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Archive for August 2007

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Bad Arolsen Inside Story

USHMM's Shapiro At Odds with Red Cross Bid for Bad Arolsen Openness

August 29th 2007

Central Name File
Bad Arolsen files

During the week of August 20, Red Cross officials transferred to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum some 13.5 million embargoed files from its massive Nazi-era archive at Bad Arolsen known as the International Tracing Service. The hard drives were hand-delivered by ITS director Reto Meister. For the Red Cross, it was a significant moment that it had labored hard to achieve.

The highlight of the initial ITS handover was a special Museum briefing held August 23 for several dozen Holocaust survivors, Second Generation members, and Jewish organizational leaders. The meeting was a chance to connect with the Holocaust community face to face. Survivors flew in from around the nation to attend. By all accounts the exchange was successful and a tribute to the efforts undertaken by both the Museum and the Red Cross to accelerate the controversial transfer.

During the presentation, ITS director Reto Meister deftly explained the technical complexities in transferring the huge collection and what could be expected in the future, according to several in the audience. Meister’s presentation and response to questions, in spite of a few pesky challenges, was honest and convincing as he promised continued dedication to the process, according to multiple reports from audience members.

Ironically, the special Museum briefing was nowhere covered in the media, not even the Jewish media which normally covers such events. Why? Read more ..


Gonzales Resignation

Resignation First, A Special Prosecutor Second

August 28th 2007

Nadler lo-res
Rep. Jerrold Nadler

I was pleased to learn that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has finally decided to resign. The person entrusted with enforcing our nation’s laws must also abide by them – a duty that Mr. Gonzales apparently failed to live up to. In his many appearances before both chambers of Congress, the Attorney General did little more than display his complete disrespect for both the rule of law and the oversight responsibilities of Congress. For these reasons, I have long demanded his resignation.  The administration has a choice: this can be a fresh start for the nation or it can be a ploy to continue the stonewalling of the truth. 

While we must move beyond the scandal plagued tenure of Alberto Gonzales, many questions still remain. The problems with this Administration’s actions go far beyond Mr. Gonzales and rest firmly with President Bush. A Special Prosecutor is still needed to investigate the Attorney General’s false statements to Congress and to investigate the apparent criminal violations of law by Attorney General Gonzales and others, including President Bush, by initiating the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. I hope, and urge, that the President now nominate an Attorney General who has fundamental respect for the rule of law and the oversight responsibilities of Congress so that both our civil liberties and personal safety are protected.
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Rep. Jerrold Nadler represents New York’s 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and is the Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.


Armenian Genocide Conflict

Armenian Genocide is a Historical Imperative

August 27th 2007

World Scenes - Armenian Genocide1 Bodies

Armenian Genocide Victims 

From 2000 to 2002, I led a graduate seminar entitled "Post-Holocaust Ethical and Political Issues” at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Among the topics covered was the politics of memory.

One of the case studies we explored was the controversy surrounding language and its power. We looked in depth at the massacre of Armenians and how its depiction had become a subject of fierce debate, primarily between Armenians, who insisted on calling the events of 1915 a genocide, and Turks, who adamantly refused to countenance the "G word." Essentially, this was a zero-sum game.

Either one supported the Armenian or the Turkish position, whether for historical or political reasons, but neither side allowed room for compromise. The basic Armenian argument was that up to 1.5 million Armenians were deliberately targeted and massacred by the Ottoman Empire, eight years before the modern Turkish Republic came into being. At the time, the word genocide didn’t exist. Read more ..


Inside Iran

Missing in Iran

August 26th 2007

World Citizens - Micah Halpern headshot
Micah Halpern

Bob Levinson worked for the FBI and before that for the DEA. He retired from these "companies" about ten years ago and like many former agents, went into the private sector. According to his resume, Bob Levinson had "extensive international experience and has focused on criminal activities, business intelligence projects, asset location and recoveries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Russia and Europe."

Bob Levinson was last heard from on March 8th, 2007. He was last seen on an Iranian island called Kish, a resort that caters to a Muslim and European clientele. Unlike the rest of Iran, Kish is a commercially-oriented area where even United States residents - who can enter Iran proper only after undergoing scrutiny and obtaining a special visa and travel papers - are permitted entry without special visas.

Former agents often do private work after retirement. They gain employment as contractors for the government or for companies in the private sector interested in their contacts and talents. As the saying goes, once a spy always a spy. Levinson, it seems, was not working on a covert operation. He was working for a film company and he was in Kish gathering information and meeting contacts.

Almost five months later and there has been no word from Levinson or about Levinson. Relations between the United States and Iran being what they are there is no direct line of communication between the State Department and the powers that be in Iran. Diplomatic ties were severed in 1979 when the Iranians took the United States embassy in Teheran hostage. The United States is at a loss, their access to information is through back channels. Christine, Levinson, the missing man’s wife. is trying on her own, through the media, to gather any information that she can on the condition of her husband of thirty-three years.

She has been interviewed by CNN. There have also even been Persian language programs discussing the disappearance of her husband. She is making a direct appeal for help and information via radio. Her efforts even include an appeal on the Voice of Peace broadcast into Iran.

About two to three US citizens disappear each year in Iran. Sometimes, there is a happy ending, often there is not. One glimmer of hope for finding Bob Levinson comes in the form of the return of another US hostage. The director of the Middle East division of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, an Iranian American who was held hostage since May was just released on “bail.” The terms of her release involved the exchange of a very large sum of money - but she is free. Read more ..


Palestine and Israel

No to Israeli Historical Pandering and No to "Nakba"

August 26th 2007

Abraham Foxman Color cropped
Abraham H. Foxman

As a member of the executive committee of the Jewish community interagency task force on Israeli Arabs, the Anti-Defamation League believes that it is very much in the interest of Israel and the Jewish people to ensure full equality for Israel’s Arab citizens. This is for pragmatic, moral and diplomatic reasons. To get there requires leadership and responsibility on both sides, Jewish and Arab.

Thus Israel’s Or Commission to investigate the Intifada delineated many areas of practical discrimination, such as funding for the Arab sector, which needed attention by the Israeli government. On the other side, Israeli Arab intellectuals produced a document entitled “Future Vision” which reinforced many of the Or Commission findings but also, disturbingly, asserted that true equality could never exist without the state giving up its “Jewishness” in its symbols and other practical laws and regulations.

It is in this context that one needs to examine the recent decision of the Israeli Ministry of Education to include in the curriculum of Arab schools a reference to the belief in the Arab world that Israel’s founding was viewed as a “Nakba,” that is, “a catastrophe” for the Palestinians. Is this a legitimate recognition by the government of Israel as part of the effort to make Israel’s Arabs comfortable as equal citizens? Or is this self-destructive political correctness which rather than make Israeli Arabs more at home will reinforce beliefs that the future demands a distancing by the descendants of the founders of the state from its original meaning and purpose? Read more ..


Cutting Edge Exclusive

Bad Arolsen Internet Records Offer Twice Spurned--French and Red Cross Suggested It

August 21st 2007

BA Camp Documentation

 Although officials of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have steadfastly insisted that the secret records at the International Tracing Service located at Bad Arolsen are technically not ready for the Internet, both Red Cross and senior Bad Arolsen officials deny this. Indeed, Red Cross and senior Bad Arolsen officials confirm that most of their 42 million records could be made Internet ready within three-to-four months. Moreover, the Red Cross reveals, the idea of Internet access directly from Bad Arolsen computers bypassing a complicated and costly 11-nation export and transfer was twice suggested earlier this year: once by French delegates to the Commission and again by Bad Arolsen technology officers. Both offers were refused.

The Bad Arolsen computerized search mechanisms have been misportrayed by some news reports. But in a series of conference calls with this reporter followed by a requested official written statement of technical specifications, Bad Arolsen chief technology officer Michael Hoffman and archivist Udo Yost, explained for the first time exactly how their system works. The ITS system, ten years in development, uses three interactive sets of prisoner informational data including TIFF and JPEG images of Nazi-era prisoner cards. Hoffman confirmed that given the correct name, birth date and birth city, “with a little luck, we get a hit on the full data set. If the system cannot get the correct information about a named individual on the first try, it defaults to the next probable hit using the sequence numbers, going through the candidate names. For example, for a person named “Rosenbaum,” the system first gives all the “Rosenbaums,” and then automatically gives you the next Rosenbaum, and the next Rosenbaum, until you find the correct Rosenbaum.” Read more ..


Bad Arolsen Conflict

Holocaust Museum Must be Honest about Bad Arolsen Internet Records Offer

August 21st 2007

Edwin Black

A bitter, public war has erupted between grass-roots Holocaust survivor organizations and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) over some sixteen miles of Holocaust-era records held by the International Tracing Service (ITS) at Bad Arolsen, Germany. The Bad Arolsen archive contains some 42 million records of the incarceration and enslavement of 17 million Nazi victims, about 70 percent of which are digitized and in many cases scanned by sophisticated optical character readers. Until recently, the files were secret.

A 2006 special treaty among the eleven nations of the International Tracing Commission that control the records will distribute copies to each country once approved. However, France and Italy have yet to ratify the treaty. Italian sources have gone on record to declare that their domestic treaty ratification process may take an additional year or two. That delay is heartbreaking to hundreds of thousands of elderly Holocaust survivors dying daily of old age and desperate to trace the fate of their loved ones.

But Bad Arolsen’s files could be made Internet ready within three to four months, say senior ITS technology officials. However, the USHMM, the prime mover in the international release, is intent on sequestering the data to its own on-site terminals in Washington instead of making them available on the Internet or via remote secure database accessible to survivors in local libraries or their homes the way most government documents are accessible these days. The Museum’s physical transfer approach involves a complicated, costly, time-consuming process of data exports, system reintegration and a computer infrastructure built from scratch.

The idea outrages Holocaust survivors. Read more ..


Palestine and Israel

Will Abbas Finally Seize the Opportunity?

August 20th 2007

Howard Kohr headshot
Howard Kohr

Following the violent Hamas overthrow of the Palestinian Authority (PA) government in Gaza, President Mahmoud Abbas fired the Hamas ministers and created a new PA government in the West Bank. This seismic shift presented Israel with a potential partner for peace in Abbas and his new government.

In the two months since Hamas’ coup, Israel has taken bold steps to bolster Abbas and his new prime minister, Salam Fayyad. These measures include releasing Palestinian tax monies, freeing 250 Palestinian prisoners, offering amnesty to wanted Fatah militiamen and sending over 50,000 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilians Read more ..


Terrorism Readiness

New York Emergency Response an Invaluable Drill

August 20th 2007

World Citizens - Micah Halpern headshot
Micah Halpern

New York recently went on high alert after an Internet prediction of an Islamic terror attack. Traffic was a mess. Trucks and vans were scrutinized. Bridges, tunnels and highways were moving along at a steady crawl. One of the most fast paced and vibrant cities in the whole wide world was forced to move slowly, deliberately and cautiously.

And then it was over.

And now we must ask – what was that all about? What really is the purpose of putting a city, a population, a nation on high alert? One would think that between the Office of Homeland Security, local police and law enforcement, informants and counter terrorism wonks, the “people in the know” would know how to tell which threats are real and credible and which are hype and improbable.

Well, they do know.

Counter terrorism is an art, it is also a science, and it is also a precise, exacting military-like series of maneuvers. And elevated alerts are an important tool in the arsenal of the counter terrorist. What happened in New York on that specific Saturday was an exercise well worth the time, effort, discipline and the discomfort of the citizens and visitors who happened to have been in town on that warm summer morning.

Elevated alerts are rushed into action following a credible threat emanating from credible Intel. The goal is to prevent a terrorist attack from happening.

A terror attack is like a jigsaw puzzle. It requires many pieces and all the pieces must interlock properly or it will not succeed. Take away one piece and an entire operation is either aborted – or doomed to fail.

With elevated alerts comes heightened security. And one of the best ways to achieve heightened security is through the use of roadblocks. Roadblocks are an attempt to prevent one or more pieces of the terrorist puzzle from coming into the arena. Roadblocks are used to force the planners to halt their operation.

Heightened or elevated alerts send out messages. The message to the public is that we are on top of things, we are not letting terrorist sneak in or slide by, we are maintaining a serious defense system. More important is the message that is sent out to terrorists. An alert says “we know something, we have information.” And then it is up to the terrorists to determine just what and how much really is known – about their plan, about their players, about their general operation. The message is used to instill the fear of failure, the fear of being caught, in the terrorist operatives. Read more ..


Saudi Arms

Confronting The Saudi Arms Deal

August 19th 2007

Contributors / Staff - Waliid Phares headshot
Walid Phares

The U.S. is considering a new gigantic arms sale to Saudi Arabia of up to $20 billion. The proposed package includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels as a U.S. strategy to contain the rising military expansion of Iran in the region. The titanic arms deal is seen as a major Saudi spending to shield itself from a Khomeinist menace looming at the horizons: an Iranian nuclear bomb, a future Pasdaran control of Iraq, and a Hezbollah offensive in Lebanon.

In reality, the Iranian threat against the Saudis materializes as follows: A) If the U.S.-led coalition leaves abruptly, the Iranian forces - via the help of their militias in Iraq - will be at the borders with Saudi Arabia. Throughout the Gulf, Iran’s mullahs will be eyeing the Hijaz on the one hand and the oil-rich provinces on the other hand. B)Hezbollah threatens the Lebanese government, which is friendly to the Saudis. Hezbollah, already training for subversion in Iraq, will become the main trainer of Shiite radicals in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. C) Finally, across Iraq’s borders, Syria and Iran can send all sorts of jihadis, including Sunnis.

With such hydra advancing, the Wahhabi monarchy is hurrying to arm itself with all the military technology it can get from Uncle Sam. Riyadh believes that with improved F-16s, fast boats, electronics and smarter bombs it can withstand the forthcoming onslaught. I believe it won’t. For as the Iraq-Iran war has proved, the ideologically rooted brutality of the Iranian regime has no boundaries. If the U.S. withdraws from the region without a strong pro-Western Iraq in the neighborhood and absent of a war of ideas making progress against fundamentalism as a whole, the Saudis won’t stand a chance for survival. For the Iranians will apply their pressures directly and unleash more radical forces among the neo-Wahhabis against Saudi Arabia. The Shiite mullahs will adroitly manipulate radical Sunnis, as they have in Iraq and Lebanon. So what should the U.S. advise the Saudis to do instead of spending hugely on arms? Read more ..


Tech and Israel

Oracle Billionaire Pledges $500,000 to Embattled Israeli Town

August 17th 2007

Science - Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison

Avi Sulimany didn’t know he was talking to Larry Ellison. He didn’t even know who Larry Ellison was.

But after a cursory, two-minute conversation about rockets targeting the southern Israeli town of Sderot, Ellison promised Sulimany $500,000 to reinforce the Community Center of Sderot against those attacks. The two shook hands and parted company. Sulimany is the director of the center of Sderot, which has suffered daily rocket attacks fired from Gaza for seven years. Ellison, of course, is the well-known head of Redwood Shores-based Oracle Corp., and one of the world’s 15 richest men. He was born to a teenage Jewish mother and grew up on the South Side of Chicago with relatives.

After viewing shrapnel left from Kassam rockets, Ellison — on a Sderot visit arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and flanked by dignitaries including Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) — walked into a community center on Thursday, Aug. 9. Sulimany mistook Ellison for “the head of the U.S. Congress’ foreign affairs committee” — that would be Lantos, actually — and introduced himself. He told Ellison how a number of popular Israeli bands hail from Sderot, including Teapacks, the Israeli representative at the Eurovision song contest (and past performers at Israel in the Gardens).

He then pressed a CD into Ellison’s hand. It was a compilation of Sderot teenagers who were singing their own compositions about the recent war and rocket attacks. Almost as an afterthought, Sulimany added, “But these kids have a problem.” Read more ..


Inside Israel

No wonder Olmert isn’t very well liked by Israelis

August 15th 2007

World Leaders - Ehud Olmert
Israeli Prime Minister Olmert

With Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approval rating dropping to single digits, there’s a joke gaining popularity in Israel. Israelis say that when pollsters take into account a margin of error, Olmert’s approval ratings fall into the negative.

It doesn’t take long to see why Olmert’s popularity is virtually non-existent. It was evident in the first few minutes of a meeting he had with a group of American Jewish journalists, including this writer.

We were ushered last week into a conference room outside his office, where we were briefed on the rules. He can’t be quoted directly. In other words, we can report that the prime minister says that the sky is blue — we just can’t put quote marks around the remark. Of course, without quote marks, he has room for deniability by claiming he was misquoted. Read more ..


Palestine and Israel

The Unholy Trinity and the Oslo Redux

August 15th 2007

World Citizens - Isi Leibler headshot
Isi Leibler

Only a few weeks ago, the erratic Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was still assuring all that for the time being no further unilateral withdrawals were under consideration. Yet a recent report in the daily Haaretz has outlined a comprehensive new “peace” formula virtually indistinguishable from the 2002 Saudi plan, incorporating wide ranging concessions to the Palestinians which President Peres had submitted to Prime Minister Olmert immediately upon assuming office.Of course, in line with standard procedures related to trial balloons testing the waters, the Prime Minister’s office ritualistically denied that any such plan had ever been considered. However the office of the President not only confirmed the existence of the plan, but even expressed confidence that it would be endorsed by the Americans and Europeans.

Peres was the principal architect of the disastrous Oslo Accords, but his new proposal extends far beyond his original failed plan.  It recommends that Israel forego the Israeli interpretation of UN Resolution 242 and accept the bitterly contested Arab-Soviet-French interpretation which demands Israel’s total withdrawal from all the territories beyond the green line, effectively ceding to the Palestinians one hundred percent of the territories conquered in 1967.

The major settlement blocs amounting up to 5% of the area would be retained in “exchange” for equivalent territory agreed to by the Palestinians. Jerusalem would be divided with its holy sites being administered by all three faiths. The Peres plan also proposed that the Palestinian flag would fly over the Temple Mount. Read more ..


Sephardic News

Herzl's Sephardic Connection Revealed

August 14th 2007

World Citizens - Shelomo Alfassa headshot
Shelomo Alfassa

Over the many centuries, while the Jewish people were exiled from Eres Yisrael (the land of Israel), Jerusalem, Safed, Hevron and other holy cities, retained a sparse Jewish population, fed by a small but constant stream of pilgrims. A cursory examination of Jewish personalities demonstrates that Sephardim took it upon themselves to migrate to and fortify Eres Yisrael, driven by a sense of historic yearning for their ancestral home. Centuries later, Sephardim continued to not only settle in the land, but were key players in its modern development, although this fact has, regrettably, been often eclipsed in the historical narrative.

Few documents and small bits of history exist on Jewish national liberation and the development of Eres Yisrael, and how the country came to be with assistance and nurturing offered by Sephardic Jews. It is with tremendous ignominy that the Sephardim have been almost completely marginalized in the modern Zionist record of history. Whether they came from Spain, North Africa or the Middle East, what is fact and needs to be remembered is that Sephardim played a considerable role in the State’s origins and modern fruition. Through out their centuries in the Diaspora, Sephardim developed and devoted a sense of philosophical and spiritual nationalism that prepared the foundation for which modem Zionism stood on, and the resulting fruit which is the return of the Jewish people to their land. Read more ..


Ethnic Clashing

Congressional face off on Armenian Genocide Means Taking Sides with Horror

August 12th 2007

World Scenes - Armenian Genocide1 Bodies
Armenian genocide victims

Los Angeles–The Armenian Genocide debate pits moral values against realpolitik. For Jews, who know the horrors of genocide only too well it may be time to take sides?

The Turkish ambassador to the United States, Nabi Sensoy, dropped in at The Jewish Journal recently for an hourlong conversation with its editors. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of the Armenian Church of North America recently stood on the bimah of Valley Beth Shalom, hugged its rabbi and called the occasion a turning point in Armenian-Jewish relations.

All the attention is flattering, but its underlying cause confronts the Jewish community with choices that — perhaps oversimplified — pits its moral values and sympathies against the realpolitik of American and Israeli policymakers.

At the root of the split is a wound that has been festering since 1915, when Muslim Turkey and its Ottoman Empire were fighting Russia, France and Britain during World War I. Charging that the Christian Armenian minority in eastern Turkey was collaborating with the invading Russians, Turkey deported, starved and brutalized much of its Armenian population.

According to the Armenians, backed by predominant historical analysis, between 1915 and 1923, Turkey killed 1.5 million Armenian civilians in a planned genocide. Turkey maintains that some 300,000 Armenians died, but that an equal number of Turks perished, and that both sides were victims of chaotic wartime conditions, disease and famine, not a predetermined extermination.

Turks refer to the wartime slaughter by the Arabic word mukapele, which Sensoy translated during a phone interview as “mutual massacre.” Read more ..


Middle East

Jewish Refugees From Arab Counties Forgotten Essential any Peace

August 12th 2007

Expelled Jews from Arab countries
Expelled Jews from Arab countries fly
to Israel circa 1950. ISRAEL GPO

Why, after more than 55 years, would 40 delegates, representing 20 countries on four continents, launch an International Rights and Redress Campaign on behalf of Jewish refugees from Arab countries? And why has the government of Israel announced new funding for a campaign to register minute details of events that occurred over a half a century ago? Because no Middle East peace can be reached without recognition of, and redress for, the uprooting of centuries-old Jewish communities by Islamic regimes hostile to the State of Israel. Read more ..

Genetically Modified Food

Unmasking the FDA's Policy on Cloned Food

August 12th 2007

Science - Mouse in Beaker

The FDA is still considering whether to allow meat and milk from cloned animals into America’s food chain, without so much as a warning label. Polls show that Americans oppose cloned foods 3 to 1, and the livestock and dairy industries have repeatedly said that cloned hotdogs and milkshakes make little business sense. Neverthless, the push for cloned livestock has been insistent for years.

In 2003, approval was said to be six months away; that didn’t happen, presumably because of fears of public outrage, but the public relations campaign continued. At the very end of 2006, a long-awaited draft “Risk Assessment” was published, inspiring a flurry of ill-informed puff pieces intended to legitimize the technology. That failed: the FDA received over 100,000 public comments, overwhelmingly opposed to food from cloned animals.

Officials then paused to consider their final decision. Some reports say that FDA approval will come later this year. Others suggest that it may take two years. The mainstream media seems to accept that it’s only a matter of time, no matter what the public wants – and no matter what the real scientific evidence is.

A scathing report by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) exposed embarrassing if not crippling inadequacies in the data the FDA used to suggest that cloned food is safe. The CFS report showed there are no peer-reviewed safety studies on meat from cloned cows, pigs or goats, and only three inconclusive ones on milk; this suggests further study, not immediate approval. Even before that, the National Academies of Science – the government’s science advisors – articulated concerns that the processes for assessing cloned food safety are currently not up to par. Read more ..


Human Rights

An Olympian Challenge in China

August 11th 2007

World Scenes - Olympic torch
Yao Ming with the olympic torch

The world was riveted by the photograph of a young man facing down a caravan of tanks on Tiananmen Square in June, 1989.
If people were unaware of human rights violations until then, this vivid illustration of protest left no doubt. The unknown “Tank Man” became an everlasting symbol of resistance to tyranny.

With the Beijing Olympics (“One World, One Dream”) less than a year away, attention once again focuses on The People’s Republic. Now that China ranks as chief trading partner of the US, fifth largest of Canada and crucial to the economy of many other nations, it is becoming more difficult for outsiders to remain ostriches about the Human Rights issue.

Stories abound of religious oppression, slave labor, harvesting organs of political prisoners, implementation of the one child policy through forced abortion, capital punishment for minor crimes, incarceration of journalists and political dissidents. Like the weather, everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. Well, not exactly nobody.

Tibet is a prominent human rights issue. Students for a Free Tibet, who recently unfurled a banner saying “Free Tibet” at the Great Wall, were expelled from China and received wide press coverage. The exiled Dalai Lama is a tour de force of publicity for the Tibetan issue.

The Chinese attempt to do away with Tibetan feudalism has resulted in a form of cultural genocide. Violence is not the only tool used to accomplish this end. The recent construction of a railway from Beijing to Lhasa encourages Han Chinese, the ethnic majority, to migrate to Tibet where they are given priority in employment and housing. Tibetans have become a minority in their own land, allegedly forbidden to be taught in their language and paying more for education than their Chinese “invaders.” Concern that the railway will be instrumental in ecological destruction weighs heavily on environmentalists. Read more ..


Palestine and Israel

Palestine Not Ready for Statehood

August 10th 2007

World Citizens - Micah Halpern headshot
Micah Halpern

The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But not now, not yet.

Why? Because the Palestinians have not yet adequately proven themselves ready for total self-government. At least, not democratic self-government. The Palestinians have been in control of their own destiny for a significant chunk of time. And each time they are faced with a pivotal challenge, they fail to rise up to that challenge. And each failure is then blamed on Israel.

The election of Hamas to power, for example, was a challenge to the concept of democracy. And the result was a miserable failure of democracy and a return to anarchy. The decision to arrest terrorists is another example of a challenge the Palestinians faced and failed. The result was the decision not to make arrests by circumventing the issue and calling the gun-toting, saber rattling, Qassam throwing brigades not terrorists, but resistance fighters. Everyone speaks of normalization, but these actions should never be termed normal. These actions are an ab-normalization of the situation and they are an abomination.

Before they can become a democratic state, the Palestinians must be ready, willing and most crucially, able, to make changes in attitudes and in behaviors. Democracy is more than a system of self-government. Democracy is about respect. Respect for law and for laws. Respect for religious and cultural minorities. Respect for education.

Neither Palestinian leadership nor the Palestinian people have grasped the true essence of democracy. They have no understanding of the concept of freedom. They do not yet understand that democracy and freedom are co-joined, that democracy without freedom is dictatorship, that freedom without democracy is anarchy.

Striving for democracy is an admirable goal. Freedom is an inalienable right. But they come with a price - responsibility. Until Palestinian leadership is willing to accept that responsibility, the people will continue to live under an umbrella of violence, poverty and uncertainty. Read more ..


Global Jihad

Islam's Divide--and Us

August 9th 2007

Islamic Topics - Palestinian Rally
PLO masked marchers

The attacks of 9/11 generated a tide of commentary on the origins and aims of anti-Western jihadism. Lately, however, events have shifted attention to another, more long-standing feature of the Muslim world raising the question of whether Islamic militancy against the West is now of lesser geopolitical significance than a stark, increasingly salient divide within Islam itself–the ancient divide, that is, between the numerically dominant Sunnis and a Shiite minority that is finally coming into its own.

In this, the prime exhibit is Iraq. Since the country changed hands from a Sunni dictatorship to a Shiite-controlled government, the conflict there, at first slowly but then with growing intensity, has at least in part taken on the appearance of a war between two sects. Every week brings gruesome suicide attacks on Shiites by Sunni terrorists, attacks answered in kind by Shiite militias and death squads. Iraqis have been dragged from their cars and killed merely for being Sunni or Shiite. Whole neighborhoods of Baghdad have been emptied of one sect or the other. Mortar attacks have been launched from cemeteries and shrines, and the holiest of mosques have been bombed and torched by putative co-religionists. Read more ..


Green is Gold

New Mexico Mandates Renewable Utilities

August 9th 2007

Energy / Environment - OK Turbine

Among America’s leading energy producers in the 20th century, New Mexico now is poised to become a powerhouse in the rapidly evolving clean-energy economy of the 21st century. A new law taking effect next month promises to help New Mexicans quite literally tower over the competition as states scramble to cash in on the burgeoning market for cleaner and more predictably priced power.

The state has enacted a combination of innovative tax incentives and ambitious standards designed to make the most of New Mexico’s abundant renewable energy resources— wind, solar and biomass— and encourage new ways to make traditional energy sources cleaner and reduce the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gases they produce.

Tax credits make investment in commercial-scale renewable energy technologies more attractive. Stronger “Renewable Portfolio Standards” embraced by the Legislature— requiring major utilities to produce 15 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020— make those investments necessary. Read more ..


Palestine and Israel

Stop Appeasing Abu Mazan

August 8th 2007

World Citizens - Isi Leibler headshot
Isi Leibler

As events unfold in the wake of the Hamas Gaza takeover, there is a sense of deja vu. Despite the bloody consequences, Israel does not seem not to have learned any lessons from the bitter past.

Israel’s leaders mindlessly repeat drivel about Mahmoud Abbas being a man of peace and moderation. For his part, Abbas speaks with a forked tongue, heads a corrupt terrorist organization which is on the edge of unraveling.

Does our government believe that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades have become peaceful? That the PA-administered schools have ceased brainwashing children to become martyrs? That Abbas no longer sanctifies suicide bombers and ceases to pay pensions to their families?

President George W. Bush may be obliged to refer to Abbas as a “peace partner,” but must the prime minister of Israel be party to such a charade? More importantly, without receiving even a hint of assurance for the future, Israel has resumed paying the PA taxes and funds denied since the Hamas takeover.

Moreover, Israel is being urged to remove checkpoints to provide greater Palestinian freedom of movement inside the West Bank, despite Israel Defense Forces protestations that this will endanger Israelis.

And, if that were not enough, Israel and the West are now contemplating providing Abbas with additional weapons, including armored cars, despite knowing that arms previously provided to the Palestinians were ultimately employed to murder Israelis. Indeed only a few months ago, Abbas was appealing to Hamas to stop directing their weapons against fellow Palestinians and unite with Fatah against the Israelis.

To top this insanity, the PA announced that Abbas’s Aksa Brigades - which murdered more Israelis than Hamas and remains adamantly committed to promoting terrorism - will be absorbed into the Palestinian police force, which is already, per capita, the largest in the world. Read more ..


Book Review

History of Tycoons Requires Time Investment

August 8th 2007

Book Covers - The Last Tycoons Book Cover

William D. Cohan. The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co., The World’s Most Elite and Enigmatic Investment Bank. April 2008, Broadway. 752 pages.

Though well researched and authoritative, this history of the Lazard Frères’ investment firm may not be of interest to those not involved with the firm.

Corporate histories and exposés are dicey things. Even when the subject is fairly familiar, there still needs to be a compelling narrative with good guys, bad guys and enough revelations to keep things interesting. And if you are an insider, ex-employee, client or are otherwise well acquainted with the company being profiled, you are bound to be more interested and aware than other readers.

For example, I once shared a book on the Coca-Cola Co. with a manager who formerly worked for the firm. He later reported that he’d enjoyed it but that its picture of the organization was quite incomplete.

No kidding!

A book providing a complete and detailed portrait of any company would have to be so huge that it would be unwieldy and so detailed that it would be virtually unreadable, making it unlikely to be widely read and to attain popular success.

The Last Tycoons comes close, which is not necessarily a good thing for all concerned.

Author William Cohan worked at the Wall Street firm of Lazard Frères for six years and was later a managing director at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and an investigative journalist. In writing this book, which has been promoted as the first full look at the firm, a major financial powerhouse, he brings his ample professional accomplishments in both fields to bear. Read more ..


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