Archives for November 2011

Occupy 2012

John Heilemann writes: In just two months of existence, OWS had scored plenty of victories: spreading from New York to more than 900 cities worldwide; introducing to the vernacular a potent catchphrase, “We are the 99 percent”; injecting into the national conversation the topic of income inequality. But OWS had also suffered setbacks. The less savory aspects of the occupations had provided the right with fuel for feral slander (Drudge: “Death, Disease Plague ‘Occupy’ Protests”) and casual caricature. Even among some protesters, there was a sense that stagnation had set in. Then came the Zuccotti clampdown—and the popular perception that it meant the end of OWS.

It’s perfectly possible that this perception will be borne out, that the raucous events of November 17 were the last gasps of a rigor-mortizing rebellion. But no one seriously involved in OWS buys a word of it. What they believe instead is that, after a brief period of retrenchment, the protests will be back even bigger and with a vengeance in the spring—when, with the unfurling of the presidential election, the whole world will be watching. Among Occupy’s organizers, there is fervid talk about occupying both the Democratic and Republican conventions. About occupying the National Mall in Washington, D.C. About, in effect, transforming 2012 into 1968 redux.

The people plotting these maneuvers are the leaders of OWS. Now, you may have heard that Occupy is a leaderless ­uprising. Its participants, and even the leaders themselves, are at pains to make this claim. But having spent the past month immersed in their world, I can report that a cadre of prime movers—strategists, tacticians, and logisticians; media gurus, technologists, and grand theorists—has emerged as essential to guiding OWS. For some, Occupy is an extension of years of activism; for others, their first insurrectionist rodeo. But they are now united by a single purpose: turning OWS from a brief shining moment into a bona fide movement.

That none of these people has yet become the face of OWS—its Tom Hayden or Mark Rudd, its Stokely Carmichael or H. Rap Brown—owes something to its newness. But it is also due to the way that Occupy operates. Since the sixties, starting with the backlash within the New Left against those same celebrities, the political counterculture has been ruled by loosey-goosey, bottom-up organizational precepts: horizontal and decentralized structures, an antipathy to hierarchy, a fetish for consensus. And this is true in spades of OWS. In such an environment, formal claims to leadership are invariably and forcefully rejected, leaving the processes for accomplishing anything in a state of near chaos, while at the same time opening the door to (indeed compelling) ad hoc reins-taking by those with the force of personality to gain ratification for their ideas about how to proceed. “In reality,” says Yotam Marom, one of the key OWS organizers, “movements like this are most conducive to being led by people already most conditioned to lead.”

And so in coffee shops and borrowed conference rooms around the city, far from the sound and fury in the park and on the streets, the prime movers have been doing just that—meeting, planning, talking (and talking) about the future of OWS. The debates between them have been fierce. Tensions have been laid bare, factions fomented, and ideological cleavages exposed—all of it a familiar recapitulation of the growing pains experienced by protesters of the past, from those in favor of civil rights and against the Vietnam War in the sixties to those fighting for workers’ rights in the thirties.


Senate bill grants power to imprison Americans indefinitely without trial

The New York Times reports: Defying the Obama administration’s threat of a veto, the Senate on Tuesday voted to increase the role of the military in imprisoning suspected members of Al Qaeda and its allies — including people arrested inside the United States.

By a vote of 61 to 37, the Senate turned back an effort to strip a major military bill of a set of disputed provisions affecting the handling of terrorism cases. While the legislation still has several steps to go, the vote makes it likely that Congress will eventually send to President Obama’s desk a bill that contains detainee-related provisions his national-security team has said are unacceptable.

The most disputed provision would require the government to place into military custody any suspected member of Al Qaeda or one of its allies connected to a plot against the United States or its allies. The provision would exempt American citizens, but would otherwise extend to arrests on United States soil. The executive branch could issue a waiver and keep such a prisoner in the civilian system.

A related provision would create a federal statute saying the government has the legal authority to keep people suspected of terrorism in military custody, indefinitely and without trial. It contains no exception for American citizens.


Inside Story: Are Egypt’s lines of control being re-drawn?


The transformation of Tripoli

The New York Times reports: Tripoli is no longer the capital of a police state. But what it has become, in just a matter of weeks, can be both exhilarating and disturbing.

Hashish dealers are openly hawking their wares in the center of the city, Martyrs’ Square, known as Green Square before Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was overthrown. Drivers run red lights without giving it a thought, while political demonstrations snarl traffic. Irregular militia members who have replaced the hated Tripoli police in many neighborhoods are still showing poor discipline with their weapons, firing them accidentally or into the air all too frequently.

Tripoli is a vibrant city of nearly two million people with a bustling port, and it is graced by Roman ruins and old fortification walls built by the Ottomans and other conquerors. But while it has gone through other abrupt changes over the centuries, what is happening these days was unthinkable only weeks ago when Colonel Qaddafi tried to control even the smallest details of daily life.

Tinted windows were prohibited on cars; now, drivers everywhere are pasting dark green tinted plastic on their windows to keep out the searing sun but also as a sign of their new liberty. Fruit and vegetable vendors were restricted from selling their wares on most streets; now, throngs of them are out selling bananas and oranges beneath highway overpasses and on the sides of traffic circles, helping them feed their families but also worsening congestion.

English was largely prohibited from public signs by Colonel Qaddafi. Now, English signs have sprung up almost everywhere around town, even though few Libyans understand what they say. The signs are another expression of liberation, as well as the country’s readiness to open itself to the outer world.

“Today, Tripoli Has a New Heartbeat,” says one billboard displaying two militiamen hugging, put up by the interim municipal government. Even much of the revolutionary graffiti, which is everywhere, is in English. “Libya Free” is the most common. Some even say “Thank you, NATO” for the Western military assistance that was crucial to overthrowing the old government.

And, of course, there are numerous freshly scrawled depictions of the late dictator in a clown outfit or as a caricatured head on top of the body of one kind of beast or another.

Most Tripoli residents say that they have never been happier, but there is still some trepidation.


Turkey imposes sanctions on Syria

The Washington Post reports: Turkey announced wide-ranging sanctions against Syria on Wednesday in response to the Syrian government’s continuing military crackdown on protests.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu outlined measures including a freeze on Syrian assets in Turkey and a ban on transactions with the Syrian central bank, capping an eight-day stretch in which Turkish rhetoric against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turned increasingly critical.

The sanctions by Turkey, one of Syria’s top trading partners, come as the Arab League and the European Union are enacting their own punitive measures — a triple blow that highlights the growing isolation of the Damascus government and that could significantly hurt Syria’s economy.

In Washington, the White House commended the Turkish government for imposing the sanctions, which it said will “undoubtedly increase the pressure on the Syrian regime.”


Britain expels Iranian diplomats and closes Tehran embassy

The Guardian reports: The foreign secretary, William Hague, has ordered the expulsion of Iranian diplomats from the UK and announced that the UK is closing its embassy in Tehran, saying that the storming of the mission on Tuesday had the backing of the regime.

Hague said Iranian diplomats would have to leave Britain within 48 hours, and that all British embassy staff in Tehran had now left Iran.

He said that the move would not mean the severance of all ties, as the two countries could continue to have a dialogue at international meetings, as the US has done since the seizure and closure of its embassy in 1979, but the move marks a new low in relations, which have been growing increasingly strained.

The foreign secretary said it was not possible to maintain an embassy in the current circumstances, adding that the estimated 200 protesters who invaded the embassy and the British diplomatic compound yesterday were “student basij militia”. The basiji operate as a youth wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, one of the most powerful institutions in the country.

Hague said it would be “fanciful” to think that the embassy invasion could have taken place without “without some degree of regime consent”.


The federal judge who kicked the SEC out of bed with the banks

Matt Taibbi writes: In one of the more severe judicial ass-whippings you’ll ever see, federal Judge Jed Rakoff rejected a slap-on-the-wrist fraud settlement the SEC had cooked up for Citigroup.

I wrote about this story a few weeks back when Rakoff sent signals that he was unhappy with the SEC’s dirty deal with Citi, but yesterday he took this story several steps further.

Rakoff’s 15-page final ruling read like a political document, serving not just as a rejection of this one deal but as a broad and unequivocal indictment of the regulatory system as a whole. He particularly targeted the SEC’s longstanding practice of greenlighting relatively minor fines and financial settlements alongside de facto waivers of civil liability for the guilty – banks commit fraud and pay small fines, but in the end the SEC allows them to walk away without admitting to criminal wrongdoing.

This practice is a legal absurdity for several reasons. By accepting hundred-million-dollar fines without a full public venting of the facts, the SEC is leveling seemingly significant punishments without telling the public what the defendant is being punished for. This has essentially created a parallel or secret criminal justice system, in which both crime and punishment are adjudicated behind closed doors.

This system allows for ugly consequences in both directions. Imagine if normal criminal defendants were treated this way. Say a prosecutor and street criminal combe into a judge’s chamber and explain they’ve cooked up a deal, that the criminal doesn’t have to admit to anything or plead to any crime, but has to spend 18 months in house arrest nonetheless.

What sane judge would sign off on a deal like that without knowing exactly what the facts are? Did the criminal shoot up a nightclub and paralyze someone, or did he just sell a dimebag on the street? Is 18 months a tough sentence or a slap on the wrist? And how is it legally possible for someone to deserve an 18-month sentence without being guilty of anything?

Such deals are logical and legal absurdities, but judges have been signing off on settlements like this with Wall Street defendants for years.

Judge Rakoff blew a big hole in that practice yesterday. His ruling says secret justice is not justice, and that the government cannot hand out punishments without telling the public what the punishments are for. He wrote:

Finally, in any case like this that touches on the transparency of financial markets whose gyrations have so depressed our economy and debilitated our lives, there is an overriding public interest in knowing the truth. In much of the world, propaganda reigns, and truth is confined to secretive, fearful whispers. Even in our nation, apologists for suppressing or obscuring the truth may always be found. But the S.E.C., of all agencies, has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges; and if it fails to do so, this Court must not, in the name of deference or convenience, grant judicial enforcement to the agency's contrivances.

Notice the reference to how things are “in much of the world,” a subtle hint that the idea behind this ruling is to prevent a slide into third-world-style justice.


Wall Street is already occupied

Jesse Eisinger writes: Last week, I had a conversation with a man who runs his own trading firm. In the process of fuming about competition from Goldman Sachs, he said with resignation and exasperation: “The fact that they were bailed out and can borrow for free — It’s pretty sickening.”

Though the sentiment is commonplace these days, I later found myself thinking about his outrage. Here was someone who is in the thick of the business, trading every day, and he is being sickened by the inequities and corruption on Wall Street and utterly persuaded that nothing had changed in the years since the financial crisis of 2008.

Then I realized something odd: I have conversations like this as a matter of routine. I can’t go a week without speaking to a hedge fund manager or analyst or even a banker who registers somewhere on the Wall Street Derangement Scale.

That should be a great relief: Some of them are just like us! Just because you are deranged doesn’t mean you are irrational, after all. Wall Street is already occupied — from within.

The insiders have a critique similar to that of the outsiders. The financial industry has strayed far from being an intermediary between companies that want to raise capital so they can sell people things they want. Instead, it is a machine to enrich itself, fleecing customers and exacerbating inequality. When it goes off the rails, it impoverishes the rest of us. When the crises come, as they inevitably do, banks hold the economy hostage, warning that they will shoot us in the head if we don’t bail them out.


‘We are Egypt’ — The story behind the revolution

A Documentary project in Cairo, Egypt by Lillie Paquette: Months before the momentous uprising in Egypt, many talked of a revolution – but no one knew when that day would come.

What we see in the 75 minute film are the highs and lows of the passionate leaders who toiled for years before seeing success from their sacrifice. It is an account of their struggle against extraordinary odds to remove an uncompromising authoritarian regime determined to stay in power.

“We Are Egypt” is the story behind the story of the Arab Spring.

This documentary goes beyond the headlines and highlights years of mounting political resentment against the ruling regime. The film follows the efforts of democracy activists and the political opposition as they used Facebook and Twitter to organize and express themselves in increasingly outspoken ways, even at great personal risk.


When Mubarak was ousted in early 2010, filmmaker Lillie Paquette began receiving invitations from universities across the US to screen a draft of the film, which has gained wide acclaim as the “backstory” to the Egyptian Revolution.

“To most of the world, the protests in Egypt looked like a spontaneous uprising. But according to filmmaker Lillie Paquette, it was actually the culmination of years of methodical organizing. We meet her and get a behind-the-scenes view of the buildup to a revolution.”The Current, CBC

The film has been screened, in some cases multiple times at various universities including: George Washington, NYU, Columbia, Harvard, Northeastern, Tufts, Yale, Stanford, Virginia Tech, UMASS Lowell, and Georgetown. It has also been screened at various community centers and at the 2011 Boston Palestine Film Festival.

Audience response and participation has been outstanding, and Paquette has reworked the draft to include valuable suggestions for improvement and understanding by students, professors, filmmakers, authors, activists, journalists, and policy-makers.

“Not only has Paquette interviewed practically everybody who matters (no small feat), she does so in a way that communicates their personalities, their hopes, and their not insignificant senses of humor. … ‘We Are Egypt’ is not just a film about the raw materials of revolution, it is a film about the soul of a long suffering country yearning to throw off the yoke of an aging autocrat and take its place among democratic nations.” Professor Tarek Masoud, Harvard University


Paquette is now seeking financial contributions for post-production and distribution from individuals who have watched and shared their suggestions, as well as from others who look forward to seeing this film out there for a wider audience.

The plan is to make “We are Egypt” ready for global distribution by mid-January 2012 in order to help mark the one-year anniversary since the Egyptian Revolution, which began on January 25, 2011.

The timing of this film’s release is important for Egyptians and global communities alike.

For Egyptian citizens striving to rebuild their country and keep the Revolution alive, “We are Egypt” will help remind them of the steps that brought them to where they are now, which may serve as an encouragement to keep forging ahead in facing and overcoming new challenges on their path to democratic reform in Egypt.

The film will also be valuable for global communities who watched the Egyptian Revolution unfold in the news with bated breath. It will show how the events in January and February 2011 came as a result of years of activism and struggle against the regime.

The story also explores the history of U.S.-Egypt relations and why the U.S. has provided more than 30 years of political, economic, and military support to the dictatorship. It examines the more recent U.S. democracy promotion agenda for the Middle East, and addresses what the implications for the undergoing political changes in Egypt are for U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East region.

“We are Egypt” is a valuable history piece, and will be especially significant as communities worldwide join Egyptian citizens in celebrating the first anniversary since the toppling of their dictator and the ensuing “Arab Spring.”

This film is a reminder of the immense struggle that led to these moments in history. It is a reminder of the challenges still facing Egyptian people today.


Israeli gov’t warns Israelis in U.S. not to marry Americans but come home

Philip Weiss found this: an Israeli government advertising campaign that’s sure to alienate a lot of American Jews.

The series of ads includes one that shows the look of dread on the faces of Israeli grandparents when they hear their grand daughter say she’ll be celebrating Christmas. I happen to live in a part of the U.S. where “We still celebrate Christmas” is a popular bumper sticker. No doubt the people who want to send out that message feel threatened by separation of Church and State and also the cultural threat they perceive from secularization. But I also imagine a lot of them would call themselves Christian Zionists, so I wonder how they’d react to the Israeli government portraying Christmas celebrations as a threat to Zionism.

Wow this is great reporting at the Jewish Channel. They focus on the ad campaign sponsored by the Israeli gov’t (which we mentioned last week) which is aimed at getting back all the Israelis who have moved to the United States–as many as 2 million!

Watch the ads from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, between :25 and 2:40 — they’re cute, mostly, and in Hebrew, so I’m counting on the Jewish Channel’s translation. In one a dad doesn’t wake up when is son says Daddy over and over again, then he does wake up when the kid says “Abba.” The Israeli gov’t’s message: “They will always remain Israelis. Their children will not. Help them to return to Israel.”

Then there’s another one in which Israeli grandparents’ faces fall when their grandchild says on Skype that she’s celebrating Christmas.

The third ad is the craziest/most interesting. It suggests, says the Jewish Channel’s anchor, that “marrying American Jews could make Israelis lose their sense of identity.”

Some of the commenters at Mondoweiss say TJC gets the interpretation wrong for the third video and say the message from Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption points to the threat to Israeli identity posed by non-Jews. Weiss thus hedges on that point by saying “Americans” in the headline.

Here are the videos whose message is fairly self evident even for those of us who don’t understand Hebrew. In the viewer comments under the dangers-of-marriage video, someone wrote (and this is just a paraphrase): American Jews need to be aware that in Israel, the Jewish connection only goes so far.

It appears that the Israeli ministry is busy keeping the comment threads “clean” since that particular comment has been removed.


A family’s billions, artfully sheltered

The New York Times reports: As he stood in the opulent marble foyer of a Fifth Avenue mansion late last month, greeting the coterie of prominent guests arriving at his private art gallery, Ronald S. Lauder was doing more than just being a gracious host.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Neue Galerie, Mr. Lauder’s museum of Austrian and German art, he exhibited many of the treasures of a personal collection valued at more than $1 billion, including works by Van Gogh, Cézanne and Matisse, and a Klimt portrait he bought five years ago for $135 million.

Yet for Mr. Lauder, an heir to the Estée Lauder fortune whose net worth is estimated at more than $3.1 billion, the evening went beyond social and cultural significance. As is often the case with his activities, just beneath the surface was a shrewd use of the United States tax code. By donating his art to his private foundation, Mr. Lauder has qualified for deductions worth tens of millions of dollars in federal income taxes over the years, savings that help defray the hundreds of millions he has spent creating one of New York City’s cultural gems.

The charitable deductions generated by Mr. Lauder — whose donations have aided causes as varied as hospitals and efforts to rebuild Jewish identity in Eastern Europe — are just one facet of a sophisticated tax strategy used to preserve a fortune that Forbes magazine says makes him the world’s 362nd wealthiest person. From offshore havens to a tax-sheltering stock deal so audacious that Congress later enacted a law forbidding the tactic, Mr. Lauder has for decades aggressively taken advantage of tax breaks that are useful only for the most affluent.

The debate over whether to reduce tax shelters and preferences for the rich is one of the most volatile in Washington and will move to the presidential campaign, now that repeated attempts in Congress to strike a grand bargain over spending cuts and an overhaul of the tax code have failed.

There’s an interesting backstory to this article. Charles Finch notes that since the Lauder group of companies are among the most lucrative of the New York Times‘ advertisers, “endangering this cosmetic revenue stream seems suicidal at best.” But Finch goes on to note the fiercely competitive relationship between the Lauder brothers, Ronald and Leonard (both collectors of Klimt), and writes:

[T]o ascertain, perhaps, what is really going on, one must go back to the book of Genesis, specifically to the tale of Cain and Abel. There has always been a presumptive sense of art-collecting museo-competition between the czar of MoMA, Ron, and the head of the inferior Whitney Museum, Leonard. Ron has always won this battle convincingly, in spite of the fact that he has been (as copiously detailed in the Times article) a dilettante, while older brother Leonard has run the family business.

Additionally, Leonard’s deceased bride Evelyn was a major hands-on executive and new product innovator in the Lauder cream stream. So let’s look deeper into the Times‘ expose. First, Ron’s position as CEO of Clinique is characterized as a sinecure and his business skills, relative to the company, as nonexistent.

Elements of Ron’s checkered career, especially his short and troubled stint as Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to Vienna and his multimillion-dollar run for NYC mayor, are elucidated. And who do you think the Lauder relatives were who lent all their company stock to Ronald for tax avoidance purposes? The Leonard Lauder family.

To conclude, dear readers, who would be the only source kosher enough to green light the Times expose of Ronald Lauder’s tax strategies, while keeping the paper’s relationship with Estée Lauder safe and enjoying a little fraternal revenge under a cloud of personal grief? Leonard Lauder, of course!


World on track for nearly 11-degree temperature rise, energy expert says

The Washington Post reports: The chief economist for the International Energy Agency said Monday that current global energy consumption levels put the Earth on a trajectory to warm by 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by 2100, an outcome he called “a catastrophe for all of us.”

Fatih Birol [PDF] spoke as as delegates from nearly 200 countries convened the opening day of annual U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

International climate negotiators have pledged to keep the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels. The Earth has already warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius, or 1.4 Fahrenheit, so far, according to climate scientists.

According to the IEA’s most recent analysis, heat-trapping emissions from the world’s energy infrastructure will lead to a 2-degree Celsius increase in the Earth’s temperature that, as more capacity is added to the system, will climb to 6 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100.

Unless there is a shift away from some of the fossil fuel energy now used for electricity generation and transportation, Birol said, “the world is perfectly on track for a six-degree Celsius increase in temperature.

“Everybody, even the schoolchildren, knows this is a catastrophe for all of us,” he said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


Hank Paulson’s inside jobs

Felix Salmon writes: What on earth did Hank Paulson think his job was in the summer of 2008? As far as most of us were concerned, he was secretary of the US Treasury, answerable to the US people and to the president. But at the same time, in secret meetings, Paulson was hanging out with his old Goldman Sachs buddies, giving them invaluable information about what he was thinking in his new job.

The first news of this behavior came in October 2009, when Andrew Ross Sorkin revealed that Paulson had met with the entire board of Goldman Sachs in a Moscow hotel suite for an hour at the end of June 2008. He told them his views of the US and global economies, he previewed a market-moving speech he was about to give, and he even talked about the possibility that Lehman Brothers might blow up. Maybe it’s not so surprising that Goldman Sachs turned out to be so well positioned when Lehman did indeed do just that a few months later.

Today we learn that the Goldman meeting in Moscow was not some kind of aberration. A few weeks later, on July 28 2008, Paulson met with a who’s who of the hedge-fund world in the headquarters of Eton Park Capital Management — a fund founded by former Goldman superstar Eric Mindich.


Funds and refiners ponder oil Armageddon, war on Iran

Reuters reports: Oil consuming nations, hedge funds and big oil refineries are quietly preparing for a Doomsday scenario: An attack on Iran that would halt oil supplies from OPEC’s second-largest producer.

Most political analysts and oil traders say the probability of military action is low, but they caution the risks of such an event have risen as the West and Israel grow increasingly alarmed by signs that Tehran is building nuclear weapons.

That has Chinese refiners drawing up new contingency plans, hedge funds taking out options on $170 crude, and energy experts scrambling to determine how a disruption in Iran’s oil supply — however remote the possibility — would impact world markets.

With production of about 3.5 million barrels per day, Iran supplies 2.5 percent of the world’s oil.

“I think the market has paid too little attention to the possibility of an attack on Iran. It’s still an unlikely event, but more likely than oil traders have been expecting,” says Bob McNally, once a White House energy advisor and now head of consultancy Rapidan Group.

Rising tensions were clear this week as Iranian protesters stormed two British diplomatic missions in Tehran in response to sanctions, smashing windows and burning the British flag.


Images show devastation at Iran base after blast

The New York Times reports: The large, deadly explosion at an Iran military base in Iran on Nov. 12, which Iranian authorities have called an accident that set back research work there by a few days, appears to have been far more devastating than their description suggested, according to an analysis of newly released commercial satellite images of the blast site.

The images reveal vast destruction and chaotic disarray across a sprawling complex composed of more than a dozen buildings and large structures.

The Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington, made the satellite images public Monday, along with an analysis of the damage. “It was pretty amazing to see that the entire facility was destroyed,” Paul Brannan, the report’s author, said Tuesday in an interview. “There were only a few buildings left standing.”

It was impossible to determine from the images whether the explosion had been a simple accident or an act of sabotage.

The force of the explosion was so great that it shook windows in many surrounding towns, according to Iranian news sites and witnesses quoted at the time. But no photographs of the blast damage were released by the Iranian government, which has become increasingly sensitive about its military capabilities as tensions escalate with the West over its missile and nuclear programs.

The base, set in an isolated patch of Iranian desert ringed by a security cordon, is about 30 miles west of Tehran and three miles west of the town of Bidganeh.

The explosion is already known to have killed 17 members of the armed forces, including a founder of the country’s missile program, Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, presided over a vast state funeral for General Moghaddam and 16 other members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps two days after the explosion. The showy memorial service underscored General Moghaddam’s importance.

Hassan Firouzabadi, the Iranian military chief of staff, said on Nov. 16 that the blast occurred while researchers were working on weapons capable of delivering Israel a “strong punch in the mouth.” He also said their research would result in only a “short-term delay of a few days.” But it was hard to reconcile his appraisal with the obliteration seen in the satellite image.


A new career for Mike Tyson?


Disappearing dissent: How Bahrain buried its revolution

Time magazine reports: Every dictator worth his epaulets knows that the best way to nip a revolution in the bud is to have his opponents “disappear.” No body to mourn, no martyrs raised, and of course the ever-useful plausible deniability. But in Bahrain, with its tightly packed population of 230,000 citizens living on a small sandy archipelago in the Persian Gulf, it is difficult to bury the bodies. People notice. So what’s an authoritarian government to do when the people rise up and protest the regime? Bury the evidence and pretend it never happened.

Pearl Roundabout was the locus of Bahrain’s anti-government protests last spring, the Bahraini answer to Egypt’s Tahrir Square. The roundabout, located at the intersection of several major roads leading to the capital’s major business centers, was crowned by a soaring white monument constructed in 1982 on the occasion of the third Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, which was held in Manama that year. The six convex arches, one for each of the council member nations, were topped by a giant pearl, symbol of the region’s maritime heritage. Before oil transformed the coast from sand spit to skyscrapers, the gulf was best known for its pearling industry.

But soon after the protests started on Feb. 14, the monument took on a new symbolism—defiance against a regime that had repeatedly failed to deliver on a decade old promises of reform and political freedoms. As in Tahrir, protestors set up a camp around the monument, and used the hexagonal fountain at its base as a stage for rallies. In the early hours of Feb. 17, security forces broke up the camp with a combination of rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition. Six people died and the Bahraini revolution was born. What started as a unified protest soon devolved into a ugly sectarian split; Bahrain’s Sunni minority rallied in support of the Sunni royal family, and Shias, who make up an estimated 70% of the population, lobbied for rights they said they had long been denied. Protestors started calling their movement the Lulu Revolution after the Arabic word for pearl.

A month later the government ordered the monument pulled down. Officials declared on state TV that it had been “violated” and “desecrated” by the protestors, and needed to be “cleansed.” But by then the symbolism had already taken on a life of its own. Nothing remains of the monument now, just a barren patch of land encircled by not one, but two, layers of fencing and guarded by armed soldiers. Nevertheless the nation remains divided. You are either “pro-roundabout,” meaning you want reform. Or “anti-roundabout,” meaning you prefer the status quo.

Even your choice of coffee is a declaration of allegiance: The Costa Coffee franchise, which is owned by an apolitical Shia businessman, is considered “pro-roundabout.” Starbucks’ franchise in Bahrain, owned by a presumably bemused Kuwaiti, is anti. Jassim Hussein Ali, a well-known member of the Shia opposition Wefaq party and, until the party resigned in protest last spring, a member of Parliament, was recently approached at his neighborhood Starbucks and told that he might be more comfortable at a Costa. “The guy made it sound like a joke, but the kind of joke that wasn’t really a joke,” he told me over coffee a few weeks later. We met, of course, at Costa.

Efforts to bury the revolution haven’t stopped with the destruction of monuments. The half-dinar, Bahrain’s highest value coin ($1.5), features the monument. It has completely disappeared from circulation. So quickly and so quietly that no one knew to retain any as mementos. “They were just gone one day,” says Fatima Haji. “It’s revenge. They [the government] want nothing that is a reminder of our protest.”


Night raids and death squads in Afghanistan

What’s the difference between the death squads being operated by the Haqqani network and the night raids by US Special Operations forces? Chances are that the Haqqanis know the names of a much higher percentage of their victims. That isn’t the only difference, but it’s significant. As far as the U.S. and its allies are concerned, any adult male who gets shot in the night by their forces gets counted as an insurgent.

The New York Times reports: As targeted killings have risen sharply across Afghanistan, American and Afghan officials believe that many are the work of counterintelligence units of the Haqqani militant network and Al Qaeda, charged with killing suspected informants and terrorizing the populace on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Military intelligence officials say that the units essentially act as death squads and that one of them, a large group known as the Khurasan that operates primarily in Pakistan’s tribal areas, has been responsible for at least 250 assassinations and public executions.

Another group, whose name is not known, works mainly in Afghanistan and may be responsible for at least 20 killings in Khost Province over the summer alone, including a mass beheading that came to light only after a video was found in the possession of a captured insurgent. The video shows 10 headless bodies evenly spaced along a paved road, while their heads sit nearby in a semicircle, their faces clearly visible.

It is another indication that the Haqqanis, a mostly Pakistan-based faction, remain the most dangerous part of an insurgency that makes full use of a porous and often ill-defined border, as the NATO strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers over the weekend showed.

Though the circumstances of that strike remain murky, it has now further upset relations between Pakistan and the United States, even as it once again demonstrated how havens inside Pakistan remained a critical part of the insurgent strategy.

The Americans have geared their offensive around bloodying the insurgents as they enter Afghanistan. But the new wave of assassinations shows that, even as NATO portrays the insurgents as a weakening force, the Haqqanis can still assert their influence, not only with headline-grabbing bombings but also through intimidation and by controlling perceptions.

One chilling case attributed to the second death squad came after American forces captured the senior Afghanistan-based leader for the Haqqanis, Hajji Mali Khan, and killed his top deputy this summer. Just days later, the bodies of two men accused of helping the Americans turned up near the village where Mr. Khan was captured. Scalding iron rods had been shoved through their legs. One victim had been disemboweled, and both had been shot through the head and crushed by boulders. Fear shot through the entire village.

“You could hardly recognize them,” said a witness who viewed the bodies.

Across Afghanistan, assassinations have jumped 61 percent, to 131 reported killings, through the first nine months of this year, compared with the same period in 2010, according to NATO statistics. United Nations officials say they began noticing a sharp increase in 2010, with 462 assassinations according to their records, double the number from the previous year. The figures may not include many killings in remote areas, like the mass beheading, because fearful villagers never reported them.

Early this month, Gareth Porter wrote: U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) killed well over 1,500 civilians in night raids in less than 10 months in 2010 and early 2011, analysis of official statistics on the raids released by the U.S.-NATO command reveals.

That number would make U.S. night raids by far the largest cause of civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan. The report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on civilian casualties in 2010 had said the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) by insurgents was the leading cause of civilian deaths, with 904.

Except for a relatively few women and children killed by accident, the civilians who died in the raids were all adult males who were counted as insurgents in press releases and official data released by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The data on night raids, which were given to selected news media, cover three distinct 90-day night raid campaigns from May through July 2010, early August to early November, and mid-November to mid- February. The combined totals for the three periods indicate that a minimum of 2,599 rank and file insurgents were killed and an additional 723 “leaders” killed or captured in raids.

Assuming conservatively that one-third of the alleged leaders were killed, the total number of alleged insurgents killed in the raids was 2,844.

SOF night raids during the 10-month period totaled 6,282, according to the same ISAF data.

A third crucial statistic, repeated frequently by U.S and NATO officials in 2010 and 2011, is that shots were fired by SOF units in only 20 percent of night raids.

A U.S. military source who has been briefed on SOF operation confirmed to IPS what has been generally known among outside observers – that anytime shots are fired by SOF troops in a night raid, someone is killed.

If shots were fired in 20 percent of the 6,282 raids, it means that 2,844 were killed in 1,256 raids.

With very rare exceptions, night raids target only individuals rather than groups. They are carried out at night because they are aimed at catching the individual at home asleep and therefore taken completely by surprise.

Therefore, a minimum of 1,588 people (2,844 total killed minus the 1,256 targets in the lethal raids) were killed in the raids even though they weren’t targeted.