News and Opinion Based on Facts

Monday, December 21, 2009

How the Auschwitz Sign Claiming that “Work Makes Free” Embodies Current Western Thinking and Policy

By Barry Rubin*

The theft and then recovery of the famous sign at the entrance of Auschwitz-Arbeit macht frei, work will make you free-has brought that artifact of the Holocaust to international attention once again. Merely dismissing the sign as "cynical," few understand the meaning of the sign in context and its underlying implications for Jewish thought and Israel today.
At the time--and this was very clear in Eastern European towns like that of my grandparents in Poland-- Jews were used by the Germans for forced labor. While many were involved in road repair (an extremely important task during the war when highways were heavily used by the Nazis for military purposes), tree cutting, or other manual labor, others labored in their usual professions.
The Germans, of course, wanted to win the war, which they were waging, despite their victories, against difficult odds. Even after the French were defeated and the British retreated across the Channel, the combat was ferocious against the Soviets and the United Kingdom fought on. In pragmatic terms, the Germans needed Jewish labor. After all, too, they could hardly be receiving it under better circumstances. The Jews were not paid for the work, they were denied consumer goods, and their food rations were minimal.
In short, the German strategy toward the Jews-focusing on forced labor-made sense in pragmatic terms. And Western civilization is governed by pragmatism. One does what is beneficial to one's material self-interests. The German behavior made sense.
It was not hard to explain, for the overwhelming majority of the Jews under German occupation as well, the killings of Jews that they knew about. Here, it was a reprisal for Germans killed by partisans; there, it was a pure act of cruelty or the deeds of a sadistic officer. Or it could be perceived by the pragmatic German goal of keeping the Jews intimidated or to appeal to local anti-Semitic Christians themselves under occupation or actions against Jews who were known for anti-Nazi views.
Whatever it seems to those looking back from a time of much greater knowledge, this pragmatic understanding did make sense in terms of all past history (including Jewish history) and the events people knew about. True, Hitler had written about the extermination of the Jews but this was considered to be just ideology. In Western society, people had become cynical about ideology or at least of ideas that went against immediate self-interest. This was just rabble-rousing.
Thus, it could be expected that if Jews really did work hard and did not cause too much trouble, they would survive, at least the great majority, as had happened during so many previous persecutions. That was their life experience and their historical experience. Of course, it was richly supplemented by wishful thinking, sometimes a wishful thinking that promoted blindness to events that were clearly visible, but this line of reasoning gave an ample logical basis to that wishful thinking.
And so, work makes free. It was not just a sarcastic act of derision but an actual control measure. If the Jews believed they were in Auschwitz to work hard in exchange for their lives, they would be more docile and far easier to manage. The sentiment was meant to be taken seriously, and almost always, at least until late in the war, it was.
To understand all of this is of vital importance for historical reasons. The Jews who became victims were not just cowards or fools or sheep but people who often believed they were using their wits to survive once again a terrible but ultimately passing pogrom. No matter how much they were starved or mistreated, they could take the hunger and put up with the beatings with the confidence that one day this, too, would end. Of course, they often had no choice and they wanted to believe this, yet it was quite rational for them to do so, certainly before the middle of 1942.
At this point, I hesitate to continue. The analogy of the Holocaust has been too often used, and misused. Moreover, many will think that I gratuitously or lightly exaggerate what I'm about to say. But consider this explanation seriously and you will better understand our own era.
The key here is the Western obsession with pragmatism, the dismissal of ideology, and the wishful thinking that believes conflict can be negotiated away or at least whittled down to the tolerable level by patience and concession. These were also the fundamental ideas that motivated both most European Jews and the expectations of most Western leaders and observers regarding the treatment of the Jews during the war (and in many cases, German intentions before the war as well). This mode of thinking is still very much with us.
Thus, it is disbelieved that radical Islamists, and in many cases militant Arab nationalists or various others, really mean what they say. Instead, it is expected that they will act according to narrow and individual personal interests. They would rather be rich than right, or revolutionary. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, architect of Iran's Islamist revolution, derided this concept as thinking the revolution was made for the sake of lowering the price of watermelons.
Western deception and self-deception is also reinforced by the fact that the main contemporary experience in this regard has been with a tired and cynical Communism, long bereft of its revolutionary fire. It was well symbolized by a Soviet regime that was mainly interested in self-aggrandizement and staying in power. This was followed by the dealings with a Chinese Communist regime which seemed to be fanatically revolutionary but later settled down to making money and avoiding trouble abroad. The answer to Khomeini was the statement of Deng Xiaoping, the architect of that turn, who expressed the following view of ideology: "It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice." One can argue, with some justification, that after fifty years this has happened to Arab nationalism.
So, yes, revolutions do moderate, get tired, and settle down to redecorating with expensive furnishings. This is precisely the fate that the current Iranian regime is struggling to prevent for itself. Then there is the belief that the Supreme Being is guiding their steps. Then there is the belief of the Islamists-both pro- and anti-Iran ones--that they haven't been trying that long and will win eventually. And the belief that their enemies are weak and close to surrender while they have such secret weapons as suicide bombing and soon nuclear weapons.
While, then, it is easy to believe that they don't really mean what they say, that they would never do anything "anti-pragmatic" this is not likely to be true, at least not unless they are contained for many decades first. Or if they perceive they have failed or been defeated, which generally is nowhere near happening. Does Syria's regime prefer Western aid to an alliance with Iran? Will Iran be responsible in its use of nuclear weapons? Is Hamas or Hizballah eager to be moderate? Are the Palestinians on the verge of making peace with Israel? Can American dollars buy off the Taliban in Afghanistan?
The answer that appeals to most Western leaders and intellectuals to all these questions is "yes." After all, "they" must be just like "us" and it is allegedly arrogant or even racist to think otherwise. Needless to say, the Germans were much more like the Americans or British yet what happened did indeed happen. To put it bluntly, ideology and demagogic leadership turned the lovers of Mozart into the builders of Auschwitz.
It is easier, less painful, a much quicker solution that makes the problem go away. Underlying those thoughts, however, is the idea that they must not believe their own ideology and that they wouldn't do anything that went against their interests or material well-being.
Let me underline the point here. I am not saying that radical Islamists or Arab nationalists or those holding various other extreme ideologies today are "fascist" or "Nazi." That is simplistic, not credible, and misleading in its own way. They have their own history, world view, ideology, and goals. But they also have certain specific things in common: an ideology they really believe; profound genocidal hatred of others; readiness to sacrifice on behalf of these principles; and a profound belief they will win even though their enemies think this is ridiculous.
Of course, the Germans lost World War Two and their anti-pragmatism hastened that defeat. This, too, is worth keeping in mind. That is a factor to be used in the setting of strategy by democratic states and in the thinking of their people. Assuming they will act in the opposite way will not, however, strengthen that resistance.
Yet the greatest threat to the West of all is the mistaken belief that if we are really polite and avoid giving offense, that if we make concessions or work really hard we will be free of their threat.  We have set up our own signs at the entrances to our universities and foreign ministries that are the precise equivalent of Arbeit macht frei.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Traitors to the American people

Wealthy Conservatives and big business should be known for what they are, traitors to the American people.
Insurance premiums have doubled in the last ten years, in the next ten years they will double again.
More and more Americans will be dropped from the Insurance rolls because of inability to pay and pre-existing conditions and various Insurance company scams.
This is well known, and not seriously disputed by anyone who can read above the sixth grade level that isn't a knee jerk right wing reactionary.
With some exceptions.
Insurance company CEO’s know the truth of the situation, but their only concern is their profits.
Their stooges, the conservative political hacks know better as well.
They are, quite simply, traitors.
They are the same corporate evil-doers who hired thugs to beat and kill strikers when the American people organized to seek a decent living. They talk about the evil of government, hoping that most Americans don’t remember how big business has opposed every human right that workers fought and sometimes died for.
These criminals in suits fought hard against child labor laws. They fought against any minimum wage.
They fought against anti-trust legislation.
They fought against worker's rights of any kind.
They are traitors to the American people, and so are the politicians and lobbyists who support them.
They are traitors not because of ideology, but simple, uncontrolled greed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The war against Islamic brutality

The war against Islamic brutality towards women is everyone's responsibility,

There are women in the world of Islam who are fighting to end this evil.

One is Irshad Manji, her web site is

To enslave half of the populations of Islamic countries is just plain wrong.

It is worse than slavery, in some Islamic countries they practice female circumcision, which renders women incapable of sexual feelings.

The thinking behind this ancient custom is that women cannot be trusted to control themselves as they are inherently sinful.

Women have to walk noiselessly behind men or they are punished.

Women has been publicly whipped for being raped.


In Saudi Arabia a Fatwa was released recently demanding that women have only one eye uncovered, as with two eyes they are still able to ensnare innocent men.

I have read of women who are content with the burka, like Patty Hearst was content with her captivity by the SLA.

The western world should have left in place more stringent controls over Iran and the Arab governments when we allowed them to form governments at the end of colonialism.

Women’s rights were not considered important at that time.

Most people in the world have come to realize that women are human beings with feelings and abilities.

The Arab countries have hundreds of years of experience with the oppression of women, and it is getting worse.

Perhaps the one virtue of Saddam Hussein was his opposition to Sharia, he outlawed the hijab and female circumcision .

We cannot leave these innocent people worse off than they were before.

I would rather Islamic countries modernize themselves, but the trend has been the opposite

Islamic countries see women as slave owners saw slaves in the old South, as not quite human.

In Afghanistan, members of the Taliban have thrown acid in little girls faces for going to school.

If the U.S. and western countries take a strong diplomatic stand against oppression of women, backed by tough sanctions, that would be one way to go.

On the other hand reports out of Afghanistan and Iraq show we have made significant dents in Sharia laws dehumanizing of women.

I can’t think of a more important issue right now than rescuing millions of people from degradation and a life of brutal oppression for themselves and their daughters, than this one today.

Turning our back on others as a country is not unprecedented, we turned our back on the Jews while they were being slaughtered in the thirties.

Most people now agree this was immoral.

Can we turn our back again?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

General Petraeus: How I see The Afghan Conflict

ARLINGTON, Va. (Oct. 7, 2009_ – As the president reassembles his national security team today as part of his ongoing review of the strategy for Afghanistan, the commander of U.S. Central Command said the decision is likely to hinge on one of three approaches to reversing the insurgency’s gains.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus yesterday cited three basic ways to “change the equation in an area where insurgents have made progress,” as he conceded they have in Afghanistan.

“One, you can turn bad guys into good guys, or at least neutral guys,” an effort referred to as “reintegration of reconcilables,” he told attendees at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference here. “You can increase the number of host-nation security forces. Or you can increase the number of coalition forces.”

Petraeus resisted defining exactly how many U.S. forces he believes are needed to support the mission — an issue under intense discussion within the administration. About 68,000 U.S. forces will be on the ground there by the end of next month, and Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander on the ground, reportedly has asked for about 40,000 more.

The president will convene his national defense team again today, and later this week, to discuss this and other options for Afghanistan. Petraeus said he and his fellow uniformed participants have had “ample opportunity to provide our best professional military advice.”

McChrystal and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, who previously served as the ground commander in Afghanistan, are participating in the sessions by video teleconference. Anne Patterson, ambassador to Pakistan, also is participating.

“So this has been a very substantial endeavor,” Petraeus said. “It is moving quite rapidly. There is a recognition of the need to move through this.”

Although views of appropriate U.S. troop numbers vary widely, Petraeus said there’s little debate about two general principles: “Afghanistan obviously requires a sustained, substantial commitment” and more Afghan national security forces are needed.

The general resisted putting a precise timeline on when the United States will be able to declare its mission in Afghanistan completed, noting that it depends largely on how quickly Afghan national security forces can become fully developed.

That’s expected to occur by 2013 or 2014, he said, when Afghan security forces will assume the lead for security responsibility. But to be prepared for that transition, the Afghan National Army likely will need to grow to about 400,000 members, he said, more than initially projected.

Building the Afghan security forces isn’t a process that can be rushed, Petraeus told the group. “No question about the need to develop the Afghan national security forces as rapidly as possible, and likely to higher numbers,” he said. “But we have to keep in mind that there are limits to how fast you can accelerate that development,” particularly of commissioned and noncommissioned officer leaders.

Whether that happens as planned depends largely on the security situation, he said, recalling problems he encountered as commander of Multinational Force Iraq. When violence spiked there in mid-2006, “the Iraqi security force effort nosedived,” he said.

Petraeus said he’s committed to preventing a replay of that situation in Afghanistan. “It is hugely important that the security situation not undermine the Afghan security force effort,” he said.

Yet security has deteriorated in several key areas, he acknowledged. Taliban, al-Qaida and other extremist elements that had been defeated and left the country, reconstituted over time and returned to Afghanistan, putting down roots and increasing insurgent activity.

Petraeus said he shares McChrystal’s assessment that the situation is “serious,” but that turning it around is “doable.” Additional troops that have arrived in Regional Command South in recent months already have made some tactical gains, he said.

“Reversing that cycle of violence, arresting the downward spiral in some of these key areas [is] very important,” Petraeus said.

Turning yesterday’s discussion to Iraq, Petraeus cited “very substantial progress,” with violence down to about 15 to 20 attacks a day, compared to a high of 180 in mid-2007.

He attributed the progress to the surge in U.S. troops that helped quell violence and laid the foundation for other progress to take place.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Women and Girls in Afghanistan

The Taliban is not just bad because of what they did on 9/11, but also for the brutal way they treated women when they were in power.

This is a document released in 1998, when the Taliban was firmly in control in much of afghanistan, their treatment of women was deplorable, as this document shows:

Great Seal logo

Women and Girls in Afghanistan

Fact sheet released by the Senior Coordinator for
International Women's
Issues, March 10, 1998.
  • Since the Taliban became a military and political force in late 1994, women and girls in Afghanistan have become virtually invisible in Taliban controlled portions of the country. The impact of Taliban imposed restrictions are most acutely felt in the cities where women had enjoyed relatively greater freedoms. In 1996, the University of Kabul reportedly had several thousand women students while thousands of professional women worked in different capacities in the city. Since the Taliban takeover, women are not allowed to attend school and others have been forced to leave their jobs.
  • The Taliban have issued edicts forbidding women from working outside the home, except in limited circumstances in the medical field. Hardest hit have been over 30,000 widows in Kabul and others elsewhere in the country, who are the sole providers for their families.
  • The Taliban prohibit girls from attending school. There are a few home based schools and some schools in rural areas which quietly operate to educate girls. They fear closure.
  • Women and girls are not allowed to appear outside the home unless wearing a head to toe covering called the burqa. A three inch square opening covered with mesh provides the only means for vision. Although the burqa was worn in Kabul before the Taliban took control, it was not an enforced dress code and many women wore only scarves that cover the head. Women are also forbidden from appearing in public with a male who is not their relative.
  • Women’s and girls’ access to medical services has been drastically cut back. Women are treated primarily by female doctors and the number of female doctors has been greatly reduced. It is also dangerous for women to leave their homes. For example, one mother in the city of Farah reportedly was shot by the Taliban militia for appearing in public to take her toddler to a doctor. The child was acutely ill and needed immediate medical attention.
  • Taliban militia mete out punishment for violations of these rules on the spot. For example, women have been beaten on the street if an inch of ankle shows under their burqa. They have been beaten if they are found to move about without an explanation acceptable to the Taliban. They have been beaten if they make noise when they walk. According to one report, a women struggling with two small children and groceries in her arms was reportedly beaten by the Taliban with a car antenna because she had let her face covering slip a fraction.
  • Taliban edicts require that windows in houses that have female occupants be painted over.

United States Response

  • Secretary of State Albright characterized the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls as "despicable" during her recent visit to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan. She said "We are opposed to their [the Taliban] approach to human rights, to their despicable treatment of women and children, and their lack of respect for human dignity, in a way more reminiscent of the past than the future."
  • Promoting the observance of human rights, particularly the rights of women and girls, is one of our highest foreign policy priorities in Afghanistan. We will continue to press the Taliban in public and private, to extend equitable and humanitarian treatment to women and girls. We call upon the Taliban to lift its restrictions on the mobility and employment of women and the schooling of girls; we also call upon the Taliban and all factions to abide by internationally-accepted norms of human rights.
  • The United States is neutral toward the various Afghan factions fighting in that country, but our neutrality does not extend to violations of international norms of behavior. We condemn Taliban human rights violations, particularly against women and girls.
  • The United States does not plan to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban or the Northern Alliance. We do not plan to recognize any government unless it is broad-based, representative of all Afghans and respects international norms of behavior in human rights, including the human rights of women and girls.
  • The United States has taken a leadership role in the region and in the United Nations to promote peace in Afghanistan. We believe the United Nations is central to the peace process and support the efforts of the Secretary General’s Special Envoy, Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, and the work of the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan. We participate in the Group of Six Plus Two (the six countries bordering Afghanistan: Pakistan, Iran Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China, plus the U.S. and Russia) in a serious attempt to see how progress can be made toward a peaceful negotiated settlement.
  • The United States has a commitment to providing humanitarian assistance to women and girls of Afghanistan. United States officials play a key role in making the issue of assistance to women in Afghanistan a major focus of the donors’ Afghanistan Support Group. In 1997 the United States government contributed $26.4 million to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Food Program to run a variety of programs that directly benefit Afghan women and girls. This was nearly a quarter of the total funding for the UNHCR and ICRC programs.
  • In 1997 the United States also provided $1.7 million for non-governmental organizations such as CARE and the International Rescue Committee for health and education programs and services. These programs directly benefit women and girls in Afghanistan and in neighboring refugee camps in Pakistan.
  • The United States recently called for an UNHCR investigation of reports of violence against women and girls in refugee camps in Pakistan. Due to United States efforts, an investigation is now underway. United States funding supports UNHCR procedures to provide protection to women and girls in refugee camps.

New Initiatives

  • The United States is committing up to $2.5 million in new funds for women’s grass roots organizations in Pakistan and for training to improve the skills of women in Afghanistan.
  • In Pakistan, this funding pays for activities such as training health workers and teachers, and training women’s groups to familiarize themselves with and advocate for their legal rights, and to communicate with other organizations, locally and internationally. This training will enable women to provide services in refugee camps, as well as prepare them with skills that they can take with them when they eventually return to Afghanistan. Some of the women have been in these camps for 20 years.
  • In Afghanistan, this training focuses primarily on health such as training local women to be community health workers; training women to be traditional birth attendants; and building the capacity of the local community to deal with basic health issues, particularly diseases that affect children. Funding also supports training women to participate in the development of rural rehabilitation projects. This will allow them to have a say, for example, in determining the location of the water well since the women are the ones who carry the water.

[end of document]

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Beck Loves Muse, Muse Doesn't Love Him Back

On his morning radio show faux news commentator and hate-peddler Glenn Beck waxed enthusiastic about his love for the musical group, "Muse".
Before he finished praising the group their manager called up his show and asked that he retract his recommendation.
Beck's commendation is like a kiss of death for anyone wishing to reach an adult audience with an IQ over 50.


Text of Gilad Shalit Video

Hi, I am Gilad Shalit, son of Aviva and Noam Shalit, brother of Hadas and Yoel, from Mitzpe Hilla, ID number 300097029. Today is Monday 14 September 2009.

As you can see, I'm holding in my hand today's Palestine newspaper, 14th September 2009, which is published in Gaza.

I'm reading the newspaper in order to find information about myself, and I hope to find information about my release and return home soon.

I have been waiting and yearning a long time for the day I will be released.

I hope the current government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu will not waste this opportunity to finalise the deal and that as a result I will finally be able to realise my dream and be released.

I want to send my regards to my family, to tell them that I love them and miss them a lot, and yearn for the day that I will see them.

Father, Yoel and Hadas, do you remember the day when you arrived at my base in Ramat Ha-Golan, on the 31st December 2005, which, if I'm not mistaken, is called Revia Bet? We did a tour around the base. You took a picture of me on top of the Merkava tank, and on top of one of the old tanks at the entrance to the base.

Afterwards, we drove to a restaurant in one of the Druze villages, and on the way we took a picture on the side of the road with the snow-covered Mount Hermon.

I want to tell you that I am well in terms of my health. The mujahideen of the Izzeddine al-Qassam Brigades are treating me fine.

Thank you very much and see you again.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Terrorists video of Gilad Shalit

Israel traded 20 criminal Palestinians for this video of Gilad Shalit who was kidnapped by the Hamas terror gang four years ago.
It is good to know that this innocent young man is still alive.
We will probably be required to trade more criminals for his release.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Senator's Aid to Mistress's Husband Raises Ethics Flags

Experts say that Senator John Ensign may have violated ethics
laws by helping an aide get work after having an affair with
his wife.

Read More:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Israel moves closer to freeing captive soldier

JERUSALEM – Israel and Hamas militants announced a deal Wednesday that will see Israel release 20 Palestinian women from prison this week in exchange for a videotape proving that a captive Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip is still alive.

The decision was the first tangible sign of movement in more than three years of talks over the release of the soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who has not been seen since he was captured by Hamas-linked militants in a cross-border raid in June, 2006.

Schalit's release, which does not appear imminent, would defuse a central point of contention and could help ease a crippling Israeli blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Wednesday that it expects Schalit's Hamas captors to release a recent videotape of the soldier. The deal is to be carried out on Friday.

The statement said Israel's Security Cabinet accepted the deal, put forward by Egyptian and German mediators, as a "confidence-building measure." It quoted a senior official in Netanyahu's office as saying the negotiations are still "expected to be long and difficult."

The deal was carried out, the statement said, "ahead of the critical stages in the negotiations for the release of Gilad Schalit and based on Israel's commitment to work with determination to bring him home quickly."

Hamas is demanding that Israel release hundreds of prisoners, many of whom are serving lengthy sentences for violent attacks on Israelis, in exchange for the soldier. Israel has balked at many of Hamas' demands.

In Gaza, a Hamas spokesman using the pseudonym Abu Obeidaconfirmed that 20 female prisoners were expected to be released in the coming days. He made no mention of a videotape of Schalit, saying only that Hamas would respond by "clarifying" the soldier's condition.

"This simple deal is a precursor, God willing, to a comprehensive deal," he said.

He said the prisoners would come from various Palestinian factions, including Hamas, the rival Fatah movement and Islamic Jihad, and that one was from Gaza while the rest were from the Fatah-controlled West Bank.

Israel says that while the women were jailed for security-related offenses they were not directly involved in killing Israelis and are all within two years of the end of their prison sentences. Their names were to be published Wednesday, allowing a legally mandated 48-hour period for court appeals against their release before the deal is carried out.

A senior Egyptian official involved in the mediation said the move was designed to create "an atmosphere of trust."

"There is no doubt that this step will support the efforts of all sides to solve the problem," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity under security guidelines.

Egypt has been trying to mediate a prisoner swap since Hamas-linked militants tunneled into Israel in June 2006 and attacked an Israeli tank, killing two crewmen and capturing Schalit.

The Israeli soldier has not been seen since his capture and the Red Cross has not been allowed to visit him. But several letters and an audio recording have been released by his captors.

Netanyahu believes it is important that the world know Schalit is alive and well and that his safety is Hamas' responsibility, according to the statement from his office.

Both Hamas and Israel appear eager to wrap up a deal.

For Israel, the return of Schalit would end a painful chapter. In a country where military service is mandatory, Israelis have rallied behind the soldier and his family, holding protests calling for his release and decorating their cars with bumper stickers bearing his name. One news anchor even ends his broadcast each night by mentioning how long Schalit has been in captivity.

Hamas, meanwhile, wants to end a painful Israeli-led economic blockade of Gaza that has caused widespread shortages of many basic items. These shortages have prevented Hamas from repairing the massive damage caused in Gaza by an Israeli military offensive last winter.

Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas, a violent group backed by Iran and Syria, seized power in Gaza two years ago. Officials have said the embargo will not be lifted until Schalit comes home.

The closure has led to a bustling smuggling business along Gaza's border with Egypt. On Wednesday, two smugglers were killed and four were injured when a tunnel under the border collapsed. A paramedic said the men were working in a tunnel in an area struck by the Israeli military the night before.

The Israeli army confirmed it targeted three tunnels in response to rocket and mortar fire from Gaza in the previous two days. Israel says the tunnels are used to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

More than 120 people have died in tunnel collapses since 2007.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Terrorism: Hizballah's Brand is Tarnished

By Jonathan Spyer*

September 24, 2009

A famous Hizbullah marching song, "Hizbullah ya ayuni" (Hizbullah - my eyes), contains the following verse: "And today through the blood of the brave, the merciful creator has given us victory, and the whole world and all people have begun to speak of our glory." Unfortunately for the Lebanese Shi'ite Islamist movement, the main world news story in which it currently features concerns matters of a distinctly inglorious type, with which it would undoubtedly prefer not to be associated.

The revelations concerning the activities of the so-called Lebanese Bernie Madoff - Salah Ezz el-Din of the south Lebanese village of Ma'aroub - are serving to tarnish the image of selflessness and idealism in which Hizbullah likes to present itself. The movement has long sought to differentiate itself from the notoriously corrupt, distinctly nonidealistic political and financial practices with which Lebanon is often associated. Ezz el-Din's activities suggest that on close observation, Hizbullah may be less different from its surroundings than its admirers (especially in the west) like to think.

Ezz el-Din, a Lebanese Shi'ite in his 50s, is accused of embezzlement and defrauding investors of hundreds of millions of dollars. The means by which he chose to part his victims from their money are familiar. He promised quick returns on investments in what he claimed were construction, oil and gas projects outside of Lebanon. He is reported to have guaranteed investors 20 percent-25% profits within 100 days on certain investments.

It now appears that Ezz el-Din was running a Ponzi scheme - paying clients with funds gleaned from newer investors. The sums involved are large - though nowhere near Madoff-like proportions. He is believed to have defrauded investors of around $500 million.

But Ezz el-Din was no ordinary financier. Rather, he enjoyed close links to Hizbullah. He ran a variety of enterprises associated with the group - most importantly the Dar al-Hadi Publishing House - named after Hadi Nasrallah. Hadi Nasrallah was the son of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah who was killed fighting the IDF in southern Lebanon, and is somewhere near the top of the movement's pantheon of "martyrs." The publishing house which bore his name was responsible for the publication of a number of books by senior Hizbullah officials.

THE PERCEPTION of Hizbullah patronage was a major factor in encouraging investors to place their trust in Ezz el-Din. As one disappointed client put it, "people put money with him because he was wearing the Hizbullah cloak." The presence of people like him does not fit with the puritanical image of Hizbullah. But it is not especially out of place with the broader pattern of the movement's activities.
As a major Lebanese political force, Hizbullah offers patronage to powerful families and individuals from the Lebanese Shi'ite community. The organization effectively operates a state within a state. Its areas are off limits to the army and police. This is particularly useful for individuals close to the movement engaged in criminal activities.

The lucrative hashish trade in the movement's heartland in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon offers an example of this patronage. Families engaged in this trade receive the protection of Hizbullah, ensuring that neither the authorities nor their rivals interfere with their activities. In return, Hizbullah takes a generous helping of the considerable profits.

The movement controls 13,000 acres in the Bekaa, which produce at least 300 tons of hashish annually. Hizbullah is reckoned to rake in profits of $180 million annually from this trade.

Most of the hashish is exported to Europe. Not all, though. The problem of drug abuse among residents in the Hizbullah-controlled Dahiyeh area of south Beirut is well known in Lebanon. Not all residents of the Dahiyeh are Shi'ite puritans.

Hizbullah is not reinventing the wheel. Rather, it is behaving in the manner of other Lebanese political forces. These activities are not particularly demonic - though the less powerful members of the various Lebanese communities are most likely to be hurt by them. But they serve to indicate the extent to which Hizbullah's pose of purity and incorruptibility and standing above the base practices of its rivals is largely a product of good public relations, rather than any observable reality.

The gradual tarnishing of the Hizbullah brand is, of course, good news for Israel. With past enemies - Arab nationalist regimes, the Yasser Arafat-led PLO - it was in the end the unbridgeable gap between proclamations and reality which served to initiate their slow decay and decline more than any single military defeat.

In this regard, another explanation for the Ezz al-Din affair is predictably doing the rounds in southern Lebanon. Haj Kamal Shour, who lost $1.03 million investing with the financier told reporters that he was sure that the "Israeli Mossad and Zionist lobby" were in some unaccountable way behind it all.

The reliable Zionist foe is enlisted to explain away failures and corruption scandals. But wasn't that exactly the political style that Hizbullah, with its selfless martyrs and its blood-curdling marching songs, was supposed to be doing away with? As Lebanon's former colonial governors might have put it - the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nancy Snow on William Safire's Passing

I don't feel that William Safire could be pigeon holed.

I guess he was conservative, but he was charming, and I believe he really cared for America.

He will be missed for his writing and his intellectual depth.

I miss him already.

Nancy Snow

Today's Google News has the wedding of reality TV star Khloe Kardashian and Los Angeles Lakers' forward Lamar Odom getting more hits than the passing of New York Times columnist, William Safire. Now granted, Khloe and Lamar have more blogger followers, including Perez Hilton's "wedding deets" to share with those not privy to be in Los Angeles.

This suggests, albeit unscientifically, that the death of an esteemed giant in American journalism is less newsworthy than a second-tier celebrity wedding. The media weren't reporting the wedding of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, but two people who have been dating for a month and decided to get hitched before basketball season begins.

We're so awash in infotainment sludge that we can't distinguish the truly irrelevant from the significant.

Safire, 79, was a conservative columnist for the New York Times. He was a fish out of water, to say the least, and many of the Times reporters were not happy with his swimming around for thirty years at the liberal newspaper of record. The Sulzberger family knew better.

Part of journalistic appeal, especially in opinion writing, is to provoke reader interest through saying something that jolts a reader's perspective out of somnolence. Safire did just that with his political columns that undoubtedly raised the blood pressure of some liberal readers, and with his "On Language" columns, which soothed the souls of etymologists and grammarians.

I recall a most memorable political column he published in the Times shortly before he retired. It was called "You Are a Suspect".

It was against type for this former Nixon speechwriter. The date was November 14, 2002, a year after 9/11, and before the invasion of Iraq. The USA PATRIOT Act had already passed with barely any debate. I immediately shared Safire's column with my journalism students at Cal State Fullerton. I told them, "This matters to you."

Here is what Bill Safire wrote in part:

If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you:

Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend -- all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."

This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks if John Poindexter gets the unprecedented power he seeks.

Remember Poindexter? Brilliant man, first in his class at the Naval Academy, later earned a doctorate in physics, rose to national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan. He had this brilliant idea of secretly selling missiles to Iran to pay ransom for hostages, and with the illicit proceeds to illegally support contras in Nicaragua.

A jury convicted Poindexter in 1990 on five felony counts of misleading Congress and making false statements, but an appeals court overturned the verdict because Congress had given him immunity for his testimony. He famously asserted, "The buck stops here," arguing that the White House staff, and not the president, was responsible for fateful decisions that might prove embarrassing.

That Safire column sparked Congressional action that stopped Poindexter's push for a big net approach to data collection.

Safire didn't always get his facts right. He was pilloried for his many columns that linked al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein as a rationale for the invasion of Iraq. (See David Corn's "The Propaganda of William Safire")

Safire attended Syracuse University and gave its commencement speeches in 1978 and 1990. I now teach public diplomacy and global communications at the Newhouse School here at SU.

Safire's relationship with Richard Nixon began at a public diplomacy venue. In 1959 Safire was a publicist and his client Herbert Sadkin, president of All-State Properties, built the famous modern American home featured at the American National Exhibition in Sokolniki Park, Moscow. Safire coaxed Vice President Richard Nixon into attending the exhibit opening on July 24, 1959, also attended by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.

The two men got into some back-and-forth conversations about the merits of Soviet communism versus American capitalism that came to be known as the "The Kitchen Debate." Nixon's proud defense of American know-how raised his public profile both at home and abroad. He later asked Safire to join his inner circle, and Safire served the president in the White House, along with Patrick Buchanan, Diane Sawyer and David Gergen. In 1973 Safire began writing for the New York Times, where he remained a columnist until 2003.

If you want some advice for what to pay attention to in the news, read more about the "life deets" of self-proclaimed libertarian conservative Bill Safire and not about the wedding of Khloe and Lamar. Relevant knowledge is good and powerful.

Dr. Nancy Snow is the author of six books, including Information War and Propaganda, Inc. She teaches in the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University, New York. Reach her at

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Caritas targets 50,000 people in Philippines after devastating flooding

This situation is still unfolding, it has already been tragic.
It is amazing how little coverage the story is receiving on U.S. media.
Hundreds may have died, the counts are not in, and hundreds of thousands will be homeless.

Caritas targets 50,000 people in Philippines after devastating flooding

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Caritas targets 50,000 people in Philippines after devastating flooding

Source: Caritas
Date: 28 Sep 2009

Caritas Philippines (NASSA) is rushing aid to people in the Philippines after the worst flooding in some areas in nearly half a century.

Tropical Storm Ketsana (also known as "Typhoon Ondoy") hit Saturday. A month of rain fell in just 12 hours, submerging 80 percent of the capital Manila and affecting 27 provinces in total. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and over a hundred people have been killed.

Caritas will initially provide aid for a total of 10,000 families (50,000 people) in the seriously affected areas.

Caritas has bought 650 bags of rice for Antipolo in Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga, Cavite, and San Pablo in Laguna and will evaluate further needs as the crisis progresses.

There is also an ongoing repacking of sets of relief goods (kitchen wares, shelter aid materials, personal hygiene items and other food stuff) at the St. Paul University in Manila. They are intended for the first 5,000 families in these areas. Students and staff of the University are helping Caritas prepare the packs.

Caritas Philippines Executive Director Sr. Rosanne B. Mallillin SPC said, "The situation is very challenging. Many of our local social actions centres are still unable to reach the worse-hit areas because of the debris and the flooding. People are in need of food and clean water, as many of the water sources have been contaminated. We're also sending cooking utensils, sleeping mats and bed sheets."

The Metro Manila has been the worst-hit in terms of flooding and damage, while Rizal had the highest number of casualties due to landslides and flashfloods. In the Province of Pampanga, over 200 villages have been submerged. A landslide occurred in Arayat, affecting 174 families, which are now temporarily housed in five evacuation centres mostly schools and chapels.

The storm has moved out of the country but will continue to enhance the southwest monsoon.

For more information, please contact Patrick Nicholson on 0039 334 359 0700 or

Twitter, Facebook help Philippines flood survivors flee

Residents are using social networking sites to post escape routes and meeting spots after tropical storm Ketsana dumped a month’s worth of rain in six hours. Hollywood stars like Demi Moore have urged Twitter followers to donate.

By David Montero | Correspondent 09.28.09

The estimated number of people displaced in the Philippines by a devastating storm on Saturday has doubled, to more than 435,000, according to government officials. Officials are calling tropical storm Ketsana, which dumped a month’s worth of rain in six hours, the worst in 40 years.

As of Monday, 86 people were reported killed in floods that left some parts of the capital, Manila, under nearly 20 feet of water. The toll could rise as provincial authorities continue rescue efforts, and as new storms brew to the country’s east.

A massive rescue operation is underway, with the government relocating more than 100,000 people to 200 evacuation centers, and authorities working to distribute food, water, and medical supplies. But their efforts have been severely hampered by blocked roads and downed power and phone lines.

Meanwhile, Internet users from the Philippines to Hollywood are supplementing government efforts by posting everything from emergency phone numbers to appeals for donations online.

One eyewitness, in an opinion piece for the Philippines’ Inquirer newspaper, writes that people could not believe how quickly the floods began.

The government was not up to par in rescuing marooned residents and providing evacuees with relief goods, probably because our officials did not expect the floods to be that high or that widespread. Ondoy, after all, was tagged by the weather bureau PAGASA as a baby storm with only 60 kph winds. … Many people said they had never experienced floods that high before.

The Associated Press posted these images.

The government, assisted by the army, immediately issued a rescue operation and emergency directives. But the flood caught them largely unaware, with some citizens wondering why more preparation we not made.

China has pledged $100,000 for rescue victims, and the United States Embassy in Manila offered $50,000. In the US, celebrities like Demi Moore and Alyssa Milano used the social networking site Twitter to send out appeals for cash, reports the Philippines’ ABS-CBN television website.

Even as cities have come to a standstill, many reports indicate that Internet services are still working, allowing citizen’s groups, using social networking sites on the Internet, to join in the rescue efforts, reports the Inquirer.

Residents posted alternate routes weary commuters could take to avoid the floods, emergency lines to call for rescue and the addresses of families in need of urgent assistance…

[On Facebook] others posted locations of either an acquaintance or a friend’s neighbor waiting for hours to be saved, mobilizing other users in their network who have easier access to government rescue to ask for help.

The Philippines may not yet be out of danger, reports Bloomberg news:

Two tropical depressions have formed over the Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines and may threaten the country later this week as typhoons, according to the [U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning] center.