Monday, February 25, 2008

"Save the European University at St. Petersburg" - A new website follows the case

This follow up my post on Friday: Academic freedom alert - The Kremlin shuts down the European University in St. Petersburg

(Technically, the EUSP's official name describes it as being "at St. Petersburg," not "in St. Petersburg" as I've called it ... but my excuse is that, in terms of English-language usage, the "at" formulation has always felt wrong to me.)

What's going on here looks like a blatant effort to intimidate and possibly even destroy a valuable university as part of a larger campaign of political repression aimed at consolidating an increasingly authoritarian political system. This is serious. As I said on Friday, the EUSP deserves the strongest possible international support from everyone committed the principles of academic & intellectual freedom and the defense of political liberty.

=> For those interested in this case, a new website has just been set up by a post-doctoral fellow at Princeton, Mischa Gabowitsch, that usefully collects relevant information, updates, and suggestions for constructive action: "SAVE THE EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY AT ST. PETERSBURG"

One of the posts on this website, "What you can do to help", suggests writing firm but polite letters to relevant Russian authorities expressing concern and alarm (letters are better than e-mail messages), and offers a list of addresses.

As Mischa Gabowitsch also suggests, for tactical purposes such letters are most likely to be helpful if they avoid sounding unnecessarily confrontational, accusatory, or abusive. Pragmatically, it is probably also a good idea to avoid dwelling explicitly on the (obvious) connections between this attack on the EUSP and the larger authoritarian trends in Putin's Russia. In fact, I would venture that in most cases it's probably a good idea to avoid even mentioning the name "Putin". (I've drawn those connections in my posts, of course, but I'm trying to be accurately analytical here rather than tactful.) In general letter-writers should try to avoid the kinds of sweeping and intemperate attacks that could simply play into the hands of anti-western and conspiracy-mongering propagandists.

Past experience with analogous incidents in other countries suggests that a letter-writing campaign expressing solidarity with the EUSP could help convey to the Russian authorities that shutting down the EUSP might create a public-relations problem for them ... while, ideally, still leaving them the with possibility of finding some face-saving exit from the situation. (It was all a misunderstanding, perhaps?)

--Jeff Weintraub

Friday, February 22, 2008

Academic freedom alert - The Kremlin shuts down the European University in St. Petersburg

Part of the Putin government's long-term campaign to consolidate an increasingly tight system of authoritarian control, while maintaining some of the outward forms of representative democracy and constitutional government, has been a systematic and wide-ranging effort to shut down, suppress, or marginalize independent institutions, organizations, and associations--especially, though not exclusively, those with any western or other international ties. (Of course, independent journalism has also been systematically undermined and suppressed, in a process that has included some suspicious deaths.)

So far, this campaign has largely spared the academic world. But that is no longer the case. The European University in Saint Petersburg has been the object of strident public attacks, and now it has been shut down on the basis of what looks to everyone like a transparently fraudulent pretext.

The Guardian article below spells out the story. There is also a good piece about this in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The EUSP deserves the strongest possible international support from everyone committed the principles of academic & intellectual freedom and the defense of political liberty.

=> Anyone who has ever had any direct association with the EUSP, however slight (I myself was once invited to give a colloquium there), can sign THIS LETTER OF SUPPORT.

=> There is also a petition aimed at the international academic & intellectual community as a whole--academics, students, and other scholars & intellectuals: Letter of Support for European University at St Petersburg. Please read it and consider adding your signature.

Yours for intellectual freedom & democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

[Update 2/25/2008: A website has been set up that usefully collects relevant information, updates, and suggestions for constructive action: "Save the European University at St. Petersburg"]
================================
The Guardian
Monday, February 11, 2008
Russian university that advised on election monitoring closed as fire risk
By Luke Harding

The Kremlin was today accused of mounting an unprecedented attack on academic freedom after officials in St Petersburg closed down one of the country's top universities.

The European University at St Petersburg has been forced to suspend teaching after officials claimed its historic buildings were a fire risk. On Friday a court ordered that all academic work cease.

Academics at the university today said the move was politically motivated, and that it followed a row last year over a programme funded by the European commission to improve monitoring of Russian elections.

The university accepted a three-year, €673,000 EU grant to run a project advising Russia's political parties. The programme instructed parties on how to ensure elections in Russia were not rigged.

Last October President Putin launched a vitriolic attack on the European University - which has close links with universities in the UK and US - accusing it of being an agent of foreign meddling.

On January 31 the university's academic council bowed to Kremlin pressure and abandoned the monitoring project. On Friday the court in St Petersburg sealed off classrooms and shut the university's library.

"It's clear this was politically motivated. We are observing a change in the political regime in Russia from authoritarianism to totalitarianism. What happened here is one example among many," Maxim Reznik, leader of St Petersburg's opposition Yabloko party told the Guardian.

He added: "This hasn't got anything to do with fire risk. The university was carrying out important work in connection with election monitoring. Now it's being punished for it."

Putin has launched frequent attacks on non-governmental organisations, human rights groups and Russia's small reformist opposition - accusing them of being tools of the west and traitors to their own country.

But the Kremlin has largely ignored the higher education sector, allowing Russian academics a relative degree of freedom and autonomy over teaching, student selection and research. Universities no longer appear to be an exception.

Yesterday the university's rector, Nicolai Vahtin, told the Guardian he hoped the university would reopen soon. "There's obviously been a misunderstanding. We are hoping to solve this in a couple of days," he said.

There were "no facts" to support or deny the suggestion the university's closure was political, the rector said. He added: "We are one of the best schools in the city and in the country. It would be a waste of talent and motivation to put us out of business."

Asked whether the university was still functioning today, he replied: "The administration is working. But the courts have sealed the classrooms so there are no classes. The students are having an unexpected vacation."

The EC-funded project - known as the Project of Interregional Electoral Chains of Support - was launched in February 2007. Its aim was to develop and raise the effectiveness of electoral monitoring in Russia's regions.

Putin's United Russia party took an immediate dislike to it. Last summer a United Russia deputy demanded an investigation and accused the university of trying to influence the result of Russia's parliamentary and presidential elections.

Russia has been highly sensitive to persistent outside criticism of its election process, which independent observers say falls well short of international commitments and standards.

Last December the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described elections to Russia's state Duma as "not fair". It said there had been overwhelming pro-Kremlin bias in the media and "unprecedented abuse" of office by Putin himself.

Last week observers from the OSCE's Organisation for Human Rights and Development announced they were boycotting Russia's March 2 presidential elections because of Moscow's refusal to cooperate with the monitoring process - prompting a furious Kremlin response.

Today Grigorii V Golosov, a professor in the faculty of political sciences and sociology at the European University at St Petersburg, described his now-dumped project as innocuous.

"Its goals were to provide better information and better analysis on election monitoring. It was to increase public knowledge about elections and to provide academic expertise to practitioners," he said. Asked what would happen to the university now, he said: "Nobody knows."

Explainer: the European University at St Petersburg

Founded in 1994, the European University at St Petersburg is one of Russia's top universities, with close links to leading higher education institutions in the UK and US.

Launched at the initiative of St Petersburg's liberal mayor Anatoly Sobchak, the graduate university is known for its progressive views and western-educated teaching staff. It currently has 120 Russian graduates and 10-15 western students studying for an MA in Russian studies. Uniquely, the university attracts students from Europe to study in Russia.

Its aim is to integrate Russian scholarship with scholarship in Europe and America, at a time when Russian scholarship is becoming increasingly isolated from the west.

The "whiteness" of Israel

From Atlantic Blog:
The Israel Project has some photos from Sderot, which is under continuous rocket attack from Hamas, suffering as well from the breathtaking incompetence of the Olmert government. [JW: other photos here] Here is one of those pictures, with the caption.

Ethiopiasderotgabybereavedfathersde
"I came from Ethiopia in may 1991 with my wife and two children. I had six children when Dorit was killed by a Kassam rocket attack. She was 2 years old. I hope and pray for my family. My wife has kidney disease and receives dialysis. I work for municipality liaising with the Ethiopian community. I worry about them at work and my family at hope, but I hope and pray for a better future."
It is useful to remember Nelson Mandela's famous remark:
Why should there be one standard for one country, especially because it is black, and another one for another country, Israel, that is white.
Mandela has many genuine accomplishments in South Africa, but it is good to remember, as he spouts off this and that, that he not only has feet of clay, but racist feet of clay.

Posted by sjostrom on February 13, 2008 03:36 AM
======================

JW: That post accurately quotes a very unfortunate and inaccurate statement by a very great man, Nelson Mandela. (The quoted remark was was especially bizarre because the country Mandela referred to as "black" was Iraq.)

Mandela's statement reflects a misconception about Israel that is all too prevalent. His description of Israel as a "white" country was no doubt based on a taken-for-granted assumption that Israeli Jews are of European origin. In fact, about half of Israeli Jews are Middle Eastern Jews, or Mizrahim (sometimes also called Sephardim, though strictly speaking that term covers only Jews who can trace their ancestry back to pre-1492 Spain)--and for most of the history of Israel, until the arrival of the Russian Jews in the 1990s, a solid majority of Israeli Jews were Mizrahim. (The residents of Sderot also happen to be overwhelmingly Mizrahim.) These people are not Europeans or ex-Europeans, but refugees from the Arab world & Iran (and their descendants), and the now-vanished Jewish communities they represent had roots in the Middle East, including what is now Iraq, that long pre-dated the coming of Islam.

(For some details, see A historic optical illusion - Israel & the invisible Middle Eastern Jews and Irwin Cotler on the Middle Eastern Jews & the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as the very useful website Point of No Return.)

If they are "white," then so are Iraqis ... not to mention Syrians, Algerians, Egyptians, Saudis, and so on.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. In February 2008 Shlomo Mula became the second Ethiopian-Israeli immigrant to be elected to the Knesset. In his speeches, Mula often likes to recall that he "walked 800 kilometers from Ethiopia to Sudan" as part of the journey that brought him from his village in Ethiopia to Israel 25 years ago. There is a video clip with some of his recollections of that journey HERE.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Benny Morris on fact, fiction, & propaganda about 1948 (Irish Times)

Today the Irish Times published this letter from the Israeli historian Benny Morris, author of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (1989) and Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 (2001). (Thanks to Tom Carew in Ireland for the tip.)

--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
Irish Times (Letters, p. 17)
February 21, 2008
Israel and the Palestinians
Benny Morris

Madam, - Israel-haters are fond of citing - and more often, mis-citing - my work in support of their arguments. Let me offer some corrections.

The Palestinian Arabs were not responsible "in some bizarre way" (David Norris, January 31st) for what befell them in 1948. Their responsibility was very direct and simple.

In defiance of the will of the international community, as embodied in the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 29th, 1947 (No. 181), they launched hostilities against the Jewish community in Palestine in the hope of aborting the emergence of the Jewish state and perhaps destroying that community. But they lost; and one of the results was the displacement of 700,000 of them from their homes.

It is true, as Erskine Childers pointed out long ago, that there were no Arab radio broadcasts urging the Arabs to flee en masse; indeed, there were broadcasts by several Arab radio stations urging them to stay put. But, on the local level, in dozens of localities around Palestine, Arab leaders advised or ordered the evacuation of women and children or whole communities, as occurred in Haifa in late April, 1948. And Haifa's Jewish mayor, Shabtai Levy, did, on April 22nd, plead with them to stay, to no avail.

Most of Palestine's 700,000 "refugees" fled their homes because of the flail of war (and in the expectation that they would shortly return to their homes on the backs of victorious Arab invaders). But it is also true that there were several dozen sites, including Lydda and Ramla, from which Arab communities were expelled by Jewish troops.

The displacement of the 700,000 Arabs who became "refugees" - and I put the term in inverted commas, as two-thirds of them were displaced from one part of Palestine to another and not from their country (which is the usual definition of a refugee) - was not a "racist crime" (David Landy, January 24th) but the result of a national conflict and a war, with religious overtones, from the Muslim perspective, launched by the Arabs themselves.

There was no Zionist "plan" or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of "ethnic cleansing". Plan Dalet (Plan D), of March 10th, 1948 (it is open and available for all to read in the IDF Archive and in various publications), was the master plan of the Haganah - the Jewish military force that became the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) - to counter the expected pan-Arab assault on the emergent Jewish state. That's what it explicitly states and that's what it was. And the invasion of the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq duly occurred, on May 15th.

It is true that Plan D gave the regional commanders carte blanche to occupy and garrison or expel and destroy the Arab villages along and behind the front lines and the anticipated Arab armies' invasion routes. And it is also true that mid-way in the 1948 war the Israeli leaders decided to bar the return of the "refugees" (those "refugees" who had just assaulted the Jewish community), viewing them as a potential fifth column and threat to the Jewish state's existence. I for one cannot fault their fears or logic.

The demonisation of Israel is largely based on lies - much as the demonisation of the Jews during the past 2,000 years has been based on lies. And there is a connection between the two.

I would recommend that the likes of Norris and Landy read some history books and become acquainted with the facts, not recycle shopworn Arab propaganda. They might then learn, for example, that the "Palestine War" of 1948 (the "War of Independence," as Israelis call it) began in November 1947, not in May 1948. By May 14th close to 2,000 Israelis had died - of the 5,800 dead suffered by Israel in the whole war (ie almost 1 per cent of the Jewish population of Palestine/Israel, which was about 650,000). - Yours, etc,

Prof Benny Morris, Li-On, Israel.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

World-wide war on women update - Mass rape & its consequences

Some items from a recent roundup in Foad Mardukhi's e-mail newsletter (which also included examples from Burma and elsewhere). The articles he cited come from 2006-2007, but unfortunately none of this is old news. Also, the examples below all happen to come from current African conflicts, but no one should imagine that systematic mass rape in connection with wars and other armed conflicts is a peculiarly (or even especially) African horror.

--Jeff Weintraub
==============================
Washington Post story titled "Janjaweed Using Rape as 'Integral' Weapon in Darfur, Aid Group Says" (July 3, 2007):
A new report on the crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan has identified rape as a systematic weapon of ethnic cleansing being used by government-backed Janjaweed militiamen, and said Sudanese laws discriminate against female victims, who face harassment and intimidation at local police stations if they try to report the crime.

The report, "Laws Without Justice: An Assessment of Sudanese Laws Affecting Survivors of Rape," by the humanitarian group Refugees International, said rape was "an integral part of the pattern of violence that the government of Sudan is inflicting upon the targeted ethnic groups in Darfur."

"The raping of Darfuri women is not sporadic or random, but is inexorably linked to the systematic destruction of their communities," the report said. Victims are taunted with racial slurs such as "I will give you a light-skinned baby to take this land from you," according to one woman interviewed in the Touloum refugee camp in Chad, recalling the words of a Janjaweed militiaman who raped her.

For a woman to prove rape under Sudanese law, she needs four male witnesses. This requirement puts undue burdens on women in a traditional society where single women having sex can be sentenced to 100 lashes at the discretion of a judge. A married woman proven to have had sex outside of her marriage can be stoned to death, said Adrienne Fricke, an Arabic-speaking lawyer who worked on the report. [....]
Washington Post story "For Darfur Women, Survival Means Leaving Camp, Risking Rape" (September 16, 2006):
The tall, light-skinned man reeking of sweat and cigarettes often gallops his horse right into the nightmares of Darelsalam Ahmed Eisa, 18. Each time, she said, he throws her to the ground, pushes up her skirt and forces himself inside her while muttering: " Abdah. Abdah. Abdah."

Slave woman. Slave woman. Slave woman.

He was in her dreams just last night, she recalled, as real and horrifying in his green camouflage uniform as he was the day he raped her two months ago. But when Eisa awoke this morning, there was no time for terror, no time for tears. She covered herself in an orange and blue cloth, grabbed the family's ax and departed for the perilous Darfur countryside, out of the relative safety of a sprawling camp for people displaced by the violence in this region of western Sudan.

In the wilderness, Eisa can find grass for the donkeys and firewood for cooking. But it is also where government-backed militias known as the Janjaweed roam, terrorizing villagers. Violence and disease in Darfur have killed as many as 450,000 people since 2003, and an estimated 2 million have been forced to flee their homes.

The government and a rebel group reached a cease-fire agreement in May, but since then, rapes in and around camps for people displaced by the fighting have surged, aid groups and residents say. The International Rescue Committee has recorded more then 200 sexual assaults among residents of a single camp near Nyala, a town in South Darfur state, during a five-week period in July and August.

More and more often, women in Darfur face the starkest of choices: risk being raped by leaving the camps in search of firewood and grass, or starve. If they invite their brothers or husbands along to protect them, the Janjaweed will still rape the women, they say, and kill the men.

"It is better for me to be raped than for my brother to be killed," said Eisa, soft-spoken and round-faced, with hair braided into tight rows beneath her head scarf. She has two children, ages 2 and 5, but no husband. He divorced Eisa last year, she said, after she quarreled with one of his elder wives.

But Eisa is not alone. On this morning, as she walked with the ax on her shoulder, her sister, Aziza, 15, was just a few paces behind. Other women and girls, on foot and on donkeys, soon joined them in a haphazard convoy of mothers, daughters and sisters flowing west, away from the low morning sun. [....]
LA Times op-ed by John Holmes, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, titled "Congo's Rape War" (October 11, 2007):
Despite many warnings, nothing quite prepared me for what I heard last month from survivors of a sexual violence so brutal it staggers the imagination and mocked my notions of human decency. I cannot find the words to describe what I heard from the girls and women in Panzi Hospital, located in South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, near the epicenter of one of the world's major humanitarian crises. What I do know is that I am not the same person now as when I walked into that hospital.

As a United Nations official with a special brief for humanitarian affairs, I have seen many people around the globe suffering under truly tragic circumstances. But Congo is different. Its long-running conflict has always been a brutal one, having claimed nearly 4 million lives between 1998 and 2004 -- the equivalent of five Rwandan genocides. And although the war formally ended years ago, fighting has continued in the eastern part of the country, where the national army is battling local and foreign militias in a struggle involving unresolved ethnic conflicts, regional power dynamics and the powerful tug of greed, with all sides vying for a slice of Congo's rich mineral resources.

One of these militias is the FDLR, the Hutu ex-genocidaire group that fled from Rwanda to Congo in 1994 and that continues to harbor wider political ambitions. Civilians are deliberately targeted and harassed by these groups in a climate of almost total impunity.

From the start, sexual violence has been a particularly awful -- and shockingly common -- feature of the conflict in Congo. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable in this predatory environment, with rape and other forms of sexual abuse committed by all sides on an astonishing scale. Since 2005, more than 32,000 cases of rape and sexual violence have been registered in South Kivu alone. But that's only a fraction of the total; many -- perhaps most -- attacks go unreported. Victims of rape are held in shame by Congolese society and frequently are ostracized by their families and communities. The ripple effect of these attacks goes far beyond the individual victim, destroying family and community bonds and leaving children orphaned and/or HIV positive.[....]

Many of those I met in Congo asked, not unreasonably, what difference my visit would make in their lives. I told them I could not promise miracles but that I would do all in my power to draw attention to their needs while pushing hard to address the political root causes of their suffering. I am committed to that. But sustained pressure is needed from around the world to make clear that this kind of shocking and appalling sexual violence must not be tolerated any longer.
Disturbing New York Times story titled "Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War" (October 7, 2007). (Mardukhi adds, "If you have the stomach for it, click on the photo essay that accompanies the article."):
Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore

Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.

"We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”

Eastern Congo is going through another one of its convulsions of violence, and this time it seems that women are being systematically attacked on a scale never before seen here. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, and that may be just a fraction of the total number across the country.

“The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world,” said John Holmes, the United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs. “The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity — it’s appalling.” [....]

Iran predicts Hizbullah will destroy "this cancerous microbe Israel" (AFP)

This announcement comes from the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which happens to be a major pillar of the regime.
"In the near future, we will witness the destruction of Israel, the aggressor, this cancerous microbe Israel, at the able hands of the soldiers of the community of Hezbollah," the ideological force's commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying.
Every time an important figure in the Iranian regime reiterates the Iranian government's long-term official position calling for the elimination of Israel--a policy that was not proclaimed so noisily during the Khatami-led reformist era but that has once again become standard rhetoric since the reformists were crushed and Ahmadinejad became President--various apologists try to pretend that these statements were somehow misquoted, mistranslated, or misunderstood. Such attempts to whitewash or deny the undeniable have become an increasingly absurd but predictable ritual, so I imagine that similar apologetics and distortions will be repeated in this case. Wouldn't it be simpler just to face the fact that they mean what they say, and stop insulting everyone's intelligence by pretending otherwise?

It is also true, of course, that the Iranian government has been careful not to promise that they will destroy Israel themselves. But over the years they have heavily armed, funded, and otherwise supported groups with that avowed aim--particularly Lebanese Hizbullah. As Barry Rubin pointed out yesterday, one interesting wrinkle in this latest threat to wipe Israel off the map is the suggestion that this will be accomplished single-handedly by Hizbullah (and not, for example, by the Palestinians). Maybe this was just a bit of off-the-cuff bombast, boasting that the IRGC's prime clients can do the job themselves, but it's nevertheless intriguing.

Can Hizbullah actually destroy Israel, all by itself? I doubt it. Would they like to, if they could? Sure.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub
=========================
Agence France-Presse
February 18, 2008
Iran predicts Hezbollah will destroy Israel

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Monday predicted Hezbollah would destroy Israel, in a new verbal onslaught against the Jewish state after the murder of a top commander of Lebanon's Shiite militant group.

[JW: "Top commander" is a euphemistic way of saying that Imad Mugniyah was one of the most notorious international terrorists of the past quarter-century--and, as Gershon Shafir reminded me, the man who introduced suicide-bombing to the Middle East.]

"In the near future, we will witness the destruction of Israel, the aggressor, this cancerous microbe Israel, at the able hands of the soldiers of the community of Hezbollah," the ideological force's commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying.

Jafari's comments came in a condolence message to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah after the murder last week in Damascus of top commander Imad Mughnieh, who has been blamed for a string of anti militant attacks on US and Jewish intrests.

"With the martyrdom of this true Muslim, the intentions of all revolutionary and combatant Muslims, especially the comrades of this dear martyr, will without doubt become firmer against the Zionist regime," Jafari said.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already blamed Israel for killing Mughnieh, hailing him as a "great" man whose his death would serve to increase resistance against the Jewish state.

In a sign of Iran's respect for Mughnieh, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki attended his funeral in the Shiite suburbs of Beirut on Thursday and gave a speech.

The Islamic republic has a longstanding policy of non-recognition of Israel but its rhetoric against the Jewish state has sharpened during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad has provoked international outrage by repeatedly predicting that Israel is doomed to disappear. He also courted more controversy by playing down the scale of the Holocaust.

Iran insists its position is in no way anti-Semitic but anti-Zionist, pointing to the continued existence in the country of the largest Jewish community in the Middle East after Israel.

Mughnieh, who was killed in a car bombing in Damascus on Tuesday, was suspected of masterminding the abduction of Western hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s and of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.

He was also linked to the bombing of the US marine barracks at Beirut airport in 1983, in which 241 American servicemen died and the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985, in which a US navy diver was killed.

Israel, while welcoming the death of Mughnieh, has denied any link to his murder. Meanwhile, the US intelligence chief has publicly suggested that internal elements in Syria or even Hezbollah could be to blame.

"There's some evidence that it may have been internal Hezbollah. It may have been Syria. We don't know yet, and we're trying to sort that out," Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told Fox News.

The Syrian pro-government Al-Watan newspaper reported on Sunday that the authorities have detained Arab suspects for questioning in connection with the murder.

The events come amid growing US frustration with Iran's activities in Shiite majority Iraq and in Lebanon which has a substantial Shiite community.

The United States accuses Iran, along with its regional ally Syria, of arming and financing Hezbollah, as well as working to destabilise Lebanon in its current political crisis.

Overwhelmingly Shiite Iran jubilantly cheered Hezbollah's resistance against Israel in the 2006 war but insists it only gives the Lebanese group political support and not military aid.

Washington also accuses Tehran of being a leading sponsor of terror and developing technology that could be used to make nuclear weapons, another allegation that Iran vehemently denies.

"We are not harbouring any illusions about the Tehran regime's true intentions nor its extremist agenda," commented Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"Rules, Rules, Rules" - Democratic nomination dilemmas

This post is going to end by recommending that you watch this VIDEO, but first let me explain what it's about.

=> I don't know why it took them so long, but during the past week people are finally beginning to notice that the rules of the Democratic Party's nominating process add up to an immensely complicated Rube Goldberg contraption that was just waiting to blow up under the right (or wrong) circumstances. I hope it doesn't happen this year, but it might.

(The Republican Party's delegate-selection rules have their own arcane peculiarities, and under certain circumstances they might also lead to confusion & contention, but this year they haven't.)

The two issues most likely to produce a crisis, as everyone is now aware, are the following:

(1) The role of the so-called "superdelegates," who will constitute about 20% of the delegates at the convention. (More details HERE.) It is now close to mathematically impossible, and is certainly impossible in practice, that either Obama or Clinton will secure enough "pledged delegates"--i.e., the ones chosen in primaries and caucuses--to secure the nomination. Therefore (as some people were prescient enough discern as a possibility more than a month ago), the final result will depend on the votes of the elected officials, party leaders, activists, and others who get automatically seated as "superdelegates"--and who are not obligated to support the candidate who got the most pledged delegates (or who carried the superdelegate's own state, Congressional district, or whatever).

The idea that the superdelegates were supposed to exercise "independent judgment" about what was best for the party was a quite deliberate part of the original plan. but apparently it has just occurred to many party notables, the commentariat, and bewildered ordinary citizens that this could result in having the superdelegates overrule the aggregate outcome of the primaries and caucuses. That doesn't seem democratically acceptable to many people ... but if it would be illegitimate in principle, then why have "superdelegates" at all?

(Well, maybe they should just get rid of them. But here is one argument that might imply a different conclusion. Meanwhile, there they are--including superdelegates committed to Clinton in states carried by Obama, superdelegates committed to Obama in states carried by Clinton, etc.)

I suppose it's possible that, in the unlikely event that either Clinton or Obama establishes a commanding lead in pledged delegates over the next several months, then a decisive majority of superdelegates might rally to the front-runner in order to forestall a fight at the convention. But at this point the chances of either candidate running up a commanding lead strike me as slim. Barring that, any outcome involving the superdelegates has the potential of leaving some sectors of the Democratic Party feeling aggrieved. Someone had better come up with a generally acceptable solution, somehow (and I don't know what it might be).

(2) What to do about the delegates from Michigan and Florida, who were excluded from the Democratic convention because those states broke the Democratic Party's rules by scheduling their caucuses (in Michigan) and primaries (in Florida) too early. At the time, no doubt, this rather draconian ruling didn't seem like a big deal, since no one even considered the possibility that the nomination might still be contested when convention time rolled around. Now, the result is a bit of a nightmare.

Clinton won the bulk of the (hypothetical) delegates in both states--but none of the Democratic candidates campaigned in either state, and Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan. If those Clinton-heavy delegations are seated, the Obama camp will justifiably scream bloody murder (in fact, even the prospect that it might happen has gotten them and their supporters started). On the other hand, realistically speaking, can the Democratic Party simply exclude the elected delegates from two big, important, swing states without paying some electoral cost for it in November? If that happens, then not only will the Clinton camp scream bloody murder, but so will both of those state Democratic parties.

That's especially true for the Florida Democrats. The hard fact is that over 1,684,000 voters participated in the Florida Democratic primary (as compared with, say, about 1,244,000 Democratic primary voters in Massachusetts and about 530,000 in South Carolina). If the Florida delegation is totally excluded from the Democratic convention, you can expect to hear a lot of angry accusations that all those voters are being "disenfranchised," that their votes aren't being counted, and so on--just as happened, people will point out, in a year that is seared into the memory of every Democrat, 2000. Think all that can simply be waved away? I doubt it.

Frankly, I can't see a good solution to this dilemma, but then my imagination might simply be too limited. One plausible solution might be to run new primaries and/or caucuses in those states, but somehow I doubt that will actually happen. (And if the idea is seriously raised, expect a bitter fight between the two campaigns about whether they should be primaries or caucuses.) I guess we'll have to see.

=> Either good luck or the exercise of collective ingenuity and reasonableness may prevent either or both of these dilemmas from precipitating a full-scale crisis. I can't foresee a happy resolution myself, especially concerning the Michigan and Florida delegations, but I also wouldn't feel confident in predicting that disaster is unavoidable.

I may (or may not) post a more substantial consideration of the issues and dilemmas involved here. Meanwhile, the folks at TPM put together a nice VIDEO that quickly surveys these increasingly rancorous disputes in a package that is at once concise, interesting, and funny (in a grimly amusing sort of way).

As Sen. Chuck Schumer correctly observes in one of the clips collected in the video, "Each candidate is going to proffer the rule that is in their best interest right now"--and each campaign has, in certain respects, been proffering different rules for different issues. You can watch them do it HERE.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. And by the way, speaking of Florida ... I mentioned that over 1,684,000 people voted in this year's Democratic primary in Florida. To put that figure in perspective, it might be worth adding that only 753,762 people voted in the 2004 Florida Democratic primary. That means that this year's Democratic turnout was more than twice as great as the 2004 turnout--despite the fact that it had been announced in advance that the Florida delegates wouldn't be seated at the convention. That's impressive--and I think we can assume that if the primary had just been held in February, and hadn't been written off by the Democratic National Committee, then the turnout would have been even higher.

(This year's turnout for the Florida Republican primary was actually higher than the Democratic turnout--1,920,350 voters--which runs counter to the pattern in most other states. But the national Republican Party had not stripped Florida of all its delegates, merely cut them by 50%. This suggests to me that the DNC's ruling that the Florida primary wouldn't count at all must have had a significantly discouraging effect on Democratic turnout, as one would expect. Nevertheless....)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Congressman Tom Lantos, champion of human rights and human decency, dies at 80

This week saw the passing of one of the most admirable members of the US Congress, the Hungarian-Jewish-American Representative Tom Lantos. Selections from his Associated Press obituary are below. Lantos survived the Nazi Holocaust, which murdered most of his family, and he
"saw his survival from the camps in Europe as a reason to devote his life to help victims of discrimination, oppression and persecution everywhere," said Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a close friend. "He was outspoken in whatever he did."
Among other things, the role that Lantos played in his political career helps to illustrate why US foreign policy has never actually been conducted according to the model favored by self-styled "realists"--that is, one in which international relations are exclusively controlled and managed by foreign-policy elites guided by a narrowly conceived, politically unrealistic, and morally myopic version of realpolitik, safely insulated from the pressures of democratic politics ... and why, on balance, this is a good thing.

=> One of Lantos's accomplishments was founding the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983. The Human Rights Leadership Coalition, an alliance of 12 major international human-rights groups, paid an eloquent tribute to Lantos that is worth reading in full (HERE). Some highlights:
The human rights community mourns the loss of Tom Lantos, an extraordinary human rights leader and unwavering advocate for fundamental rights. As the Executive Directors of the twelve organizations that form the Human Rights Leadership Coalition, we are deeply grateful for Lantos’ countless contributions to justice and human rights around the world that rendered him a unique and steadfast ally to the human rights community. His remarkable and sustained efforts on behalf of vulnerable and otherwise voiceless people gave deep meaning to his almost three decades of public service in Washington, DC.

The only Holocaust survivor to be elected to Congress, Lantos had a unique voice and passion to make a difference in the lives of others. [....]

In 1983, Congressman Lantos co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, to ensure every Member of Congress had the opportunity to speak out on behalf of those whose voices were quelled and to shed a light in the face of darkness. Among the first acts was to adopt the cases of individual Soviet Jews, Pentecostals and dissidents targeted by the Soviet regime. Many were released.

Through the Caucus, Lantos brought major concerns to the Congress, such as violence against women, killings in Darfur and the Congo, and curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He also advocated for internet company accountability for complicity in censorship and political persecution in China. Congressman Lantos shed a spotlight on lesser known causes, first bringing to light abuses against Tibetans, the Kurds, the Burmese, Uighurs, and indigenous people on every continent. He was a strong advocate against anti-Semitism and persecution of religious minorities, and also of abuses against gays and lesbians. During the dark periods of the dirty wars in Latin America, Lantos called for accountability and insisted on the declassification of documents revealing US involvement in abuses.

During his final public remarks at the United Nations on January 28, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, recalling his participation in the Durban World Conference against Racism and Related Intolerance [which, to the dismay of Lantos and others like him, had perversely turned into an outright festival of bigotry and anti-semitism --JW] and calling for renewed efforts to combat anti-Semitism and intolerance in any form, Tom Lantos urged the assembled world leaders to: “... let us rededicate ourselves to stopping current tragedies such as the genocide in Darfur... and to preventing such inhuman cruelty in the future. We must remember that the veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians and we can never rest...” [....]
=> Lest all this make Lantos sound too narrow in his interests and too saintly in his temperament, here are some of his other political positions:
Lantos was a strong supporter of the Iraq War from the start, but from 2006 onward made increasingly critical statements about the conduct of the war, and as the chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs he held 20 oversight hearings on the war in 2007.

Lantos was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and repeatedly called for reforms to the nation's health-care system, reduction of the national budget deficit and the national debt, repeal of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, and has opposed Social Security privatization efforts. He supported same-sex marriage rights and marijuana for medical use, was a strong proponent of gun control and was adamantly pro-choice.

Lantos was a well-known advocate on behalf of the environment, receiving consistently high ratings from the League of Conservation Voters and other environmental organizations for his legislative record. His long-standing efforts to protect open space brought thousands of acres under the protection of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, including Mori Point, Sweeney Ridge and — most recently — Rancho Corral de Tierra, which will keep its watersheds and delicate habitats free from development permanently. In 2005 he opposed an effort to expand public use of the Farallon Islands, a protected wildlife haven.

Lantos consistently championed local transportation projects that need federal funds and, given his seniority in Congress, proved successful at delivering this support. [....]

Lantos spoke out strongly against waste, fraud and abuse in the multi-billion dollar U.S. reconstruction program in Iraq, and has warned that the U.S. may lose Afghanistan to the Taliban if the Bush Administration fails to take decisive action to halt the current decline in political stability there.

Lantos, then the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, tried to disrupt U.S. military aid to Egypt. Lantos argued that the Egyptian military had made insufficient efforts to stop the flow of money and weapons across the Egyptian border to Hamas in Gaza, and had not contributed troops to internationally-supported peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Lantos was a strong advocate of Israel[....]

During a 1996 Congressional inquiry into the "Filegate" scandal, Rep. Lantos told witness Craig Livingstone that "with an infinitely more distinguished public record than yours, Admiral Boorda committed suicide when he may have committed a minor mistake." Boorda, the Chief of Naval Operations, had recently taken his own life after his right to wear Combat V decorations had been questioned. Lantos was criticized by some (including fellow Congressman Joe Scarborough) who interpreted the remark as a suggestion that Livingstone too should kill himself. [....]

In June 2007, Lantos called former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder a "political prostitute" at the dedication ceremony of the Victims of Communism Memorial, which caused a political backlash from the German government. Lantos was referring to Schröder's ties to energy business in Russia, and remarked that this appellation would offend prostitutes. [....]

In October 2007, Dutch parliament members said Lantos insulted them while discussing the War on Terrorism by stating that the Netherlands had to help the United States, because they liberated them in the Second World War, while adding that the upheaval over Guantanamo in Europe was bigger than over Auschwitz at the time. [Etc.]
And here is Lantos in March 2007:
We are far from having exhausted all diplomatic and economic options for stopping Tehran’s headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons. Talk of military intervention is unwise and unsupported by Congress and the American people.

I am very pleased that the Administration has recently reversed course, and will join Iran and Syria for discussions on stability in Iraq. Perhaps this diplomatic contact with Iran might pave the way for a broader dialogue with Tehran designed to bridge the gulf between our two nations.

But diplomacy with Iran does not stand a chance unless it is backed by strong international sanctions against the regime in Tehran. Iran’s theocracy must understand that it cannot pursue a nuclear weapons program without sacrificing the political and economic future of the Iranian people.

That is why this week I am introducing the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007. The objective of my legislation is two-fold: To prevent Iran from securing nuclear arms and the means to produce them. And to ensure that we achieve this goal in a peaceful manner. [....]

The corporate barons running giant oil companies – who have cravenly turned a blind eye to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons – have come to assume that the Iran Sanctions Act will never be implemented. This charade will now come to a long overdue end. [....]

My legislation also calls on the President to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group. The Revolutionary Guard and its Quds Force train terrorists throughout the Middle East, including in Iraq and in Lebanon. The Revolutionary Guard, which is a major base of support for Ahmadinejad, owns huge economic enterprises in Iran. Foreign banks will think twice about dealing with these enterprises once the Guard is declared a terrorist organization.

All of these actions will deprive Iran of the funds that currently support and sustain its nuclear program.

I will also join with our colleague Barney Frank, the Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, in introducing legislation to limit pension fund investment in foreign companies that pour money into Iran’s energy industry. A variety of means will be used for this purpose from “name and shame” for private funds to mandating divestment for public funds. [....]

The reason for this all-encompassing approach -- and for its urgency -- is that we have so little time. Iran is forging ahead with its nuclear program, in blatant defiance of the unanimous will of the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Before it is too late, we must try to persuade others to join us in increasing the diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran and, where necessary, we must give them incentives to do so. [....]


=>A few more random items that are also worth reading: Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány's tribute to Lantos begins with this nice formulation: "Tom Lantos was a loyal son to both his adopted home, the United States, and his native country, Hungary, even though the latter was, at one time, so painfully and tragically disloyal to him." I discovered from my friend Ezter Hargittai's blog that Lantos is one of the Hungarian Holocaust survivors featured in an Oscar-winning historical documentary by Steven Spielberg, "The Last Days"--which I've never seen, but which Ezster has convinced me I probably should. And check out my cousin Hal Plotkin's favorite Tom Lantos story--about the radio interview Hal did with Lantos during Lantos's first run for Congress in 1980--along with a more recent story about Lantos vs. Yahoo from November 2007.

=> A closing note: The painful sense of loss I felt when I heard about Tom Lantos's death--not a personal loss, of course, but a moral and political loss for the US and for the world--reminded me of my reaction in 2004 to the shockingly unexpected death of another combative, outspoken, politically courageous, deeply humane, and outstandingly admirable left-liberal Jewish-American political figure, Sen. Paul Wellstone. That's not to say that the two of them agreed on every issue. To take one big example, Lantos supported the 2003 Iraq war (as I did), while Wellstone opposed it. But in both cases their position was reasoned and principled--and based on pretty much the same core principles of democratic and humanitarian practical idealism. I want to take this opportunity to salute them both.

--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Not everyone liked Lantos, to be sure. In case you're interested in a different perspective, HERE is an all-out assault on Lantos as a "champion warmonger," "sickening hypocrite," and chief spokesman of "the Dick Cheney wing of the Democratic Party." This particular example comes from the right-wing "libertarian" "anti-war" nut-job Justin Raimundo, but a lot of the basic themes, sometimes minus the intemperate languate, can also be found in criticisms of Lantos from allegedly "progressive" sources over the years.
=========================
New York Times (AP)
February 11, 2008
Representative Tom Lantos Dies at 80

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rep. Tom Lantos, who escaped the Nazis and grew up to become a forceful voice for human rights all over the world, has died. He was 80.

The California Democrat, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, died early Monday at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland, said his spokeswoman, Lynne Weil. He disclosed last month that he had cancer of the esophagus.

At his side were his wife of nearly six decades, Annette, his two daughters and many of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Annette Lantos said in a statement that her husband's life was "defined by courage, optimism, and unwavering dedication to his principles and to his family."

Lantos, who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was serving his 14th term in Congress. He had said he would not seek re-election in his Northern California district, which takes in the southwest portion of San Francisco and suburbs to the south. [....]

Lantos assumed his committee chairmanship when Democrats retook control of Congress. He said at the time that in a sense his whole life had been a preparation for the job -- and it was.

Lantos, who called himself "an American by choice," was born to Jewish parents in Budapest, Hungary [who named him Lantos Tamás Péter --JW], and was 16 when Adolf Hitler occupied Hungary in 1944. He survived by escaping twice from a forced labor camp and coming under the protection of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who used his official status to save thousands of Hungarian Jews.

Lantos' mother and much of his family perished in the Holocaust.

That background gave Lantos a unique moral authority that he used to speak out on foreign policy issues, sometimes courting controversy. He advocated for human rights in Sudan, Myanmar and elsewhere, and in 2006 was one of five members of Congress arrested outside the Sudanese Embassy protesting what the Bush administration describes as genocide in Darfur.

Lantos' end came faster than his many friends and admirers had expected. [....]

Tributes poured in from Jewish groups worldwide, as well as from the Israeli foreign ministry, the prime minister of Hungary, the governor of California and the mayor of New York City.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Lantos a friend and longtime supporter of the United Nations, whose "immeasurable efforts in attuning the consciousness and the conscience of people to the dangers of intolerance and human rights violations will long be remembered," said U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas.

Lantos was a frequent visitor to Hungary, where he was widely recognized for advocating for the rights of the millions of ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, especially Romania and Slovakia, whose cultural identity was a common target of those countries' communist regimes.

Lantos was elected to the House in 1980. He founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983. In early 2004 he led the first congressional delegation to Libya in more than 30 years, met personally with Moammar Gadhafi and urged the administration to show "good faith" to the North African leader in his pledge to abandon his nuclear weapons programs. Later that year, Bush lifted sanctions against Libya.

In October 2007, as Foreign Affairs chairman, Lantos defied administration opposition by moving through his committee a measure that would have recognized the World War I-era killings of Armenians as a genocide, something strongly opposed by Turkey. The bill has not passed the House.

"(Lantos) saw his survival from the camps in Europe as a reason to devote his life to help victims of discrimination, oppression and persecution everywhere," said Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a close friend. "He was outspoken in whatever he did."

"It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress," Lantos said upon announcing his retirement last month.

Lantos and his wife had two daughters, Annette and Katrina, who between them produced 18 grandchildren. One grandchild died young. According to Lantos, his daughters fulfilled their promise to produce very large families because his and his wife's families had perished in the Holocaust.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Indirect terrorist blackmail by Saudi Arabia?

Here is an allegation (via the Guardian) that definitely belongs in the category of "interesting, if true."
Saudi Arabia's rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.

Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.

Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE. [....]

The threats halted the fraud inquiry, but triggered an international outcry, with allegations that Britain had broken international anti-bribery treaties. [....]

Lord Justice Moses, hearing the civil case with Mr Justice Sullivan, said the government appeared to have "rolled over" after the threats. He said one possible view was that it was "just as if a gun had been held to the head" of the government.[Etc.]
I suppose this is the kind of response that some people would describe as "realistic" and "responsible" (unless, of course, Tony Blair is somehow involved).
Yesterday, anti-corruption campaigners began a legal action to overturn the decision to halt the case. They want the original investigation restarted, arguing the government had caved into blackmail.
Isn't that language very moralistic, judgmental, and ethnocentric (almost "neocon," as people say nowadays)?

As the story is reported in this Guardian article, parts of it actually sound a little fishy to me ... but it's not at all implausible that some version of it might be close to the truth ... in which case it should be a major scandal. Then again, maybe it's just more anti-Arab and Islamophobic propaganda? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

--Jeff Weintraub

Denmark - The cartoon wars continue

I trust that everyone remembers the international storm surrounding the publication in a Danish newspaper, back in September 2005, of some satirical cartoons that included depictions of the Prophet Mohammed.

(If you want a reminder, see my February 2006 post on "The cartoon wars" and some related items from 2006, including good pieces by Marc Cooper and Tim Rutten and an outspoken joint declaration by 12 writers and other intellectuals, a number of them Muslims or from Muslim backgrounds, calling for the defense of freedom and democratic principles against Islamist fanaticism.)

Well, the latest news from Denmark (see below) indicates that these cartoon wars are not over yet (and the cartoonists involved will probably not feel entirely safe for the rest of their lives).

=> Denmark's three main newspapers have just acted to express solidarity in defense of freedom of expression and in opposition to terrorist intimidation. The deserve to be commended for this principled stand.
“This shows that terror is not only despicable, but also at the end powerless,” said Toeger Seidenfaden, Politiken’s chief editor.

Not quite ... but it's a fine sentiment.
The Islamic Faith Community, a religious Muslim organisation at the centre of the controversy,
(Which is a euphemistic way of saying that back in 2005-2006 they went out of their way to whip up international hysteria about these cartoons. As a New York Times editorial pointed out at the time: "The cartoons were largely unnoticed outside Denmark until a group of Muslim leaders there made a point of circulating them, along with drawings far more offensive than the relatively mild stuff actually printed by the paper, Jyllands-Posten.")
condemned the plot and urged that all disagreements should be handled through legitimate channels.

“It does not serve our purpose that people take the law into their own hands,” it said in a statement.

“On the contrary, we want to appeal to reason in both politicians and the media to not use this miserable example to feed the flames or use it for their own profit. No one in Denmark deserves to live in fear.”
Amen. 

[Update: On the other hand, the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard still has reasons to be fearful.  In 2010 an attacker broke into his house tried to kill him.  That attempt wasn't successful, but Westergaard was seriously wounded, and the next attacker might be luckier.


--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
London Times
February 13, 2008
Newspapers defy Muslim fanatics to support Kurt Westergaard
David Charter in Brussels and Marcus Oscarsson in Stockholm

Denmark’s three main newspapers will take the provocative step today of reprinting a cartoon showing the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb instead of a turban after the arrest yesterday of three suspected Islamic terrorists for plotting to murder the artist.

The cartoon by Kurt Westergaard was one of 12 depicting the prophet which triggered riots around the world leading to dozens of deaths when they first appeared in 2005. The violent backlash demonstrated starkly the incendiary interface between Islam and the boundaries of freedom of expression in Europe.

Mr Westergaard, who has spent three months moving between secret addresses while security services tracked the alleged plotters, was back at work yesterday to draw a self-portrait for today’s editions. It shows him still clutching his pen and a Danish flag, but he is obscured by a dark and bloody cloud featuring Arabic script which declares: “Glorious Koran.”

Muslim leaders in Denmark appealed for calm last night as police interviewed a Danish citizen of Moroccan descent and two Tunisians about plans for the “terror-related killing” of Mr Westergaard, 73, who said that he expected to live the rest of his life under threat of death.

The arrests came as a shock in Denmark which thought that it had closed the unhappy chapter of the cartoons controversy that led to deaths in protests in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia, attacks on Danish embassies and the withdrawal of ambassadors from Iran, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Mr Westergaard’s image of Muhammad, which he intended to show how Islam was being used by terrorists, was regarded by some Muslims as one of the most offensive of the cartoons published in his Jyllands-Posten newspaper in September 2005.

“Unfortunately, the matter shows that there are in Denmark groups of extremists that do not acknowledge and respect the principles on which Danish democracy is built,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister, said. “In Denmark we have freedom not only to think and talk, but also to draw.” Jyllands-Posten and two other Danish papers, Politiken and Berlingske Tidende, said that they would reprint the original cartoon as part of their news coverage today. Jyllands-Posten posted it on the front page of its website yesterday.

“This shows that terror is not only despicable, but also at the end powerless,” said Toeger Seidenfaden, Politiken’s chief editor. The Islamic Faith Community, a religious Muslim organisation at the centre of the controversy, condemned the plot and urged that all disagreements should be handled through legitimate channels.

“It does not serve our purpose that people take the law into their own hands,” it said in a statement.

“On the contrary, we want to appeal to reason in both politicians and the media to not use this miserable example to feed the flames or use it for their own profit. No one in Denmark deserves to live in fear.” Jyllands-Posten published the original cartoons in September 2005 after a Danish writer complained that she could not find an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad because artists feared reprisals from Islamic extremists.

The depiction of the prophet is regarded as idolatory under Islamic law but no one foresaw the scale of the international outcry that would follow as the cartoons were picked up by publications around the world.

Mr Westergaard revealed yesterday that he and his wife, Gitte, 66, had been living at various secret locations since death threats were first made three months ago.

“Of course I fear for my life after the Danish Security and Intelligence Service informed me of the concrete plans of certain people to kill me,” he said in a statement. “However, I have turned fear into anger and indignation. It has made me angry that a perfectly normal everyday activity which I used to do by the thousand was abused to set off such madness. I have attended to my work and I still do. I could not possibly know for how long I have to live under police protection.

He added: “I think, however, that the impact of the insane response to my cartoon will last for the rest of my life. It is sad indeed, but it has become a fact of my life.”

The Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) said that yesterday’s arrests near Aarhus in western Denmark were made after lengthy surveillance.

It expected the 40-year-old Danish citizen to be released pending further investigation. The Tunisians would remain detained while deportation proceedings were brought against them.

The head offices of Jyllands Posten in Aarhus remain protected by security guards and an electronic entry system for staff. Carsten Juste, the editor-in-chief, said: “We sympathise with Kurt Westergaard and his family who are forced to live under unreasonable pressure. It is appalling that a man who goes about his work and carries it out in accordance with Danish law . . . was demonised and threatened.”

Incendiary art that triggered deadly riots

— Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in September 2005
The pictures caused international Muslim anger on a level not seen since the release of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses
At least two Muslim countries recalled their ambassadors to Denmark. The resulting protests lasted six months and led to the deaths of dozens of people.
The printed cartoons included one depicting Muhammad greeting suicide bombers in heaven, saying: “Stop. Stop. We have run out of virgins!”
Another cartoon depicted a Danish boy called Muhammad writing in Arabic on a blackboard the words: “Jyllands-Posten’s journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs.”
— Jyllands-Posten apologised in January 2006, but Norwegian, Canadian and French publications reprinted the cartoons
-------------------------
Related Links
Denmark faces international boycott over Muslim cartoons
Danish court throws out Muslim cartoons lawsuit
Cartoonist shrugs off death threat

Friday, February 15, 2008

Paul Krugman & Greg Sargent call for a moratorium on Clinton Derangement Syndrome

Earlier this week Paul Krugman wrote a cogent and pugnacious column pointing out that it is stupid and self-defeating for Democrats to buy into the "Clinton Rules" of punditry and political chatter that have become an established part of the political landscape over the past decade and a half--that is, peculiar rules for talking about the Clintons that allow and encourage unrestrained bias, denigration by innuendo, fabricated pseudo-scandals, and emotional venting in the guise of critical analysis.

Aside from the fact that this phenomenon has misleading and destructive effects in its own right, recent history also shows that once the "Clinton Rules" became established and taken for granted, they were fairly readily transferred to other Democratic candidates like Al Gore and John Kerry. The assumption that they won't and can't be extended to Barack Obama in turn may prove to be wishful thinking ... so those among Obama's supporters who are too willing to capitulate to CDS, or who have been seduced into it themselves, are playing a dangerous and self-deluding game.

For the record, I should add that I think there are a few slightly overstated formulations in Krugman's piece. But overall what he says is right and important. Even if you happen to support Barack Obama for President (or, for that matter, John McCain), what Krugman says is still right an important, in my humble opinion. I advise everyone to read Krugman's column in full and come to their own conclusions.

=> Greg Sargent, whose commentary on the campaign and on reporting about it (in his Horse's Mouth blog at TPM) has been exceptionally sensible and informative, picked up on Krugman's column and usefully elaborated the point (see below). If Sargent sounds a bit exasperated in this post ... well, he should be exasperated, and so should the rest of us.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Another reality check: Sargent also recommends a piece by Clive Crook in The Atlantic that "addresses the Billary race-card allegations with a great deal of much-needed common sense." It does, so that's worth reading too.

The title of Crook's piece zeroes right in on the key point: "How the press played the race card". Or, as Crook spells it out explicitly, "I think the press played the race card, not the Clintons." This is basically right, though it can't be blamed entirely on the press. That the press spent weeks obsessing about this wildly overstated (or, in some cases, purely imaginary) "racialization" of the campaign was due mostly to laziness, habit, superficiality, and the dynamics of groupthink (along with the fact that playing to CDS was the path of least resistance). It was not the result of a conspiracy, and it didn't always stem from conscious anti-Clinton malevolence, either. But its effects have been poisonous nevertheless.
=========================
The Horse's Mouth:
A blog about the reporting of politics - and the politics of reporting

February 11, 2008
By Greg Sargent

Krugman, His Op-ed Colleagues, And The "Clinton Rules" Of Punditry

Paul Krugman keeps saying what (most) others won't say -- today he points out the bizarre degree to which it's become completely acceptable for pundits to state as outright fact that the Clintons are operating purely from evil motives:

What’s particularly saddening is the way many Obama supporters seem happy with the application of “Clinton rules” — the term a number of observers use for the way pundits and some news organizations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent.
The key word there is "proof," and Krugman is exactly right. But which pundits is he talking about here? Well, he could very easily be talking about his fellow Times columnists. As Kevin Drum notes, Frank Rich had a surprisingly unhinged column yesterday in which he asserted as fact a nefarious plot on the part of the Clintons to "scare off white voters":
But once black voters met Mr. Obama and started to gravitate toward him, Bill Clinton and the campaign’s other surrogates stopped caring about what African-Americans thought. In an effort to scare off white voters, Mr. Obama was ghettoized as a cocaine user (by the chief Clinton strategist, Mark Penn, among others), “the black candidate” (as Clinton strategists told the Associated Press) and Jesse Jackson redux (by Mr. Clinton himself).
Here you see the "Clinton rules" reigning supreme. Putting aside Rich's seeming claim to mind-reading skills -- the Clintons "stopped caring" what blacks thought? -- the three episodes alluded to simply aren't conclusive in the way Rich claims.

Penn did bring up the word "cocaine," but only after the host of the show had spent literally minutes talking about Obama's drug use. The "black candidate" reference was made by anonymous strategists, and the quote alluded to was almost laughably inconclusive. And the Jesse Jackson comment had multiple interpretations.

But Rich strings these all together and concludes that they prove a grand plot by the Clintons to "ghettoize" Obama. Nor is Rich the only Times columnist to throw around such charges with abandon; Bob Herbert has played this ugly game, too.

I want to be as clear as I can about this. It's conceivable that the Clintons had hatched such a grand scheme. The Clintons are hardball political players who leave nothing to chance. But the evidence, as it stands now, simply doesn't support such an elaborate and conspiratorial reading. Something approaching conclusive evidence should be required before such enormously controversial allegations are tossed around.

But here's the real point: When it comes to the Clintons, many pundits have simply stopped requiring themselves to adhere to the most basic evidentiary standards. It has become acceptable, even normal, to say whatever the hell you want about the Clintons, and if you insist on anything approaching real evidence, you're just a party-pooper. The "Clinton rules" governing punditry about them are that there are no rules. Yep -- Krugman was talking about his own colleagues.

Update: Over at The Atlantic, Clive Crook addresses the Billary race-card allegations with a great deal of much-needed common sense.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The superdelegate's dilemma ...

... or, "That's a fundamental principle, but I didn't really mean it should apply to me" ... or, "Well, actually, it all depends...."

--Jeff Weintraub
====================
Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo)
February 14, 2008
Hmmm, Should Have Thought About That Question in Advance

Here's '92 Clinton campaign manager (and superdelegate) David Wilhelm talking about his endorsement of Barack Obama on CNN this morning. But he gets tripped up on the logic of his argument a little bit. Like what happens if Hillary Clinton ends up with more pledged delegates? Will he switch to supporting her?

[Video clip HERE]

Norman Finkelstein reiterates his total solidarity with Hizbullah

If there were any remaining doubts that Norman Finkelstein's visceral and obsessive hatred of Israel (along with his clearly deep-seated psychological problems) have left him thoroughly unhinged, this illuminating recent interview on Lebanese TV (via MEMRI) should be enough to dispel such doubts.

Finkelstein tosses out some transparently dishonest weasel-worded disclaimers that he doesn't know much about Hizbullah's politics (presumably including the fact that Hizbullah is radically theocratic and anti-semitic organization) and doesn't want to meddle in Lebanese political questions that are up to the Lebanese to decide. But having gotten those phrases out of the way, Finkelstein declares his total and unqualified solidarity with Hizbullah--based on an uncomplicated analogy between Israel and Nazi Germany and between Hizbullah and the French Resistance--and, thus, his eagerness to endorse Hizbullah or anyone hostile to Israel.

When the Lebanese interviewer gently tries to suggest that not all Lebanese are happy to serve as cannon fodder for Hizbullah's open-ended private war against Israel--and points out that, despite his denial, Finkelstein is in fact taking sides in some fundamental Lebanese political disagreements--Finkelstein contemptuously dismisses her concerns and launches into an extended rant abusing and insulting any Lebanese who have the temerity to criticize or oppose Hizbullah. Some highlights:
[During the Spanish Civil War, the Communist and anti-fascist orator La Pasionaria] famously said, "It is better to die on your feet than to live crawling on your knees." [....]

I'm not telling you what do with your lives, I'm not telling you. And if you'd rather live crawling on your [knees], I could respect that. I could respect that. People want to live. [....]

Who wants war? Who wants destruction? [....] But I honestly don't see another way, unless you choose to be their slaves - and many people here have chosen that. [....] I can understand it--you want to live. I can't really say I respect it. [....] You know what the Jewish attitude is? Never to forgive, never to forget. And I agree with that. [....]

It's disgusting. [....] You have no self-respect. [....] How can you expect other people to respect Arabs is you show no respect for yourselves?
Etc. Nothing really new here ... but, as I said, it's illuminating in its own way.

Here is the VIDEO.



Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Here are some of Finkelstein's Hizbullah friends. Which side in the Spanish Civil War does this remind you of?












Joseph Wilson endorses Hillary Clinton

The name of Joseph Wilson will ring an immediate bell with a lot of you, since he's become one of the most high-profile critics of the Bush administration's Iraq war policy and of the war itself. When he publicly questioned the credibility of the case that the White House was making for the war (in the affair of the Niger uranium), Wilson got a prominent spot on their enemies list. They set out to retaliate by blowing the cover of his wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame, thus ending her CIA career. (They were unintentionally helped in leaking this information by some careless words from Colin Powell's aide Richard Armitage to the journalistic hit-man of the operation, Robert Novak.)

This background makes it especially interesting that Wilson has just come out with a strong endorsement of Hillary Clinton that includes an unequivocal defense of her 2002 Senate vote authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein.

=> Readers can decide for themselves whether or not they agree with Wilson's arguments for supporting Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama--which center on the theme that she is the only one with the toughness and experience to stand up to the Repubican attack machine.
Sen. Barack Obama's promise of transformation and an end of partisan politics has its seductive appeal. The Bush-Cheney era, after all, has been punctuated by smear campaigns, character assassinations and ideological fervor. [....]

Contrary to the myth of his campaign, 2008 is not the year for transcendental transformation. The task for the next administration will be to repair the damage done by eight years of radical rule. And the choice for Americans is clear: four more years of corrupt Republican rule, senseless wars, evisceration of the Constitution, emptying of the national treasury -- or rebuilding our government and our national reputation, piece by piece. [....]

While disaffected Democrats may long for comity in our politics after years of being harangued and belittled by the right wing echo chamber, the Rovians currently promoting Obama are looking to destroy him should he become the nominee. Obama's claim to float uniquely above the fray and avoid polarization will be short-lived. He is no less mortal than any other Democrat -- Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry -- all untouched at the beginning of their campaigns and all mauled by the end. We should never forget recent history.

In order to effect practical change against a determined adversary, we do not need a would-be philosopher-king but a seasoned gladiator who understands the fight Democrats will face in the fall campaign and in governing.
Maybe, maybe not.

=> But Wilson's defense of Clinton's actions and judgment in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, and his rejection of the kinds of criticism that Obama and others have made against her on the basis of her Senate vote, strike me as basically correct and convincing.

I should add that I don't mean that as a blanket endorsement of Wilson's argument here. Among other things, I don't think Wilson's criticisms of Obama needed to be quite so pugnacious (but this seems to be a character trait of Wilson's). And I would dissent in some respects with his picture of the situation in 2002 and the concrete dilemmas involved--but not along the lines emphasized by most attacks on Clinton's Iraq record, which I agree with Wilson tend to be simplistic and misleading.
Senator Obama claims superior judgment on the war in Iraq based on one speech given as a state legislator representing the most liberal district in Illinois at an anti-war rally in Chicago, and in so doing impugns the integrity of those who were part of the debate on the national scene. In mischaracterizing the debate on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force as a declaration of war, he implicitly blames Democrats for George Bush's war of choice. Obama's negative attack line does not conform to the facts. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I should know. I was among the most prominent anti-war voices at the time -- and never heard about or from then Illinois State Senator Obama.

George Bush made it clear publicly when lobbying for the bill that he wanted it not to go to war but to give him the leverage he needed to go to the United Nations and secure intrusive inspections of Saddam's suspected Weapons of Mass Destruction sites. Who could argue with that goal? Colin Powell made the same case individually to Senators in the run up to the vote, including to Senator Clinton. It is not credible that Senator Obama would not have succumbed to Secretary Powell's arguments had he been in Washington at the time. Why not? Obama himself suggested so in 2004. "I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports,' Obama said. 'What would I have done? I don't know."
In the process, Wilson reminds us of some complicating facts from 2002 that too many people seem to have forgotten, or would prefer to forget. For example:
In his tendentious attack, Obama never mentions that Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspectors, declared that without the congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force the inspectors would never have been allowed into Iraq.
In other words, back in 2002 the concrete alternative to authorizing military action was to allow a political victory by Saddam Hussein and his foreign backers ... which would have led fairly quickly to the final disintegration of the whole sanctions-and-containment system. Some people may feel, in retrospect, that this was a cost worth paying to avoid the 2003 Iraq war. But any fair-minded consideration of these questions has to recognize what the realistically available options were (as opposed to retrospective wishful scenarios), and to recognize that those options were all more or less bad and posed real dilemmas.

=> By the way, for what it's worth ... none of the above means that I have decided to support Clinton over Obama for the Democratic nomination. I continue to be genuinely undecided between them.

=> And for anyone interested in getting an accurate picture of Barack Obama's position on the 2003 Iraq war and its evolution over time, I recommend a careful, sympathetic, but un-partisan reconstruction of Obama's record on this subject by Michael Crowley (for the upcoming edition of the New Republic).

--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
Huffington Post
February 13, 2008
Battle-Tested
By Joseph C. Wilson

With the emergence of Sen. John McCain as the presumptive Republican nominee, the choice for the Democrats in the 2008 presidential election now shifts to who is best positioned to beat him, in what promises to be a more hard-fought campaign -- and perhaps a nastier one -- than Democrats anticipated.

Sen. Barack Obama's promise of transformation and an end of partisan politics has its seductive appeal. The Bush-Cheney era, after all, has been punctuated by smear campaigns, character assassinations and ideological fervor.

Nobody dislikes such poisonous partisanship, especially in foreign policy, more than I do. I am one of very few Foreign Service officers who have served as ambassador in the administrations of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, yet I have spent the past four years fighting a concerted character assassination campaign orchestrated by the George W. Bush White House.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is one of the few who fully understood the stakes in that battle. Time and again, she reached out to my wife -- outed CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson -- and me to remind us that as painful as the attacks were, we simply could not allow ourselves to be driven from the public square by bullying. To do so would validate the radical right's thesis that the way to win debates is to demonize opponents, taking full advantage of the natural desire to avoid confrontation, even if it means yielding on substantive issues. Hillary knew this from experience, having spent the better part of the past 20 years fighting the Republican attack machine. She is a fighter.

But will Mr. Obama fight? His brief time on the national scene gives little comfort. Consider a February 2006 exchange of letters with Mr. McCain on the subject of ethics reform. The wrathful Mr. McCain accused Mr. Obama of being "disingenuous," to which Mr. Obama meekly replied, "The fact that you have now questioned my sincerity and my desire to put aside politics for the public interest is regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep respect for you." Then one of McCain's aides said of Obama, "Obama wouldn't know the difference between an RPG and a bong."

Mr. McCain was insultingly dismissive but successful in intimidating his inexperienced colleague. Thus, in his one face-to-face encounter with Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama failed to stand his ground.

What gives us confidence Mr. Obama will be stronger the next time he faces Mr. McCain, a seasoned political fighter with extensive national security credentials? Even more important, what special disadvantages does Mr. Obama carry into this contest on questions of national security?

How will Mr. Obama answer Mr. McCain about his careless remark about unilaterally bombing Pakistan -- perhaps blowing up an already difficult relationship with a nuclear state threatened by Islamic extremists? How will Mr. Obama respond to charges made by the Kenyan government that his campaigning activities in Kenya in support of his distant cousin running for president there made him "a stooge" and constituted interference in the politics of an important and besieged ally in the war on terror?

How will he answer charges that his desire for unstructured personal summits without preconditions with a host of America's adversaries, from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Kim Jong Il, would be little more than premature capitulation?

Senator Obama claims superior judgment on the war in Iraq based on one speech given as a state legislator representing the most liberal district in Illinois at an anti-war rally in Chicago, and in so doing impugns the integrity of those who were part of the debate on the national scene. In mischaracterizing the debate on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force as a declaration of war, he implicitly blames Democrats for George Bush's war of choice. Obama's negative attack line does not conform to the facts. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I should know. I was among the most prominent anti-war voices at the time -- and never heard about or from then Illinois State Senator Obama.

George Bush made it clear publicly when lobbying for the bill that he wanted it not to go to war but to give him the leverage he needed to go to the United Nations and secure intrusive inspections of Saddam's suspected Weapons of Mass Destruction sites. Who could argue with that goal? Colin Powell made the same case individually to Senators in the run up to the vote, including to Senator Clinton. It is not credible that Senator Obama would not have succumbed to Secretary Powell's arguments had he been in Washington at the time. Why not? Obama himself suggested so in 2004. "I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports,' Obama said. 'What would I have done? I don't know." He also told the Chicago Tribune in 2004: "There's not much of a difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage." According to press reports, Powell is now an informal adviser to Mr. Obama.

In his tendentious attack, Obama never mentions that Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspectors, declared that without the congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force the inspectors would never have been allowed into Iraq. Hillary's approach -- and that of the majority of Democrats in the Senate -- was to let the inspectors complete their work while building an international coalition. Hillary's was the road untaken. The betrayal of the American people, and of the Congress, came when President Bush refused to allow the inspections to succeed, and that betrayal is his and his party's, not the Democrats.

Contrary to the myth of his campaign, 2008 is not the year for transcendental transformation. The task for the next administration will be to repair the damage done by eight years of radical rule. And the choice for Americans is clear: four more years of corrupt Republican rule, senseless wars, evisceration of the Constitution, emptying of the national treasury -- or rebuilding our government and our national reputation, piece by piece. Obama's overtures to Republicans, or "Obamacans" as the Senator calls them, is a substitute for true national unity based on a substantive program. His marginal appeals have marginally helped him in caucuses in Republican states that Democrats won't win in the general election. But his vapid rhetoric will not withstand the winds of November. His efforts will be correctly seen by the Republican leadership as a sign of weakness to be exploited. While disaffected Democrats may long for comity in our politics after years of being harangued and belittled by the right wing echo chamber, the Rovians currently promoting Obama are looking to destroy him should he become the nominee. Obama's claim to float uniquely above the fray and avoid polarization will be short-lived. He is no less mortal than any other Democrat -- Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry -- all untouched at the beginning of their campaigns and all mauled by the end. We should never forget recent history.

In order to effect practical change against a determined adversary, we do not need a would-be philosopher-king but a seasoned gladiator who understands the fight Democrats will face in the fall campaign and in governing.

Theodore Roosevelt once commented, "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly."

If he were around today, TR might be speaking of the woman in the arena. Hillary Clinton has been in that arena for a generation. She is one of the few to have defeated the attack machine that is today's Republican Party and to have emerged stronger. She is deeply knowledgeable about governing; she made herself into a power in the Senate; she is respected by our military; and she never flinches. She has never been intimidated, not by any Republican -- not even John McCain.

Barack Obama claims to represent the future, but it should be increasingly evident that he is not the man for this moment, especially with Mr. McCain's arrival. We've seen a preview of that contest already. It was a TKO.

This article is adapted from a piece published in the Baltimore Sun on February 12, 2008