Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tehran's terrible future, and maybe America's too

It was a sobering read. In 1950, Samuel Glasstone's "The Effects of Atomic Weapons" provided the first unclassified explanation of the physical destruction caused by nuclear weapons. The book's descriptions were detailed, clinically precise ... and terrifying. For decades, it remained the authoritative source on the topic. Only one problem: It wasn't always right. Take this conclusion: "The shock wave produced by an air-burst atomic bomb is the most important agent in producing destruction. ..."

For years, military planners used that insight to estimate the scope of destruction wrought by a mushroom cloud. They were way off. In "Whole World on Fire" (2003), Lynn Eden argues that focusing on shock waves led planners to significantly underestimate the destructive power of atomic warfare because they didn't take into account the damage done by mass fire. Analysts had concluded it was difficult to predict the effects of fire and, because it was only a secondary agent of destruction, they simply omitted fire from their calculations.

Big mistake, Eden says. Recent research suggests that nuclear weapons are much more destructive than previously thought because of the effect of mass fire. At the moment of detonation, the heart of an atomic fireball is four to five times hotter than the sun. It generates a firestorm of hurricane-force winds. Air temperature soars above the boiling point.

Both Washington and Tehran have much to learn from this. The people of Iran should realize the terrible price they may pay due to their president's relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. For Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nukes are more than a status symbol. He views them as a useful tool. He publicly yearns to bring about the "death of Israel" and live in "a world without America." Nukes are the way to reach these goals. Give this delusional dreamer a nuclear weapon and a missile to deliver it, and he'll be only too eager to threaten his enemies with nuclear holocaust.

That, of course, would only invite atomic retaliation ... the type that would obliterate Iran. Ahmadinejad is an existential threat to his own people. And that's reason enough for Iranians to take back their country.

The lesson for Washington is that the United States, a long-established nuclear power, must act like a responsible one. President Obama has started a mad dash down the "road to zero" -- with the announced goal of eliminating our nuclear arsenal. It's a path more likely to end in a nuclear firestorm than in peace.

Why? The danger starts with the administration's refusal to fully modernize our nuclear weapons. Our aging inventory is increasingly less usable and reliable. The continuing erosion of a credible deterrent force will only invite aggression. Moreover, slashing U.S. arsenals may well spur a news arms race. It may encourage emerging atomic enemies such as Iran and North Korea to "pick up the pace" to become our nuclear equals. That in turn could spark other nations wary of these rogue regimes to fast-track their own nuclear programs. Instead of easing tensions, our nuclear drawdown could ratchet up worldwide instability.

The administration has compounded its nuclear error by hobbling our missile defense program. War gaming exercises consistently show missile defenses not only deter attacks, they deter others from even building up their arsenals. Why build missiles when they'll just be shot down?

A world on fire is horrific vision of the future. The Iranian administration views it as glorious, while our administration steadfastly averts its gaze. It should worry peace-loving Iranians and Americans alike.



How NY Times Coverage Buries Middle East Reality

In my entire life I have rarely read an article which simultaneously showed the need to be well-informed before reading a newspaper and the shocking shortcomings of mass media coverage of the Middle East than this minor piece about the reopening of the Cairo synagogue. I've never said this before but will now: If you want to understand the Middle East's reality and how it is distorted in the media, read the following anlysis. Have a little patience and I think you will see precisely what I mean.

There are four huge-gigantic-gaps in this article that show how the Middle East story is being missed. The word "gap" here is polite. I can think of a number of less polite words defining the combination of whitewash and ignorance displayed here. Here is the link. Go and read the short piece if you want to see if you can spot them, then come back and read my response. Or, if you prefer, read my analysis first. It's up to you.

Ok, here we go. The headline for this story is, "A Synagogue's Unveiling Exposes a Conundrum." So, naturally, you want to know what the conundrum was. The article explains: "The restoration project, and its muted unveiling, exposed a conundrum Egyptian society has struggled with since its leadership made peace with Israel three decades ago: How to balance the demands of Western capitals and a peace process that relies on Egypt to work with Israel with a public antipathy for Israel."

So here is point number one-how can the article not even mention the Egyptian government's own role in stoking public antipathy toward Israel? Of course, this antagonism is also the product of history and to a considerable extent comes from the public itself. Yet day after day, the Egyptian government's religious, educational, media, and other institutions preach slander and hatred. toward Israel. There is no effort in terms of communication with the public to reduce antagonism.

Let me make it clear: I am not blaming Egypt's government for the very existence of "public antipathy," but not to mention its role in this process at all is shocking. The effect is to play down the role of regimes, even moderate ones, in so heating up the atmosphere as to make full peace and normalization close to impossible. Their fault, as opposed to criticism of Israel for the lack of resolution in the conflict, gets buried.

Here's point two. One of the main people quoted in the article is Zahi Hawass, general secretary of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. Here is what it says about him: "'This is an Egyptian monument; if you do not restore a part of your history you lose everything,'" said Zahi Hawass, the general secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, which approved and oversaw the project. "I love the Jews, they are our cousins! But the Israelis, what they are doing against the Palestinians is insane. I will do anything to restore and preserve the synagogue, but celebration, I cannot accept."

Later his role is again mentioned: "But the work was completed, and at first the authorities told members of the Egyptian Jewish community that the news media could not attend the ceremony because they wanted to make the official announcement themselves. Then Dr. Hawass announced he was canceling that, too. "'I am trying to give the Israelis a message that they should make peace,' Dr. Hawass said."

So the New York Times allows Hawass to talk about how he loves the Jews and he even wants peace with Israel, he just wants them to be a bit more flexible. One would never guess, however, that when this article was being edited the Times should have been aware of other public statements Hawass has made. Indeed, MEMRI translated this in a dispatch that came out about the same time that the reporters were preparing the story. Here is what Hawass said on Egyptian television last year: Zahi Hawass: "For 18 centuries, [the Jews] were dispersed throughout the world. They went to America and took control of its economy. They have a plan. Although they are few in number, they control the entire world."

Notice that Hawass hates his cousins and that his hatred is based on his belief in the most basic antisemitic stereotypes for a 2000-year period, not since Israel was created in 1948.

And here we see how the Times hides the massive problem of antisemitism in the Arab world, the fact that the conflict cannot be resolved not because Israelis don't want to make peace but because many or most Arabs don't want any Israelis to exist. More likely than not, letting Hawass sound like a dove of peace rather than a raving Jew-hater is due to ignorance rather than intention. The result is the same.

This feeds into point three, which is equally incredible. Let's read the text: "When the subject of restoring the synagogue of Maimonides was first raised about two years ago, Egypt agreed to do the work, but asked that it not be made public. The project was announced a year later when the culture minister, Farouk Hosny, was hoping to become the next director general of Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. When his bid for the post failed, many doubted whether the project would be completed."

Are you a curious person? Perhaps you'd like to know why Hosny's bid failed. It is a matter of public record, covered in hundreds of articles. Even a glance at his biography in Wikipedia-but not the Times--includes the answer to that question. So let's see what the Times staff could have read if they had gone to Wikipedia: "During a May 2008 argument with a Muslim Brotherhood member of Parliament concerning cultural ties with Israel, Hosny provoked controversy by declaring, 'I'd burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt."

"Prior to the book burning comment, the Anti-Defamation League noted that Hosny 'has a long record of stymieing cultural relations with Israel, promoting censorship in Egypt, and making harsh anti-Israel and anti-Jewish statements.' In 2001 interview, he called Israeli culture 'inhuman' and in a 1997 interview stated, 'The Israelis do not stop claiming that they built the [Egyptian] pyramids... This proves that Israel has no history or civilization....''

There was an international outcry at the former culture minister's expressions of antisemitism and attitudes-favoring book-burning-not entirely consistent of being the world's most important cultural official. Despite the fact that he was originally thought to be a shoe-in for the job, Hosny was defeated. The state-controlled Egyptian media then went on an antisemitic rampage, blaming the Jews for his defeat.

Might this have some relevance to the background of the synagogue restoration? The article mentioned that the project was announced during the time Hosny's candidacy was put forth but there is no hint as to the project being a transparent fig-leaf to make people forget about Hosny's own behavior. The project was completed but then downplayed and there was an attempt to act as if the synagogue had nothing to do with anything specifically Jewish.

Finally, there is a remarkable gap in covering internal Egyptian politics, which shows how dictatorships often get the benefit of the doubt in Times coverage. I want to quote this point fully so as to give you a sense of what's the issue here:
"Hala Mustafa, the editor of one of Egypt's premier political journals, Democracy, was formally censured last month for having met the Israeli ambassador in her office. It was first time the journalists' syndicate punished a member for defying a ban on normalization since the group was founded in 1941, according to the independent daily newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.

"Even some of her critics, who strongly disagree with Ms. Mustafa's politics, said they were surprised at the selective nature of the condemnation. Singling out Ms. Mustafa said as much about the way the state and state-aligned institutions apply laws and rules, critics said, as it did about widespread hostility to Israel.

"While Ms. Mustafa was punished, six top Egyptian scholars, including some from the nation's premier research center, the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, attended a conference with the Israeli ambassador. None of them were punished."

But again the reader is at a loss. Why was Mustafa singled out for special punishment? The answer is only hinted at by the name of her journal, Democracy. Mustafa is a liberal reformer and a democracy advocate and that is why she is being repressed. It is one more step in the campaign of Arab regimes against liberals and for maintaining a very tight control over their own societies. Without knowing this, the three paragraphs make no sense.

I am not focusing on an individual reporter here, especially because I don't know how his original piece was edited. But what is important is the product. In this one article, the Times deserves an "F" for journalistic competence and it has failed to inform readers of some of the most important aspects of the contemporary Middle East. In these respects, I cannot imagine a better example of what's wrong with media coverage of the region-and much more.

To quote George Orwell on a similar situation in 1945 (when the correspondent of a left-wing newspaper was criticized by readers for revealing how badly Soviet troops behaved toward civilians), once you accept the idea that the media should support "good causes" rather than just report accurately: "It is only a short step to arguing that the suppression and distortion of known facts is the highest duty of a journalist."

SOURCE (See the original for links)


Outdated union red tape strangles recovery

For nearly 80 years, contractors working on federally funded construction projects have been forced to pay their workers artificially inflated wages that rip off American taxpayers while lining the pockets of organized labor. The culprit is the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which requires all workers on federal projects worth more than $2,000 to be paid the "prevailing wage," which typically means the local union wage.

Here's what happens. Unskilled construction workers possess one clear advantage over their skilled, unionized competitors: They're willing to work for less money. But Davis-Bacon destroys that advantage. After all, why would contractors working on a federal project hire any unskilled workers when the government forces them to pay all of their workers what amounts to a union wage? Contractors make the rational choice and get their money's worth by hiring skilled unionized labor even when the project calls for much less.

Davis-Bacon is a blatant piece of special-interest, pro-union legislation. It hasn't come cheap for taxpayers. According to research by Suffolk University economists, Davis-Bacon has raised the construction wages on federal projects 22 percent above the market rate. James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation finds that repealing Davis-Bacon would save taxpayers $11.4 billion in 2010 alone. Simply suspending Davis-Bacon would allow government contractors to hire 160,000 new workers at no additional cost, according to Mr. Sherk.

To make matters worse, the Davis-Bacon Act has explicitly racist origins. It was introduced in response to the presence of Southern black construction workers on a Long Island, N.Y.. veterans hospital project. This "cheap" and "bootleg" labor was denounced by Rep. Robert L. Bacon, New York Republican, who introduced the legislation. American Federation of Labor (AFL) president William Green eagerly testified in support of the law before the U.S. Senate, claiming that "colored labor is being brought in to demoralize wage rates."

In sum, we have a law that drives up the costs of federal projects, hurts unskilled workers, unfairly advantages organized labor and has explicitly racist roots. It's time for Davis-Bacon to go.




Israel: Netanyahu re-affirms “right to build” in Jerusalem: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted Israel’s ‘right to build’ in Jerusalem, following a row with the US over plans for new homes in the city. ‘Jerusalem is not a settlement, it’s our capital,’ he said in Washington. … In his speech to a convention of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), Mr Netanyahu said that ‘the Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building it today.’ But he said construction ‘in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.’”

UK: Three former ministers suspended amid new scandal: "Three former Cabinet ministers have been suspended from Britain’s ruling Labour Party over allegations that they tried to trade access to government officials for cash, as the country’s Parliament faces a new set of ethics scandals. Former defense secretary Geoff Hoon, former transport minister Stephen Byers, and ex-health secretary Patricia Hewitt have all been suspended from Britain’s Parliamentary Labour Party, the party said in a statement late Monday night, only hours after a documentary caught them apparently boasting of their influence to a fictional U.S. lobbying firm.”

ACORN to formally disband (and re-emerge under different names): "The liberal grass-roots group ACORN will formally disband on April 1 due to falling revenues, as its state chapters reorganize, the group said on Monday. Most of the 20 chapters of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which endorsed President Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign, have disbanded on their own and reorganized under new names, a source within the group said. Funding dried up after a widely disseminated YouTube video last September that showed ACORN workers giving advice on how to flout the law to two conservative activists who posed as a pimp and a prostitute. A separate embezzlement scandal also damaged the group’s credibility.”

Krugman’s Hoover history: "At his popular New York Times blog, Paul Krugman is at it again, offering a very misleading analysis of deficit spending. Without technically lying, Krugman perpetuates the myth that Herbert Hoover insisted on budget austerity in the midst of the Great Depression. Then Krugman interprets a chart with adjectives that show his eyes can only see what his Keynesian theory will allow.”

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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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