Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Taliban Poised To Take Control Of Aghanistan -- So What?

The Taliban, in or out of power, will have to be monitored with drones and satellites. That can occur without a Western military presence, and attacks can be carried out, by special forces, or by drones, or by useful missiles from afar, whenever the need arises. There is no need to spend money trying to refashion Muslim Afghanistan. As for the "good" Afghans -- i.e., those who don't like the Taliban but remain Muslims -- the Talliban is their problem, as their greatest (and unrecognized) problem is Islam itself.

And since there is nothing the West can do about this, except get out of the way and hope that some Muslim Afghans will begin to become at first dimly, and then more brightly, aware that for their own good Islam has to be constrained.

Infidels can't help them out save to talk amongst ourselves about all the ways that Islam explains the failures -- political, economic, social, intellectual, and moral -- of Muslim states and peoples, and hope that we are overheard, and that it forces some Muslims to bethink themselves.

Posted on 01/31/2012 9:42 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
U.S. Military: Taliban Set To Take Power In Afghanistan

From Reuters:

U.S. military says Taliban set to retake power: report

Jan. 31, 2012

LONDON (Reuters) - The United States military has said in a secret report that the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, are set to retake control over Afghanistan after NATO-led forces withdraw from the country, Britain's Times of London newspaper said Wednesday.

"Many Afghans are already bracing themselves for an eventual return of the Taliban," the newspaper said, quoting the report. "Once ISAF (NATO-led forces) is no longer a factor, Taliban consider their victory inevitable," it quoted the report.

The Times said the "highly classified" report was put together by the U.S. military at Bagram air base in Afghanistan for top NATO officers last month. The BBC also carried a report on the leaked document.

Large swathes of Afghanistan have already been handed back to Afghan security forces, with the last foreign combat troops due to leave by the end of 2014.

The document cited by the Times and the BBC also stated that Pakistan's powerful security agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was assisting the Taliban in directing attacks against foreign forces -- a charge denied by Islamabad.

Washington and its allies have long complained that the Taliban and other Islamist and criminal groups operate out of safe havens in tribal areas in Pakistan's west and northwest.

The document's findings were based on interrogations of more than 4,000 Taliban and al Qaeda detainees, the Times said, adding however it identified only few individual insurgents.

A State Department spokesman and Britain's Foreign Office both declined comment on the report. NATO and Pakistani officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Despite the presence of about 100,000 foreign troops, violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, according to the United Nations.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says levels of violence are falling.

Citing the same report, the BBC reported on its website (here)

that Pakistan and the ISI knew the locations of senior Taliban leaders and supported the expulsion of "foreign invaders from Afghanistan."

"Senior Taliban leaders meet regularly with ISI personnel, who advise on strategy and relay any pertinent concerns of the government of Pakistan," it said.

Pentagon officials said they had not seen the reports and could not comment on their specifics.

But Pentagon spokesman George Little said: "We have long been concerned about ties between elements of the ISI and some extremist networks."

Little said U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "has also been clear that he believes that the safe havens in Pakistan remain a serious problem and need to be addressed by Pakistani authorities."

The Times said in its report the document suggested the Taliban were gaining in popularity partly because the austere Islamist movement was becoming more tolerant.

It quoted the report: "It remains to be seen whether a revitalized, more progressive Taliban will endure if they continue to gain power and popularity. Regardless, at least within the Taliban, the refurbished image is already having a positive effect on morale."

Posted on 01/31/2012 9:47 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Is The Fall Of The Alawites Either Necessary, Or Sufficient, To Halt Iran's Nuclear Project?

It is obvious why some --  including Sunni Arabs eager to get rid of the Alawites, and those who, in and out of the American government, are trying to come up with every possible justification for not attacking the Islamic Republic of Iran -- would argue this.

And that's what is being suggested, in this article that just appeared at the New York Times:

As Syria Wobbles Under Pressure, Iran Feels the Weight of an Alliance

January 31, 2012

As antigovernment forces in Syria’s violent uprising have increased the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, Iran, his main Middle East supporter, also finds itself under siege, undermining a once-powerful partnership and longtime American foe.

It is an unusual position for Iran, and its vulnerability in Syria has not been lost on the United States, which has been imposing stiff economic sanctions on both countries.

In the calculus of predicting the political outcomes of the Arab Spring upheavals, some American officials and political analysts see the possible downfall of Mr. Assad as an event that could further undermine Iran as its economy reels under the sanctions imposed to get Tehran to suspend its nuclear program.

“It would completely change the dynamic in the region,” one Obama administration official said Tuesday.

The departure of Mr. Assad, the thinking goes, not only would threaten to sever Syria from Iran, which has long been a goal of the United States and its Arab allies, but also could deprive Iran of its main means of projecting power in the Middle East. If Mr. Assad were to fall, Tehran would lose its conduit for providing military, financial and logistical support to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Both groups, which oppose Israel and are considered terrorist organizations by Washington, have vast arsenals of rockets and other weapons.

Moreover, the sanctions on Iran have severely impeded its ability to provide financial aid to Mr. Assad (let alone Hamas and Hezbollah), whose treasury has been depleted by the uprising and sanctions on Syria. Another senior administration official said Iran had nevertheless tried its best to prop up Mr. Assad, adding that “you would see Assad fall faster if they weren’t there.”

Syria is likewise important to Iran’s efforts to assert its influence over the region, particularly because it borders Lebanon, which provides access to Hezbollah, and Israel, which Iran has declared its enemy.

Ali Banuazizi, a political science professor at Boston College and a co-director of its Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program, said, “To put it bluntly, if Iran is a threat, then one way to weaken that threat would be to weaken Syria and to help the anti-Assad movement in Syria.”

The weakness of the Syria-Iran axis represents a stark turnaround from a year ago, when Mr. Assad’s grip on power seemed assured and Iran was describing itself as the inspiration for other Arab Spring uprisings and Islamist awakening that would subvert America and its allies. Iran even sent two naval vessels through the Suez Canal to Syria last February — for the first time in more than 30 years — in what the Iranians called a message of peace and friendship.

The uprising in Syria, now in its 11th month, has caused extreme discomfort to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist organization that has been based in Damascus, Syria, for years. Last Friday, Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s leader, left Damascus with no plans to return. Earlier in January, Ismail Haniya, Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza, visited Turkey, a former Assad ally is now perhaps his most powerful regional critic.

It is by no means a certainty that Mr. Assad, who has repeatedly rejected calls for his resignation, will depart soon, despite the increased pressure on him on the streets of Syria and at the United Nations Security Council, where an effort by Western powers and the Arab League is under way to force him aside.

But as signs of his unpopularity have spread in Syria and his list of supporters declines, Iran has been one of the few conspicuous allies of Mr. Assad that has not abandoned him — possibly because it has no alternative. Except for Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect, other components of Syria’s fractured sectarian mosaic have no affinity for Iran.

Many Syrians now view Iran as siding with their oppressor. There have been at least three instances in recent weeks of abductions of Iranians in Syria by anti-Assad forces.

The most notable was the seizure last month of five Iranians, whom Iran’s state-run press called engineers but anti-Assad groups said were military advisers. In a video posted online by a unit of the insurgent Free Syrian Army, which claimed to hold the Iranians, one of the men identified as a hostage said the five had been “involved in suppressing and shooting ordinary Syrians,” and urged Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, “to order the Iranian military personnel who suppress the Syrians to be repatriated from Syria, so we can also return home.”

While the veracity of that video has not been confirmed, it suggested a level of resentment in Syria toward Iran that had not been seen before.

Iran has continued to publicly recite Mr. Assad’s version of the uprising — that it is terrorism financed by foreign powers hostile to Syria. Ayatollah Khamenei added his voice on Tuesday, denouncing what he called “the interference of America and its allies in Syrian domestic issues.

At the same time, American officials said there was growing evidence that Iran was helping train and equip Syrian security forces.

“Our concerns include the fact that some of the tactics being used by the Syrian regime mirror tactics used in Iran against their own population and about increasing evidence of numbers of Iranians in and around Syria,” the State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said.

In early January, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassim Suleimani, visited Damascus, raising suspicions that Iran was advising Mr. Assad on how to quash the uprising. The Quds Force, part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, conducts operations outside Iran.

Still, Iranian officials have also urged Mr. Assad to show more flexibility toward his adversaries, advice he has basically ignored. While Iran will do what it can to ensure Mr. Assad’s survival, a senior American official said the Iranians would not hesitate to seek a foothold with whoever succeeds Mr. Assad.

“There are certain constraints the Assad regime has that make it unable to reform its way out of this,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an expert on Syria. “Assad would have to undermine the very people he has to maintain order. I don’t expect it’s going to change now. I think the Iranians know that.”

At the same time, Mr. Tabler said, Mr. Assad’s control has been undermined by American and other sanctions, and the Syrian treasury is dwindling. Given the sanctions on Iran, which have handed Iranians their own economic crisis, the leaders in Tehran are unlikely to provide significant financial aid to Mr. Assad.

“Some time in the middle of the year Syria is going to run out of cash, and it will be interesting to see what happens,” Mr. Tabler said. Mr. Assad’s demise, he said, “would be the biggest blow to Iran’s influence in the region in decades.”
Posted on 01/31/2012 8:39 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Our Ally Pakistan

BBC: Secret report reveals Pakistan-Taliban ties

Pakistan’s security services are directly assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan and know where senior militant leaders are hiding, the BBC reported on Tuesday.

The British news service cited a leaked secret NATO report compiled from thousands of interrogations.

According to the report, the Taliban remain defiant in the midst of allied bombardment and also still maintain wide support among Afghans.

The BBC story comes after a series of reports that the United States, NATO and the Afghan government plan talks with the Taliban in an effort to end the 10-year war in Afghanistan. It also comes amid tensions between the United States and Pakistan.

Defense Secretary Panetta told CBS’ "60 Minutes" on Sunday that he remains convinced that someone in the Pakistani government must have had an idea that a person of interest was in the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed. In the interview, Panetta acknowledged a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, provided information to the United States that helped identify the al-Qaida leader. After the raid, Pakistan arrested Afridi and has accused him of treason.  

And last November, Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan after a NATO raid killed 28 Pakistani troops at a remote outpost. The Pakistani government also ordered a U.S. drone base closed.

According to the BBC's correspondent in Kabul, Quentin Sommerville, the leaked report for the first time exposes ties between the Pakistani intelligence service, known as ISI, and the Taliban.

Though alleged in the past, Pakistan has denied any direct links with the Taliban.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen alluded to ISI ties to militants fighting in Afghanistan during testimony in September 2011, according to NBC.

Pakistan has closed crucial roads used to ferry supplies to U.S and NATO troops in Afghanistan-- leaving Pakistani drivers stranded and driving up the U.S. price tag for the war. NBC's Amna Nawaz reports from Peshawar.

He called the Haqqani Network, a close ally of the Taliban, the "veritable arm” of the ISI, and said that the ISI is using other “proxies” to attack in Afghanistan.

NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings told the BBC that the report was a “classified internal document not meant to be released to the public.”

According to the BBC, the report, based on 27,000 interrogations with captured Taliban, al-Qaida and other fighters, states: "As this document is derived directly from insurgents it should be considered informational and not necessarily analytical."

Posted on 01/31/2012 8:27 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Spanish Citizen Released By Syria

From The New York Post:

Syria springs bin Laden terror pal to get back at US

January 31, 2012

DAMASCUS, Syria -- A top al Qaeda figure and one-time confidant of the late Osama bin Laden was apparently released by Syrian authorities in retaliation for Washington's position against the government of Bashar al Assad.

Spanish national Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, ranked number four within the terror organization, and another terrorist, Abu Khalid, were freed in late December, The (London) Times reported Tuesday.

Reports of Nasar's release were first revealed on Sooryoon.net, a website of Syria's opposition in London, and later confirmed by the Spanish daily El Pais.

Nasar, 53, is Syrian by birth and acquired Spanish nationality via marriage. He was last seen in Pakistan in 2005 before he reportedly was captured by Pakistani forces and handed over to US authorities.

Under the CIA's secret "extraordinary rendition" program, in which terror suspects were moved to a different country where they faced torture for information, Nasar was believed to have been transported to Syria, the newspaper reported.

Nasar is linked to several deadly terror attacks -- including the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, which resulted in 192 people dead, and the 1985 attack on a Madrid restaurant that killed 18 people, mostly Americans.

Nasar, who ran terror training camps in Afghanistan, had been a close ally of bin Laden, but the two fell out over al Qaeda's close ties to the Taliban.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against Assad's rule erupted in March last year. The UN said earlier this month that it stopped compiling a death toll due to the difficulty of obtaining information inside the country.

Posted on 01/31/2012 6:23 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
A Prayer for Peace
by Thomas Ország-Land (February 2012)



Alone, behind a splendid table, trembling,

man holds a gun against his aging head

observing, quite detached although with dread,

his seeds of self-spite silently assembling. more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 4:41 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Never Judge a Book by Its Mother

by Esmerelda Weatherwax (February 2012)

My daughter came home from school before Christmas with a reading list. Not a list of set texts for an exam; more suggestions from her teachers of novels by authors whose writing was, regardless of their genre, of high quality when reading for pleasure. more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 4:34 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
A Gumshoe Conspiracy?

by Richard Kostelanetz (February 2012)

I’ve written before that the most deflating “rejection letters” ever to come my way were written by unidentified factotums at the FBI and CIA, both declaring, in response to my Freedom of Information requests, that they had no files on me. I didn’t believe them then and don’t now, not only because their offices were filled with guys who clipped periodicals (well before they got computers) but also since my name is unique. Furthermore, back in 1959, while a freshman at Brown University, I published in the undergraduate newspaper a favorable review of a book critical of the FBI, incidentally recommending the decriminalization of illicit drugs as the surest way to reduce crime in America. (The review is reprinted in my Political Essays (Autonomedia, 1994).) That review along with that opinion should have marked me as henceforth worth the FBI’s attention, n’est-ce pas? more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 4:26 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Why The Grandparent Spoon Stirs Me

by Thomas J. Scheff (February 2012)

The end of WWII was in 1945, when I was 16. It brought rejoicing in my family, but also a shocking sadness. Through my father’s inquiries, we learned that all of his family in Vilna, Lithuania, had been killed in the Holocaust. His father, mother, and sister died on the first day of the war, when the Germans took over the Baltic States. My father’s brother Hym had immigrated to France earlier, where he became a French citizen. However, as we learned when the war was over, he was deported to a concentration camp when the Germans overran France and at some point during the war died in a camp. more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 4:19 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
The Devolution of American Lit

by Malcolm Unwell (February 2012)

English class has devolved. It went from the passing on of our rich literary heritage, to its present form; a dumping ground for multiculturalism, self-esteem building, and therapeutic self- expression. Below, I will deal with just one aspect of how English class has been perverted into something other than the serious study of language and literature. more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 4:12 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Indices of Divinity in Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well

by David P. Gontar (February 2012)

I.  Introduction

What does Shakespeare think about God? These pages present a modest contribution to the discourse concerning this question. It is not our purpose to delve into the private views and practices of the poet. They are unavailable, and cannot be reliably deduced. (Bloom, 7-8) Enough ink has been spilled in that singularly unrewarding venture, one we gladly leave to others. As the very identity of the author has become a topic of contention, arguments about his credal and ecclesiastical affiliations can only generate more heat than light. Rather, our task must be to fix upon expressions of transcendence in his verses. There, if anywhere, must reside the working convictions of our magister. more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 3:48 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Ponzi Politics and Public Choice

by G. Murphy Donovan (February 2012)

“Somehow liberals have been unable to acquire a healthy skepticism of the powers of government agencies to do good.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY)

Social theory and political philosophy are now shot through with paternalism – the belief that successful individuals and nations are somehow responsible, literally and figuratively, for the “less advantaged.” The modern moral collective was probably an outgrowth of Marxism. Nonetheless, the communitarian world-view prevails in spite of the Communist collapse – a grand economic and social experiment that was clearly a victim of promissory default. more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 3:35 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
The Iraqi Jews – The Oldest Diaspora, Now Safe in Israel

by Norman Berdichevsky (February 2012)

In the December issue of NER, I wrote the first article (on the Yemenites) of a planned 8 part series to examine that segment of Israeli Jewish society that is often neglected or misrepresented – the Oriental or Eastern communities, sometimes referred to as the Mizrahim and Sephardim, constituting at least 50% of the total Jewish population (as they do in France as well) in contrast to less than 5% in the United States (see Edot Hamizrach” Israel’s Oriental Jewish Communities, New English Review, August, 2009). The simple consequence of this, is that many American Jewish spokespersons when commenting on what they believe are traditional “Jewish” customs, values, traditions, social mores, political behavior, food, music, dress, humor, language, and heritage are often remote from the realities they find when visiting Israel. more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 3:27 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Muslim teenager attacked by brother and sisters for kissing white man

From The Telegraph

A Muslim teenager was kidnapped, beaten and threatened with hammers and knives by her brother and sisters after kissing a white man, a court heard yesterday. Shamima Akhtar, 18, was bundled into a car, called a whore and a prostitute and had her waist-length hair cut to her neck by her two older sisters, Nadiya, 25, and Nazira, 29, and brother Kayum Mohammed-Abdul, 24.

They had "screeched" in the car park of a restaurant in Basingstoke, Hampshire, when they saw her kissing Gary Pain on April 1 last year as she celebrated her 18th birthday, Winchester Crown Court was told.

An "extremely aggressive and threatening" Mohammed-Abdul grabbed Mr Pain by the throat as Miss Akhtar was "firmly escorted" to the car and thrown in, Peter Asteris, prosecuting, told the jury. The case centred on "honour-based domestic violence", the court heard, in which Miss Akhtar was punished for breaking her family's rules. Miss Akhtar came from a strict Islamic family and was controlled by her siblings, but she considered herself Westernised, the court heard. All three defendants deny kidnap, actual bodily harm and false imprisonment.

The barrister explained that her three siblings in particular tried to control her but despite this she had got a job at Argos she enjoyed and on April 1 she had reluctantly got permission from her family to go out with work colleagues from Argos to celebrate her 18th birthday. She had told them that the colleagues were all female and she was told she had to be home by 10.30pm. When it was just about time for her to leave she went outside with Gary Pain, a colleague she had become close to and it appears that when she was outside she kissed Gary Pain.

"It seems that at that point her two sisters and her brother drove into the location at speed. They screeched into the car park, her brother was driving and they got out."

One of the sisters then escorted Shamima into the car while Mohammed-Abdul grabbed Mr Pain "around the neck and became extremely aggressive and threatening" The alleged victim told police she overheard her brother on the telephone saying, 'Get the gun, I need the boys tonight'.

The car was driven back to the family home in Basingstoke and she was dragged in to the house and put on a sofa where she was subjected to a "barrage of insults" like "whore and prostitute", Mohammed-Abdul then came into the room with two knives and a hammer, Mr Asteris said. "(He) told his sister to pick one to be used on her and one to be used on her loverboy," The barrister said. The abuse continued and then the two sisters said Miss Akhtar had to be punished for her behaviour and they decided to cut her hair. "She was begging and crying for them not to," Mr Asteris told the jury. "Her brother was there shouting encouragement, saying 'shave it"'

. . . next morning Miss Akhtar managed to run upstairs and call the police when her sister Nazira and her brother went out and only Nadiya was home. When arrested Nazira Akhtar told officers her parents where away and she was responsible for the family.

She admitted she had repeatedly called her sister to check on her welfare and she told officers "she was upset when she turned up and she saw Shamima kissing a white man",

Posted on 01/31/2012 3:22 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Imperialist Islam Unveiled: A wide ranging interview with Dr. Mark Durie

by Jerry Gordon (February 2012)

Dr. Mark Durie is an Australian Anglican minister, human rights activist and theologian. An academic linguist by training, he was honored in 1992 as one of the youngest elected fellows in the Australian Academy of Humanities for his research and development of the first grammar and dictionary of the Acehnese language of Indonesia. He chose in the closing years of the 20th Century to be ordained and enter the Anglican ministry in 1999, abandoning a well-regarded academic career at the University of Melbourne. He is currently Vicar at St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Caulfield, Australia, a post he assumed in 2004.  more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 3:18 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
From Teacher to Tutor: Solving Israel’s School Crisis

by Geoffrey Clarfield (February 2012)

According to a recent report from the Taub Center for policy analysis there has been a 41% increase in students who graduate from high school in Israel. In addition, they found that teachers' knowledge had improved. This may sound wonderful but anyone who has travelled or lived in Israel will tell you that Israeli parents almost universally lament that the quality of public education is declining. As one Israeli parent once told me, “School is free but educating your children is very, very costly.” Most Israeli parents are their children’s constant tutors and if there is a subject they do not know, they will hire a tutor to help their kids. more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 3:11 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
When MEMRI Serves: See Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, Former Iraqi Prime Minister

Click on the link to MEMRItv.org  here.

Then click on "2" in the horizontal column, with numbers 1-5,  to see former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari claiming that "America has no history," in contradistinction to his own versino of "Palestine" that has a history going back "thousands of years" as "an Arab and Muslim" land.

And then ask yourself what you remember about Ibrahim Al-Jaafari when he was Prime Minister. How did he speak about America then?

Do you remember, for example, his visit to Washington?

Do you remember when he said, in 2005,  that Iraq needed a new "Marshall Plan" and that he hoped the Americans would come through.

Just look at what he is saying now, about America, and compare it with his oiliness of a few years ago, when he was trying to wheedle many hundreds of billions out of this country -- and who knows, he might well have succeeded. The American government has, after all, spent two trilion dollars trying to remove a monstrous regime, and turn Iraq into a decent, prosperous, society, rather than the society that is full of uncompromising, vicious, aggressive and mostly primitive people, some of whom -- like Ibrahim Al-Jaffari, can seem to be, for the purposes of inveigling Western audiences, other than what they really are.

Which was the real Ibrahim Al-Jaafari? Was it the one who was all smiles and guiles, trying to extract still more tens or hundreds of billions from the Americans, at the height of their credulity, and hopefulness, and idiocy, about Iraq?

Or is it Ibrahim Al-Jaafari today, telling his fellow iraqis that "America has no history"?

What do you think?

Posted on 01/31/2012 2:58 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
The Mystery of the Capriccio Papers

by Lucy Beckett (February 2012)

John Eliot Holmes, his wife Jane, and their daughter Claire, all died in a car accident in Australia in 2010. I never got the chance to know him well, but I certainly liked him. He worked with me briefly as a legal consultant at Glasgow City Council in Scotland, and so it came to pass that on a rainy morning just before Christmas I had the gloomy task of looking through the items he had left behind in his office on the top floor of Glasgow’s palatial City Chambers.  more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 3:04 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, When He Was Prime Minister Of Iraq, Requesting That The Americans Start Up A "Marshall Plan"

You don't remember much about this, do you? You don't remember how oily and sly was Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari when, not content with the hundreds of billions the Americans had already spent, by that time, on the Iraq venture -- intended to bring peace, tranquillity, and prosperity to Iraqis -- was requesting a new "Marshall Plan" for Iraq, to be funded by those Americans.

So let me job your memory by re-posting this: :

Ibrahim al-Jaafari: A Marshall Plan could transform Iraq

June 28, 2005

LAST week I was at Blair House in the centre of Washington, DC. In this house is the table on which George Marshall in June 1947 signed the plan to pump today's equivalent of $US500 billion ($647 billion) into the impoverished economies of Europe as an investment against future conflict. The plan was controversial but nobody would now deny its far-sightedness.

Nazism gave way to a lasting democracy, economic devastation was replaced by slow but sure progress towards economic regeneration. Consider the Germany of 1945 and the Germany of today: which would you rather have as your neighbour?

Last week I went to Brussels with an Iraqi delegation for a conference with foreign ministers of more than 80 countries. All have agreed to help Iraq towards a better future. On Friday I met President George W. Bush; today I will meet Tony Blair. Both have decisively chosen to back freedom and democracy in Iraq. They are right to have done so. It is not just a matter of principle but of the security of their own countries. Terrorism knows no boundaries; it strikes all over the world. Democracy, transparency and justice in the Middle East will dry up the wellsprings of hatred and terrorism and bring security to Europe and the US.

Terrorists are criminals and must be tried as such. But dealing with the spread of terrorism in the Middle East is more complex, as it thrives on ignorance, hate ideologies and the political failures of modern states.

Arabs are better educated in technical sciences, engineering and languages than in contemporary political and social sciences. Political education in the Middle East is usually indoctrination. By contrast, Iraq's recent electoral experience enlightened millions. It showed that education is to vote a government into power, then watch it grapple with the issues that confront people in their daily lives and see whether it succeeds or fails, and listen to it explain its policies honestly and frankly. A free press leaves people able to discriminate between propaganda, rumours and lies and the unvarnished reporting of facts.

Perhaps those elections can be an education also for the people of Western democracies. They can see that, like them, Iraqis want to choose their own leaders and are entirely capable of running fair elections and respecting the result. They can also see that there is nothing to fear if people choose to vote for an Islamic party.

I am not only the first democratically elected leader of an Arab country, I am also the first prime minister in the Middle East to come from a religious, Islamic opposition movement at the head of a diverse ethnic and political alliance. Embracing diversity within human society is not just a political necessity, it is rooted in my faith. Islam teaches that there is no compulsion in religion and that freedom of choice is divinely granted; it is dictators who need to cater to fanatics to stay in power.

Saddam Hussein is a case in point. He passed laws to limit religious freedom and degraded women's lives. I will reverse Saddam's legacy and welcome Iraq's diversity. I welcome the strong contribution that women can make in the workplace and in political life, where they make up one-third of our National Assembly, more than in most Western democracies.

Marshall said: "Our policy is not directed against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos." Today is the time for a new international Marshall Plan for Iraq and the broader Middle East, directed not for or against any policy but against ignorance, tyranny, hatred and anarchy.

Marshall repaired the decaying infrastructure of Germany after six years of war and 12 years of Nazi rule. In Iraq we have had nearly 40 years of fascist rule and have been in practice at war for half that time. I have seen throughout Iraq the marks of economic collapse and depredation this has left. Iraq today has few English speakers, it has hundreds of thousands of ex-soldiers trained for nothing but war and its universities, which once enjoyed a worldwide reputation, lag behind those in the rest of the region. It has debts totalling hundreds of billions of dollars and there has been no investment in its infrastructure for more than 20 years.

Three generations of Iraqis have grown up under a dictatorship, learning to take orders but not take initiatives or responsibility, and educated in religious and political hatred and isolationism. My people are a strong people; their will survived. The marks of Saddam's brutal and divisive rule, however, will take time to heal. Many of my people, as well as soldiers from the multinational force, are still being killed by terrorism.

The way will not always be easy. I am confident, though, that the prosperous democracies of the world will be as far-sighted today as Marshall was in 1947. Much blood had to be shed and money spent before peace was achieved in Europe. In Iraq the fight for democracy has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

In the long run, however, it can secure centuries of peace and prosperity. Iraq's fight against terrorist networks and training camps, and the poverty and ignorance that supply them, has become the world's fight for the security of humanity.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari is Iraq's Prime Minister.
Posted on 01/31/2012 3:04 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Who Destroyed Classical Civilization?

by Emmet Scott (February 2012)

For centuries scholars assumed that the civilization of ancient Rome, the civilization we now call “classical,” was destroyed by the barbarian tribes of Germany and central Asia who, during the fourth and fifth centuries swarmed into the Empire and destroyed the political power of the Eternal City. The migrations of the Goths, Vandals, and Huns, were held responsible for reducing Europe to an economic and cultural wasteland, and initiating the long period of backwardness we now call the “Dark Ages." more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 2:55 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Jacques Barzun, Wisdom and Grace

by Rebecca Bynum (February 2012)

Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind

By Michael Murray
Frederic C. Beil (2011)
384 pp.

Jacques Barzun is a towering scholarly intellect, a perceptive and incisive historian as well as one of the most graceful and witty writers of Twentieth Century America. more>>>

Posted on 01/31/2012 2:47 PM by NER
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
James Clapper Makes A Prediction About Syria That Is Useless, Dangerous, And idiotic

US spy chief: Syria's Assad cannot hold power

By NBC News

January 31, 2012

President Bashar Assad's regime is intensifying its violent crackdown on Syrian protesters, despite international pressure. NBC News' Ayman Mohyeldin is one of the few Western journalists to have been granted permission inside Syria in recent weeks, click to see some of his photos.

 Syrian leader Bashar Assad cannot sustain his hold on power and it is a matter of time before his leadership falls, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told senators, according to Reuters.

"I personally believe it's a question of time before Assad falls, but that's the issue, it could be a long time," Clapper told a Senate intelligence committee hearing. "Protraction of these demonstrations, the opposition continues to be fragmented, but I do not see how he can sustain his rule of Syria."

Meanwhile, British newspaper the Guardian reported that a copy of the draft U.N. resolution demanding Assad step aside tried to address Russian concerns that the vote could open the door to western military intervention.

The draft obtained by the newspaper said the council is "reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, emphasising the need to resolve the current crisis in Syria peacefully, and stressing that nothing in this resolution compels states to resort to the use of force or the threat of force," according to the newspaper.

The draft did not entirely exclude the possibility of military action, however, the newspaper reported.

Published at 8:30 a.m. ET: A senior Russian diplomat warned Tuesday that a draft U.N. resolution demanding Syrian President Bashar Assad step aside is a "path to civil war," as Syrian troops crushed pockets of resistance by rebel soldiers on the outskirts of Damascus.

The U.N. Security Council was to meet Tuesday to discuss the draft, backed by Western and some Arab powers. But Russia would likely veto any punitive action.

"The Western draft Security Council resolution on Syria does not lead to a search for compromise," Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote on Twitter. "Pushing this resolution is a path to civil war."

Russia has been one of Assad's strongest backers as he tries to crush an uprising that began nearly 11 months ago. In October, Moscow vetoed the first council attempt to condemn Syria's crackdown and has shown little sign of budging in its opposition.

President Bashar Assad's regime has slaughtered thousands of people since March, according to the United Nations. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

The draft text of the resolution, seen by The Associated Press, insists there will be no use of foreign forces in the country. It calls on Assad's regime to immediately put "an end to all human rights violations and attacks against those exercising their rights to freedom of expression."

It calls on Assad to delegate his "full authority to his deputy" to allow a national unity government to lead transition to a democratic system. The text, the drafting of which has been led by Morocco, insists it does not compel "states to resort to the use of force, or the threat of force."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday he hoped the Security Council would reflect international will when it deliberates the resolution.

"I sincerely hope the Security Council will be united and speak in a coherent manner reflecting the wishes of the international community," Ban told reporters in the Jordanian capital Amman. "This is crucially important."

China, which like Russia has a veto in the council, also has reservations about the draft. Russia and China vetoed a European-drafted resolution in October that condemned Syria and threatened it with sanctions.

"I don't think we can go on like this," Ban said.

Syria's crackdown on protesters and anti-government fighters had gone on despite a now-suspended Arab League monitoring mission and action was needed to stop the bloodshed, he said.

"Even with the monitoring missions having been there, more than a few hundred have been killed ... every day tens of people are killed ... this should stop immediately," Ban said. "It is crucially important for the Security Council to act on this."

Escalating violence
Meanwhile Tuesday, government troops were deploying in "massive numbers" to the suburbs of Damascus, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told NBC News. The group said at least 11 people had been killed as of Tuesday morning.

The Observatory, which supports the Free Syrian Army, said government forces were targeting civilians who were aiding defectors, NBC reported.

Fighting has escalated in the past several days with at least 100 people killed on Monday alone.

The office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay voiced alarm on Tuesday at the escalating violence and called on Syrian authorities to "stop the killing of civilians" while also urging opposition forces to show restraint.

"It does look like there's a very dangerous and alarming escalation taking place including right in the suburbs of Damascus," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

"So once again we urge the Syrian authorities to stop the killing of civilians in Syria. And we also urge the opposition fighters to take extreme caution too and ensure that there is no more unnecessary killing," he said.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising as of mid-December, according to Pillay's office.

Despite "high rates of casualties" since then, it has been impossible to verify incidents and lists of victims compiled by five or six human rights groups on the ground, Colville said.

Posted on 01/31/2012 12:21 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Has the Higher-Ed Revolution Begun?

An interesting development reported by Charlotte Allen at Minding the Campus:

It's happening, almost overnight: what could be the collapse of the near-monopoly that traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities currently enjoy as respected credentialing institutions whose degrees and grades mean something to employers.

The most dramatic development, just a few days ago, was the decision of robotics-expert Sebastian Thrun to resign from his position as a tenured professor of computer science at Stanford in order to start an online university he calls Udacity that he hopes will reach hundreds of thousands of students who either can't afford Stanford's $40,000-a-year tuition or who can't travel thousands of miles to one of the bricks-and-mortar classes he used to teach.

This past fall Thrun and Peter Norvig, research director at Google (where Thrun also works, designing cars that drive themselves), teamed up to teach online and free of charge one of their regular Stanford courses, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, not just to Stanford students but to anyone who wanted to take them. Not only would the online students sit through Thrun and Norvig's lectures, but the two instructors would test them via quizzes and written assignments, grade their work, and assign them a class ranking. Only Stanford students would be eligible to receive Stanford credit for the course, but non-Stanfordians would receive a "statement of achievement" that, together with their grades and class rankings, could be used to demonstrate that they had mastered the Stanford-level material in the course.

He Can't Teach at Stanford Again

Thrun and Norvig's bricks-and-mortar course, designed for graduate students and advanced-level undergraduates, had always been one of Stanford's largest and most popular, with nearly 200 students from a range of disciplines signing up every time the two instructors offered the course. But the enrollment in last fall's online version was exponential: 160,000 students from 190 countries registered, with about 20,000 of them completing the coursework and receiving grades that were generally on a par with those of the 175 Stanford students who took the bricks-and-mortars version.

In addition the University of Freiburg sponsored the course for 54 students at several German universities, proctoring the exams and offering its own credits. What was essentially happening--and it was a revolutionary development--was that Thrun himself, not Stanford, was certifying tens of thousands of students' mastery of an elite-university-level body of scientific material that could serve as a gateway to even more sophisticated AI courses or a good job.

Although he will remain in Stanford's computer-science department as a non-tenured research professor, Thrun has declared that he "can't teach at Stanford again." Hence, Udacity. Its premier course, titled "Building a Search Engine," to be taught by  David Evans, a computer-science professor at the University of Virginia and also free of charge, is expected to have enrolled 200,000 students by the time it opens in late February. The course promises to teach the basics of computer programming to novices in just seven weeks. Thrun himself will teach a more advanced course, "Programming a Robotic Car" (Thrun invented a self-driving car for Google).

The Thrun-Norvig course of last fall represented just one of a growing number of efforts by top universities to open their students' learning experiences to the general public. Stanford, for example, offered two other free online courses in computer science this past fall and has added eight more starting in January. Indeed several elite private institutions, including Harvard and Yale, have been offering free online courses to non-students for the past several years (although the courses lack the grading and other feedback that the Thrun-Norvig course featured).

Harvard had earlier tried to sell online courses but discovered that few people wanted to pay for learning experiences that offered no college credits. MIT's OpenCourseWare program, in which the university puts all the teaching materials for its undergraduate and graduate courses online, has been in existence since 2001 and has attracted more than 100,000 users. In December MIT announced plans to expand OpenCourseWare by launching a project to be called MITx, that would also offer free online courses.

What made last fall's Thrun-Norvig course different--and revolutionary--was its certification component. The two instructors were effectively warranting independently of Stanford that the online students who passed the course had learned as much about artificial intelligence and had been held to the same standards as the Stanford students who took the bricks-and-mortar version. Indeed, Stanford refused to have any official connection to the Thrun-Norvig course (in contrast to the other two online courses, which involved no professorial certification). Thrun and Norvig used a non-Stanford server to host their website (although it did display the Stanford engineering school seal), and posted teaching videos made outside of their Stanford classroom.

Udacity, which will similarly certify its students' completion and mastery of material, is clearly the next logical step in developing courses exclusively for Udacity and outside the control of any university or its accrediting agency. Thrun has talked about having the certification process carried out by a third-party auditor with the hope that colleges will accept Udacity's courses for transfer credits...

This is good news. Universities have been charging too much and delivering too little for too long.

Posted on 01/31/2012 8:57 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Monday, 30 January 2012
Two Commentators Who Remarkably Choose To Make Perfect Sense

From The Huffington Post:

Bob Savage and Dan Wagner:

Time for a More Thoughtful Foreign Policy in Iran and Syria

Pontificators of foreign policy often end up taking the party line when opining on what to do with particularly vexing questions. That appears to be the case today with Iran and Syria, where the majority of pontificators have fallen into the 'let's not bomb yet' camp on Iran, and the 'we must do something' camp in Syria. However, if one simply looks at history and the present, it makes more sense to do exactly the opposite in both cases.

Iran has had a civil nuclear program since the 1960s. The IAEA first concluded that Iran had failed to meet its obligations under its NPT safeguards in 2003, and the country has been proceeding apace with its nuclear weapons development -- with the knowledge of the West -- since that time, while routinely shaking its fist at the West and Israel. The West has continued to impose gradually more stringent sanctions against Iran since the second Bush Administration. Since sanctions began, there has been absolutely no indication that Iran will respond meaningfully to overtures for dialogue. Indeed, the Iranians have deftly used the prospect of dialogue as a means of prolonging their intransigence and ability to develop their nuclear weapons program. And Iran has given every indication that it intends to acquire nuclear weapons.

Given that Israel and the U.S. have both repeatedly stated that Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, at what point do they both admit that dialogue will not succeed, the cards are currently in the Iranians' favor, 2012 will probably be the year when Iran passes the point of no return, and the time has come to either put up or shut up? As Israeli Defense Minister Barak said in Davos last week, the point of no return is very close at hand.

The result of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons will not only be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but an unprecedented military buildup that will raise general tension levels and be very costly -- at a time when most Middle Eastern governments neither have the funds nor the inclination to dramatically increase their military budgets. Such an outcome would come at the worst possible time, given the ongoing political convulsions in the region. Iran knows this, and is banking on it.

In Damascus, the Assad regime has made clear its intention to continue to fight its opponents, and Russia has reconfirmed its support for Mr. Assad. The stalemate is likely to continue for some time -- in the absence of overt external intervention -- which appears unlikely. Neither NATO nor the U.S. have given any indication they intend to impose a no-fly zone or otherwise formally interfere in the uprising, and neither seems inclined to spend billions more to promote an uncertain outcome.

Given everything that has occurred in the past year in the Middle East, we believe the best course of action would be not to intervene, even though it would prolong the fighting and the suffering of ordinary civilians -- which is unfortunate. Our reasoning is simple: In Egypt and Tunisia, Islamists have assumed power since the overthrow of Ben Ali and Mubarak, and in Libya, Islamists are poised to do the same. There can be little doubt the same outcome would result following the overthrow of Mr. Assad. Syria's neighbors do not welcome such an outcome -- Israel has said it prefers the devil it knows and Europe does not want an Islamist government on its doorstep.

For these reasons, as distasteful as it is to some, the best thing the West can do is hope that Mr. Assad prevails. He is indeed a proxy for Iranian influence in the region, but what may replace him may prove to be worse. What the region needs now, above all, is stability and predictability. If Mr. Assad falls, there can be little doubt that, in time, other governments in the region will do the same, and in all likelihood, the eventual electoral results (assuming elections occur) would be the same. The people of Egypt, Tunisia, and soon Libya have all expressed a preference for Islamic fundamentalism at the ballot box. Can there be any doubt other citizens in the region will prefer the same?

Regarding the linkage between waiting before considering whether to take some action in Syria and proceeding with bombing Iran, two other 'footnotes' should be taken into consideration. While it can certainly be argued that Iran would rely on its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah to attack Israel on their behalf in the event of a bombing campaign against Iran, the truth is that Israel lives with the threat of such attacks on a daily basis. If Hamas and Hezbollah attacked Israel, it would give Israel an opportunity to counter-attack their growing missile arsenals, and reduce that threat in the future. Secondly, Mr. Assad's 'preoccupations' at home make it less likely that Syria would play a significant role in any retaliation for an Israeli missile strike on Iran, which is an argument in favor of Israel striking while Syria sorts itself out.

Given that it appears that neither Mr. Assad nor Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad actually want to engage in meaningful dialogue, the Obama Administration should be thoughtful enough to adopt a two-tiered approach to both countries. In the case of Syria, having the patience to await the outcome in the coming months -- before deciding whether to adopt another approach -- and demonstrating its resolve to use a 'big stick' in the case of Iran. In truth, the US has been fighting a covert war with Iran over its nuclear ambitions for years. This 'cold' war has been working too slowly and ineffectually; perhaps it is time to think about 'hot' alternatives. Engaging in a military dialogue with Iran may prove more effective in arriving at a solution than covert action and attempts at diplomacy have proven. Iran seems determined to pursue its nuclear ambitions -- whether or not it is attacked. The sooner the West admits this, the better off it will be.

Ultimately, the West is undoubtedly itself in a more favorable position with the devils it knows at this uncertain time. Democracy can be a wonderful thing, but it can and does also sometimes deliver exactly the opposite of what the West may desire. Doing nothing in Syria and proceeding with a bombing campaign in Iran may therefore be the smartest courses of action in the near term. We don't live in a perfect world, and we are faced with imperfect circumstances and choices. The only sensible approach is to view the world without rose-colored glasses and recognize the situations in Iran and Syria for what they are. Doing otherwise will likely result in a permanently altered landscape in the Middle East that will haunt us for decades to come.

*Bob Savage is CEO of Track.com. Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions, Director of Global Strategy with the PRS Group, and author of the forthcoming book Managing Country Risk
Posted on 01/30/2012 10:40 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Monday, 30 January 2012
A Musical Interlude: Walkin' My Baby Home (Annette Hanshaw)
Listen here.
Posted on 01/30/2012 9:54 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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