone, notes that "The apparent victory of Felipe Calderon, the candidate of incumbent President Vicente Fox's PAN party in Mexico, is the latest in a series of defeats for the hard left in Latin American elections. It means there will continue to be a trio of center-right North American governments.

"Leftist Evo Morales, with help from Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, did win in Bolivia, but Mr. Chavez's candidate lost in Peru, center-right incumbent Alvaro Uribe won re-election by a huge margin in Colombia and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, former Mexico City mayor and candidate of the leftist PRD party, lost after leading in the polls for most of the last two years.

"The cry has been that the 'Washington consensus' favoring free trade and free markets is dead in the region. But that consensus is not threatened by responsible center-left presidents like Lula da Silva of Brazil and Michelle Bachelet of Chile. And the defeat of Mr. Lopez Obrador, who called for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, shows it's still alive in Mexico."

Incidentally, it is worth noting that the high quality of the Mexican election infrastructure adds to the likelihood that Lopez Obrador's challenge to the vote in Mexico is not going to succeed. John Fund wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week that "Mexico's nonpartisan National Election Commission has built up a decade of credibility in running clean elections and international observers have certified the count as fair. Indeed, in its successful efforts to overcome its old reputation for corrupt vote-counting Mexico has a lot to teach the United States."

That's a matter of enormous pride to Mexicans, as my eagle-eyed friend Miguel Antonio pointed out to me yesterday. Gracias, amigo.

There's word this morning that there's deal talk underway to allow the French oil distributor Rubis SA to buy Royal Dutch Shell PLC's marketing business in Bermuda. Market Watch quotes Rubis as having said assets being acquired generate $45 million in revenue and $3.6 million in net profit, which is surprisingly little, given the price of gas in this place. Rubis is Europe's third-largest distributor of liquified petroleum gas.

This writer, Peter N. Spotts of the Christian Science Monitor, needs his knuckles rapped. He writes a fascinating article on cannon ball-sized 'androids' being tested by staff of the International Space Station. Lots of wonderful stuff about Star Wars and the Force, but nowhere does he bother to explain clearly what the things are for. It wasn't that hard to find out, so Mr Spotts was just being idle.

Sending a full-sized, heavy satellite into space costs a lot of money. So someone's had the bright idea of sending a bunch of small, light satellites into space instead, perhaps as part of the payload on a number of flights, and dividing the work that would be done by a bigger device among them. That will require precise coordination of their product. So three of these little satellites are being send to the ISS so that NASA can learn how to get them to fly in formation. Clever.

Syria seems to be going the way of Cuba, where its intellectuals are concerned. This MEMRI article says that some of those who signed one of those public declarations that was published as a full-page ad in newspapers and on the web, have been arrested, or fired from their jobs, or perhaps both.

MEMRI says "On May 12, 2006, the Lebanese media and websites close to the Syrian opposition published a document titled The Beirut-Damascus Declaration/Damascus-Beirut Declaration. The declaration, which calls for improving Syrian-Lebanese relations, was signed by several hundred Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals. It depicts the deterioration in relations between the two countries in recent months, and sets out, in 10 points, measures that must be taken in order to rectify these relations 'from the root'. The first point calls on Syria to recognize Lebanon as an independent state by demarcating the border between the two countries and establishing mutual diplomatic representation between them.

"The Syrian authorities' hostile response to the declaration was manifested in scathing articles in the government daily newspapers critical of the declaration and of the intellectuals who signed it, as well as in a wave of arrests of some of these intellectuals. Human rights organizations reported on the harsh conditions and ill-treatment to which the intellectuals were being subjected in prison, and on the deleterious effects on their health. There were also reports that 17 Syrian officials had been removed from their posts because they had signed the declaration."

10 July 2006

This New York Sun editorial says it all rather nicely: "New data show federal revenues surged in the first three quarters of the current fiscal year. Corporate tax receipts are up more than 26% over the same period last year, ringing in at $250 billion. Individual income tax collections, at $791 billion, are up 14% over the first nine months of fiscal 2005. The Congressional Budget Office projects corporate tax receipts will total $330 billion by the end of the fiscal year. As a result, the deficit for the year is expected to be about $300 billion, down from $318 billion last year and $412 billion the year before.

"What, you ask, has led to this miraculous event? A tax cut, it turns out. Or rather, an array of tax cuts, on corporate income, personal income, and capital gains. These tax cuts, passed in 2001 and 2003, appear to be having the desired effect of spurring economic growth by creating addition incentives for work and entrepreneurship. The latest numbers, moreover, offer some hard data to challenge some of the charges leveled against President Bush and congressional Republicans in respect of tax cuts. These tax cuts haven't exactly benefited 'the rich.' A third of those higher income-tax revenues came from the highest-earning 1% of households, according to the New York Times."

The New York Sun is also saying this morning that the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, effectively fired his lead Iran investigator this spring at the request of the Iranians.

Quoting a report in the German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, the Sun says "The lead inspector of the 15-man IAEA team in Iran, Chris Charlier, told the newspaper that the IAEA chief, Mohammad ElBaradei, agreed to a request the Iranian government made, and relegated Mr. Charlier, a 64-year-old Belgian, to office work at the organization's Vienna-based headquarters. The Iranian request was reportedly made when Mr. ElBaradei visited Iran in April."

The reason? Well, maybe there's a clue here: "Mr. Charlier told the German newspaper that he believes Iran is hiding elements of its nuclear program. In comments that echoed U.N. inspectors' during the 1990s looking at Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, he said, 'Wherever we went, whatever we did, they always followed us, monitoring us with video cameras and capturing every single one of our conversations. Never letting us out of their sight for a second, watching everything over our shoulder. ... How the devil were we supposed to rationally do our work?'"

The Israeli/Palestinian hostage crisis seems to be in a state of flux this morning, as backdoor comments about the state of play drift farther and farther away from the official Israeli Government line. The Jerusalem Post says: "While Israel has not changed its official rejection of a cease-fire with Hamas, negotiations are being conducted through back channels for the release of kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit...Egyptian sources told the newspaper that Israel would be willing to commit to a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, stop targeted killings, and release prisoners in exchange for Shalit's safe release and an end to Kassam rocket fire.

"Israel Radio, meanwhile, reported on Monday that Palestinian sources had indicated that the Hamas leadership was prepared to accept a deal for Shalit's release, under which Hamas would release the soldier and stop firing Kassam rockets at Israel. Israel, for its part, would end its recent military operations in the Gaza Strip and stop targeted killings. Also, Israel would guarantee the release of all the Hamas ministers and parliament members who were arrested following Shalit's abduction, and free some 1000 security prisoners by the end of 2006."

There is also, at this Jerusalem Post site, the first decent picture of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal I've seen. Not a man who inspires trust and confidence, I'd say.

Meantime, The Washington Times is reflecting on the background: "What began 15 days ago as an effort to free Cpl. Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old Israel Defense Forces soldier kidnapped by terrorists who attacked an Israeli base inside Israel, has been transformed into something much larger. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's center-left government has embarked upon a daring campaign to: 1) uproot the Palestinian terror networks that have embedded themselves in Gaza and the West Bank, with the active support of Iran and Syria; and 2) destabilize what Israel accurately terms a terrorist government run by Hamas, which has made Gaza a haven for jihadists much as Afghanistan was under Taliban rule.

"The effort to uproot terror bases is in essence a reprise of Operation Defensive Shield, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's remarkably successful campaign four years ago that crippled West Bank terror cells that had carried out a grisly series if suicide bombings in Israel, capped by the March 27, 2002, Hamas bombing of a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. Thirty people were killed in that bombing. The campaign by Mr. Olmert is in part meant to deal with the consequences that followed Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last summer, such as the complete collapse of security on the Gaza/Egypt border, which permitted terrorists and weapons to cross unimpeded.

"Given Israel's desire not to reoccupy Gaza permanently, it must re-examine establishing something approximating a zero-tolerance policy to deal with terrorist rocket attacks from Gaza. The United States would not tolerate terrorists firing rockets across the Mexican border at El Paso or San Diego, and Israel cannot and should not accept any rocket firings at Sderot and Ashkelon.

"The current Israeli military operation comes at a time of enormous cultural and political change within Israel. Since the Jewish state's victory in the 1967 war, its politics have been dominated by men with military backgrounds. Prime ministers of various ideological hue - ranging from Mr. Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, elected as leaders of the Likud Party, to Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin from Labor - had extensive military careers. Messrs. Sharon, Barak and Rabin were army generals before becoming prime minister. The current Israeli government marks a sharp departure: Mr. Olmert was a lawyer and politician. Amir Peretz, the leader of the Labor Party and current defense minister, is a labor-union leader who earlier this year campaigned almost exclusively on a platform of left-wing economic populism. He avoided taking positions on security issues. Mr. Peretz, who oversees the military campaign in Gaza, succeeded Gen. Shaul Mofaz, who had previously served as Israel Defense Force chief of staff."

09 July 2006

Why is it that people are so down on Israel, asks Victor Davis Hansen in his Washington Times column. "It is not as if Israel is a rogue state. For more than a half-century, it has been the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. Israeli scientists have given the world everything from innovative computer software to drip-irrigation technology.

"Oil explains some of the weird discrepancy in how the world views certain countries. It warps policymaking. Take away Iranian and Arab petroleum - and thus the risk of another oil embargo or rigged price increase - and Western fears of Middle East oil states would diminish. Naked self-interest determines the foreign policy of most nations.

"Israel's size is a factor too. Israel has a population of not much more than 6 million and is surrounded by nearly 350 million Muslim Arabs. Most of the world counts heads - and adjusts attitudes accordingly.

"The old anti-Semitism is, of course, another ingredient that accounts for the animus shown Israel. Even sensitive, multicultural Westerners care little that Arab 'allies' often portray Jews as 'pigs' and 'apes' in their state-run media. Odious tracts like 'Mein Kampf' still sell briskly in Palestine, and Iranian and Gulf money subsidizes a mini-industry of Holocaust denial.

"Rather than concede that Western-style democracy, capitalism, personal freedom and the rule of law explain why a prosperous, stable Israel arose from scrub and rock, Palestinians fixate on 'Zionism,' 'colonialism' and 'racism.' No wonder. Otherwise they would have to grapple with intractable and indigenous tribalism, gender apartheid, militias and religious fundamentalism, while building an open society based on the rule of law.

"In some ways, Israel's values and success most resemble the United States. And that raises a final question: Is Israel hated by the world for supporting us - or are we hated for supporting it? Or is it both?"

Last week, as Washington floated away in a summer torrent that reporters glibly blamed on global warming, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, the mother of all climate changes cases, reports Patrick J. Michaels, a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute. Writing in the Washington Times, he says "The case represents a proceeding of several state attorneys general, environmental groups and others arguing current law requires the federal government to classify carbon dioxide - the main global warming gas - as a 'pollutant'. But is carbon dioxide a 'pollutant', a harmless byproduct of human activity, or even an adjuvant? No one knows. There has never been a truly comprehensive study of the net effects of powering our world on fossil fuels...

"Even as Al Gore tells us we have only 10 years left before certain disaster ensues, people continue leading longer, richer lives, thanks largely to a fossil fuel-powered economy and its technological base. Mr. Gore may rave on about rapid ice recession in Greenland resulting from a warming trend that began about eight years ago, but he never mentions it was warmer for decades in the early 20th century. If Greenland is sloughing ice now, think what it must have been doing back then, nearly a century ago.

"At any rate, these are the issues the Supremes have to contend with. Somehow they're going to have to add up all these effects and conclude they have a net negative impact on society. Otherwise, they'll have to conclude carbon dioxide isn't a pollutant at all and shouldn't be regulated."

Madeleine Peyroux is often compared to Billie Holiday. This Guardian feature says "she combines the timbre of Billie Holiday with the consonants of Anita O'Day and the phrasing of Bessie Smith." I'm not so sure. I've listened to her a lot lately, and it's a little like comparing a cap pistol to a cannon. Peyroux's voice is pretty and she's clever, but there's not yet a lot of lead in those pants. Maybe some day there will be, but it's not there yet.

Still, her producer Larry Klein is right, when describing the 'poetry' of Peyroux's voice, to say that 'Ninety per cent of what she does is implied.' The Guardian adds "It is said of Peyroux that she could have been Norah Jones before Norah Jones. But Peyroux, apparently, has more traditional aims: She says she has even tried to copy Louis Armstrong. An appropriation doesn't have to be literal, she explains: 'I think you can hear that Louis Armstrong always has joy in every note. And I think you can hear a plaintive quality in Billie Holiday's voice that I've heard in a lot of blues singers; she made things sound sad in the way that they actually are, rather than adding to them.'

"The crossover appeal of Peyroux's musical resurrections (songs made famous by Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline) always seems to surprise her. About 10 years ago, she found herself back in the working-class Brooklyn neighbourhood where she grew up, playing in a little Italian restaurant. Remembering the outsider she had been as a child, listening to Fats Waller when everyone else was in thrall to Madonna, she felt like giving up before the gig began. But her act opened with The Way You Look Tonight and the whole audience sang along. 'My jaw dropped. It was really moving.' The outsider had become the leader of the pack."

Thanks for the tip, Britgirl.

Brian Aldiss, British science fiction writer (also poetry) was asked by the Guardian to review an exhibition in Warwickshire, called The Starry Messenger: Visions of the Universe. He's in his eighties, has written 75 books, won all kinds of literary prizes, including an OBE for services to literature, so he can be forgiven for straying a little from the point.

"It has occurred to me in my cheerful old age that my disposition is predominantly melancholic. Those honourable ancestors who have preceded me in trading in fictitious futures have almost all had the melancholy Steppenwolf disposition, from Mary Shelley, through Edward Bulwer-Lytton, HG Wells, Aldous Huxley, and Olaf Stapledon to George Orwell. Melancholy is an ally of creativity, often well disguised, as in the case of Wells. I, a lesser writer, conceal my disposition, too; I like to keep my melancholy to myself.

"Of course, I suffer, as do so many, from neglect as a writer, not least because the Higher Snobbery of literature regards science fiction as somehow beyond the pale. Even the Lower Snobbery is at it: the frivolous Stephen Fry, for instance, asked why science fiction writers take themselves seriously (as if there were an alternative).

"Melancholy tends to intrude when I write, and thus I can say that I regard, or would regard, the invention and proliferation of androids as a disaster. For a start, I would covet one for myself: less a marriage than a fearful liaison, feeding the ego. Subservient androids might bring you a glass of wine or answer the front door, but they would, above all, serve as status symbols. You could buy them in gold or platinum, like credit cards. This symbolic function of androids is demonstrated in my novel Super-State, where they serve as diamonds have served over the ages, as tokens of wealth and power. My androids are, in fact, a damned nuisance. Since they do not sleep, they would walk about and knock things over; so they are locked up in cupboards at night..."

Here we go again! The Islamic militiamen controlling the Somali capital, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail "broke up a wedding celebration because a band was playing and women and men were socializing together...The Islamic fighters beat band members with electric cables and confiscated their equipment, said Asha Ilmi Hashi, a singer with the group Mogadishu Stars.

"'We had warned the family not to include in their ceremony what is not allowed by the sharia law. This includes the mixing of men and women and playing music,' Sheik Iise Salad, who heads an Islamic court in the northeastern Huriwaa District, told The Associated Press. 'That is why we raided and took their equipment. What was going there was un-Islamic,' Salad said."

It's a rocky road for people who embrace such ideas, because they contradict human nature. But that's not the only problem the Islamist movement in Somalia faces. Somalia's Garowe Online News says there are a serious ideological splits within the Islamist movement in Somalia, "which have the potential to sap their current strength and worse, provoke another round of bloodletting - only this time between the adherents of the various ideological strands of modern political Islam. An ideological battle is being fought far from the public eye and the stage is now set for a clash between two contending visions of Islam.

"Recent developments in Mogadishu indicate the new calm in Mogadishu could, indeed, be the calm before the storm. The ideological divisions within the Islamist groups, were masked by the fact they had a common enemy - the warlords. Now that the warlords have been ousted, and the clans have switched their allegiance to the Islamists, these divisions are becoming noticeable.

"The swift installation of Shaykh Dahir Aweys as the de facto head of the Islamic courts and the apparent sidelining of Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, the soft-spoken moderate cleric, is the clearest sign of a power struggle and tension between the Salafist and the Qutubist tendencies within the Islamist movement in Somalia."


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
The US Supreme Court's First Terrorism Decisions
Useful Yiddish
Yukio Mishima's Death

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