Archives for May 2013

Obama’s drone war is destroying tribal society

Akbar Ahmed writes: When people in Washington talk about shrinking the drone program, as President Obama promised to do last week, they are mostly concerned with placating Pakistan, where members of the newly elected government have vowed to end violations of the country’s sovereignty. But the drone war is alive and well in the remote corners of Pakistan where the strikes have caused the greatest and most lasting damage.

Drone strikes like Wednesday’s, in Waziristan, are destroying already weak tribal structures and throwing communities into disarray throughout Pakistan’s tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. The chaos and rage they produce endangers the Pakistani government and fuels anti-Americanism. And the damage isn’t limited to Pakistan. Similar destruction is occurring in other traditional tribal societies like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. The tribes on the periphery of these nations have long struggled for more autonomy from the central government, first under colonial rule and later against the modern state. The global war on terror has intensified that conflict.

These tribal societies are organized into clans defined by common descent; they maintain stability through similar structures of authority; and they have defined codes of honor revolving around hospitality to guests and revenge against enemies.

In recent decades, these societies have undergone huge disruptions as the traditional leadership has come under attack by violent groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia’s Al Shabab, not to mention full-scale military invasions. America has deployed drones into these power vacuums, causing ferocious backlashes against central governments while destroying any positive image of the United States that may have once existed.

American precision-guided missiles launched into Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal areas aim to eliminate what are called, with marvelous imprecision, the “bad guys.” Several decades ago I, too, faced the problem of catching a notorious “bad guy” in Waziristan.

It was 1979. Safar Khan, a Pashtun outlaw, had over the years terrorized the region with raids and kidnappings. He was always one step ahead of the law, disappearing into the undemarcated international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the very area where Osama bin Laden would later find shelter.

I was then the political agent of South Waziristan, a government administrator in charge of the area. When Mr. Khan kidnapped a Pakistani soldier, the commanding general threatened to launch military operations. I told him to hold off his troops, and took direct responsibility for Mr. Khan’s capture.

I mobilized tribal elders and religious leaders to persuade Mr. Khan to surrender, promising him a fair trial by jirga, a council of elders, according to tribal custom. Working through the Pashtun code of honor, Mr. Khan eventually surrendered unconditionally and the writ of the state was restored. [Continue reading…]


David Petraeus moves to Wall Street

Gawker: David Petraeus’ road to redemption has reached its gilded destination. As we first reported in April, the disgraced former CIA director will join Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, the private equity giant best known for “large debt-fueled corporate takeovers.”

How exactly does experience designing failed counter-insurgencies translate to an expertise in high finance? “As the world changes and we expand how and where we invest, we are always looking to sharpen the ‘KKR edge,’” cofounder and co-CEO Henry Kravis said of his new hire.

Petraeus will sharpen edges as chairman of the newly-formed KKR Global Institute, where his team will include Ken Mehlman, the former Bush campaign manager and onetime chairman of the Republican National Committee, who has been with KKR since 2008.

George Anders writes: Petraeus’s new job calls for him to get into the “thought leadership” business. As my colleague Halah Touryalai reports, his global institute is expected to address “macro-economic issues like the role of central banks in the world since the crisis, changes in public policy, and other areas where KKR has interests.”

In essence, KKR wants Petraeus, a former four-star general with a uniquely intellectual bent, to help establish the private-equity firm as a citadel of big-picture insights. That would be a welcome change for Kravis and Roberts, who doubtless have grown tired of endless allusions to “Barbarians at the Gate,” an archly titled account of KKR’s 1988 takeover battle for RJR Nabisco.

Blackstone has always had a bit of geopolitical cachet, thanks to founding partner Pete Peterson’s days as Commerce Secretary and his ongoing interest in fiscal policy and Social Security. Carlyle at one time had former President George H.W. Bush as an adviser, helping to buttress that firm’s image as deeply connected to the political realm. Now it’s KKR’s turn to try.

Such has become the nature of power in government: that “service to the nation” turns out to merely be a stepping stone to the advancement of self interest. Whatever Petraeus’ precise value to KKR turns out to be, he will be establishing himself within what has become a transnational system of governance in which representation is limited to the interests of shareholders and power can freely be exercised without democratic irritations like the need for accountability and transparency.

Right-wing nuts who arm themselves in fear of the creation of World Government don’t seem to have noticed that it’s already here — even if it’s more amorphous and less centrally organized than conspiracy theorists might imagine.


How secrecy structures power

Rosa Brooks writes: [C]lassified information is the currency of the realm inside the national security sausage-making machine. Increasingly, it’s the only way to be special.

You don’t have a security clearance? You’re no one. You have a secret-level clearance? I’m sorry, a top-secret clearance is required for you to be part of this meeting. You have a top-secret clearance? Regrettably, this document is part of a compartmented special-access program and you’re not read-in. In fact, it’s part of a waived, unattributed special access program that only I and four other people know about! Sorry ‘bout that.

As the national security bureaucracy has expanded and more and more classified documents are produced, more and more people need security clearances in order to do their jobs. But as more and more people receive security clearances, the iron law of supply and demand kicks in, and the value of clearances goes down.

According to a 2010 Washington Post series on “Top Secret America,” an estimated 854,000 people hold top-secret clearances. That’s not a very exclusive club: Any secret held by 854,000 people isn’t much of a secret. Throw in the people with lower-level clearances and we get up to more than 4 million, or nearly 2 percent of the adult population of the United States. Who let those guys into the club?

As a result, we keep finding new ways to distinguish between levels and types of access, and more and more documents are (often reflexively) given a high classification, even when there’s really no secret to keep. The U.S. government’s Information Security Oversight Office reported that 92 million decisions to classify information were made in 2011, representing a 20 percent increase in classification decisions from 2010 and a 40 percent increase from 2009.

And as I said, this problem isn’t new. An excellent 2011 report by the Brennan Center for Justice offers some choice glimpses into history. By 1956, only a decade and a half after an executive order signed by FDR launched the modern classification system, a DOD panel was already warning that “overclassification has reached serious proportions.” In 1970, a Defense Science Board task force reported that “the volume of scientific and technical information that is classified could profitably be decreased by perhaps as much as 90 percent.” In 1985, yet another DOD committee concluded sadly that “too much information appears to be classified.” In 1994, a joint CIA-DOD commission found that “the classification system… has grown out of control.” [Continue reading…]


Rogue Monsanto GM wheat threatens U.S. food supply

Mother Jones: One of the four major US crops — corn, soybeans, hay (alfalfa), and wheat — is not like the other.

For one, wheat is mainly consumed directly by people, while the others are mostly used as animal feed. Its status as people food — the stuff of bread, the staff of life — probably explains why wheat is different from the other three in another way: It’s also the only one that genetically modified Monsanto hasn’t turned into a cash cow. The company has made massive profits churning out corn, soy, and (most recently) alfalfa seeds genetically altered to withstand doses of its own herbicide, Roundup. But the company has never commercialized a GM wheat variety — and stopped trying back in 2004, largely because of consumer pushback against directly consuming a GM crop. And thank goodness, too, because Roundup Ready technology is now failing, giving rise to a plague of herbicide resistant weeds and a gusher of toxic herbicides.

Wheat’s non-GMO status is why the Internet went berserk when the US Department of Agriculture revealed Wednesday that Roundup Ready wheat had sprouted up on a farm in Oregon. According to the USDA, a farmer discovered the plants growing in a place they shouldn’t have been and tried unsuccessfully to kill them with Roundup. Oops. USDA testing confirmed that the rogue wheat was the same experimental Roundup Ready variety that Monsanto had last been approved to test in Oregon in 2001.

The revelation had immediate trade implications. About half the overall US wheat crop gets exported — and Oregon’s wheat farmers export 90 percent of their output. Many countries accept US-grown GM corn and soy for animal feed. But as the USDA noted, no country on Earth has approved the sale of GM wheat. And if Roundup Ready wheat is growing on one farm, our trading partners might legitimately ask, what guarantee is there that it’s not growing on others? Already, Japan has responded by suspending imports of US wheat, Bloomberg reports. [Continue reading…]


Stalin — not the Bomb — made Japan surrender, ending WW2

Ward Wilson points out that while the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are typically viewed as extraordinary in the level of destruction they caused, during the U.S. air campaign at that time there was less reason than we imagine to draw a sharp distinction between conventional and nuclear bombing.

In the summer of 1945, the U.S. Army Air Force carried out one of the most intense campaigns of city destruction in the history of the world. Sixty-eight cities in Japan were attacked and all of them were either partially or completely destroyed. An estimated 1.7 million people were made homeless, 300,000 were killed, and 750,000 were wounded. Sixty-six of these raids were carried out with conventional bombs, two with atomic bombs. The destruction caused by conventional attacks was huge. Night after night, all summer long, cities would go up in smoke. In the midst of this cascade of destruction, it would not be surprising if this or that individual attack failed to make much of an impression — even if it was carried out with a remarkable new type of weapon.

Japan’s decision to surrender probably had much less to do with the effect of nuclear weapons, than with Stalin’s decision to invade.

The Japanese were in a relatively difficult strategic situation. They were nearing the end of a war they were losing. Conditions were bad. The Army, however, was still strong and well-supplied. Nearly 4 million men were under arms and 1.2 million of those were guarding Japan’s home islands.

Even the most hardline leaders in Japan’s government knew that the war could not go on. The question was not whether to continue, but how to bring the war to a close under the best terms possible. The Allies (the United States, Great Britain, and others — the Soviet Union, remember, was still neutral) were demanding “unconditional surrender.” Japan’s leaders hoped that they might be able to figure out a way to avoid war crimes trials, keep their form of government, and keep some of the territories they’d conquered: Korea, Vietnam, Burma, parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, a large portion of eastern China, and numerous islands in the Pacific.

They had two plans for getting better surrender terms; they had, in other words, two strategic options. The first was diplomatic. Japan had signed a five-year neutrality pact with the Soviets in April of 1941, which would expire in 1946. A group consisting mostly of civilian leaders and led by Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori hoped that Stalin might be convinced to mediate a settlement between the United States and its allies on the one hand, and Japan on the other. Even though this plan was a long shot, it reflected sound strategic thinking. After all, it would be in the Soviet Union’s interest to make sure that the terms of the settlement were not too favorable to the United States: any increase in U.S. influence and power in Asia would mean a decrease in Russian power and influence.

The second plan was military, and most of its proponents, led by the Army Minister Anami Korechika, were military men. They hoped to use Imperial Army ground troops to inflict high casualties on U.S. forces when they invaded. If they succeeded, they felt, they might be able to get the United States to offer better terms. This strategy was also a long shot. The United States seemed deeply committed to unconditional surrender. But since there was, in fact, concern in U.S. military circles that the casualties in an invasion would be prohibitive, the Japanese high command’s strategy was not entirely off the mark.

One way to gauge whether it was the bombing of Hiroshima or the invasion and declaration of war by the Soviet Union that caused Japan’s surrender is to compare the way in which these two events affected the strategic situation. After Hiroshima was bombed on August 8, both options were still alive. It would still have been possible to ask Stalin to mediate (and Takagi’s diary entries from August 8 show that at least some of Japan’s leaders were still thinking about the effort to get Stalin involved). It would also still have been possible to try to fight one last decisive battle and inflict heavy casualties. The destruction of Hiroshima had done nothing to reduce the preparedness of the troops dug in on the beaches of Japan’s home islands. There was now one fewer city behind them, but they were still dug in, they still had ammunition, and their military strength had not been diminished in any important way. Bombing Hiroshima did not foreclose either of Japan’s strategic options.

The impact of the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria and Sakhalin Island was quite different, however. Once the Soviet Union had declared war, Stalin could no longer act as a mediator — he was now a belligerent. So the diplomatic option was wiped out by the Soviet move. The effect on the military situation was equally dramatic. Most of Japan’s best troops had been shifted to the southern part of the home islands. Japan’s military had correctly guessed that the likely first target of an American invasion would be the southernmost island of Kyushu. The once proud Kwangtung army in Manchuria, for example, was a shell of its former self because its best units had been shifted away to defend Japan itself. When the Russians invaded Manchuria, they sliced through what had once been an elite army and many Russian units only stopped when they ran out of gas. The Soviet 16th Army — 100,000 strong — launched an invasion of the southern half of Sakhalin Island. Their orders were to mop up Japanese resistance there, and then — within 10 to 14 days — be prepared to invade Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s home islands. The Japanese force tasked with defending Hokkaido, the 5th Area Army, was under strength at two divisions and two brigades, and was in fortified positions on the east side of the island. The Soviet plan of attack called for an invasion of Hokkaido from the west.

It didn’t take a military genius to see that, while it might be possible to fight a decisive battle against one great power invading from one direction, it would not be possible to fight off two great powers attacking from two different directions. The Soviet invasion invalidated the military’s decisive battle strategy, just as it invalidated the diplomatic strategy. At a single stroke, all of Japan’s options evaporated. The Soviet invasion was strategically decisive — it foreclosed both of Japan’s options — while the bombing of Hiroshima (which foreclosed neither) was not.


Damage control: Holder may rein in prosecutors in leak investigations

The New York Times reports: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., under fire over investigative tactics in leak cases, has opened internal discussions over tightening rules on when prosecutors may seek phone logs and other information that could identify reporters’ sources as he began a series of a meetings on Thursday with leaders of news media organizations.

According to an adviser familiar with the deliberations, Mr. Holder has discussed expanding a requirement for high-level review of proposed subpoenas for reporters’ phone records so that it would include e-mails. He is also examining whether to tighten a standard for when officials may seek such records without giving prior notice to the news organization.

President Obama has given Mr. Holder until July 12 to make his proposals, and Mr. Holder wants to complete an overhaul of department regulations on leak investigations before his tenure is over, said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are preliminary. Mr. Holder has given no indication that he intends to step down any time soon, however. [Continue reading…]


Assad warns Israel

The New York Times reports: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria displayed a new level of defiance on Thursday, warning Israel that he could permit attacks on the Golan Heights and suggesting that he had secured plenty of weapons from Russia — possibly including an advanced missile system — as his opponents faltered politically and Hezbollah fighters infused force into his military campaign to crush the Syrian insurgency.

Mr. Assad spoke in an interview broadcast on Al-Manar television, which is owned by his ally Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite militant group, further punctuating his message of growing confidence that he could prevail over an insurgency that is now more than two years old and has claimed more than 80,000 lives.

Asked about Russian weapons deliveries, Mr. Assad said: “Russia is committed with Syria in implementing these contracts. What we agreed upon with Russia will be implemented, and part of it has been implemented over the recent period, and we are continuing to implement it.”

He was vague on whether Russia’s deliveries had included a sophisticated S-300 air missile system — of particular concern to Israel because it could compromise its ability to strike Syria from the air and because those missiles can hit deep inside Israeli territory. The Israelis have said they would not abide a Syrian deployment of S-300s, suggesting they would use force to destroy them. [Continue reading…]


Council on American-Islamic relations demands investigation of Todashev shooting

Orlando Weekly: On Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations requested a private investigation of last week’s deadly shooting of an Orlando man by an FBI agent who was questioning his connection to Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamarlan Tsarnaev.

CAIR-Tampa executive director Hassan Shibly announced that, through anonymous “intermediary” sources, he learned that Ibragim Todashev was unarmed when he was shot by the agent.

“We confirmed today with our sources that he was unarmed,” Shibly said. “He was shot seven times, and once in the head.”

After the news conference, Khusen Taramov – a friend of Todashev’s – showed photos of Todashev’s body. The photos were taken at an Orlando funeral home after the Orange-Osceola County Medical Examiner released the body to Todashev’s family.


America’s Syria policy appears to have hit a dead end

Hannah Allam reports: With Russia pledging missiles to Syrian President Bashar Assad, the civilian opposition unable to agree on much of anything, and regime loyalists pushing rebels out of strategic areas, the United States finds itself with no clear policy path to its oft-stated goal of Assad’s ouster.

Unclear from the beginning, U.S. policy on Syria has grown only more contradictory and ad hoc since the popular uprising that the Obama administration was quick to support transformed into a brutal civil war with a death toll now beyond 70,000. Both tracks of the State Department’s latest “dual-track” approach have led to dead ends, with neither a strong political opposition nor a trusted, viable rebel force ready to take charge in the increasingly unlikely event that the Assad regime should collapse.

Wednesday dealt fresh setbacks to U.S. and international plans to build the political and military capabilities of the anti-Assad movement. Weeklong opposition talks in Istanbul ended without meeting the goals of expanding membership of the Islamist-dominated group or naming an interim government – failures that could cost leaders crucial international support. Also Wednesday, Hezbollah-backed regime forces claimed victory in the vicious battle for control of Qusayr, a strategically important town near the Lebanese border.

Analysts who’ve closely monitored the conflict for the past two years blame a series of miscalculations and half-measures for the lack of a strong U.S. position on Syria. While the White House and its supporters in the foreign policy community defend the current approach as “cautious,” other analysts see it as frozen and out of touch with events on the ground. [Continue reading…]


Iraq violence claims more lives

Al Jazeera reports: Fresh attacks in Iraq, including car bombs in Baghdad, have killed at least 19 people, including police officers, amid a surge of violence that has left 160 dead in a week and increased fears of all-out sectarian conflict.

On Thursday morning, a car bomb in northeast Baghdad killed four people and wounded a dozen more, while another vehicle packed with explosives went off in the centre of the capital, leaving two dead and 10 wounded, officials said.

Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said that at least eight policemen were killed in the northern city of Mosul after unknown gunmen opened fire on local officers.

“There has not been a claim of responsibility for the attack. But in the past an al-Qaeda front group has claimed responsility for attacks on Shia areas and security forces, which they see as illegitimate,” she said.

Two border policemen were also ambushed along the main Iraq-Jordan highway and shot dead.

The latest violence came a day after multiple bomb blasts struck two neighbourhoods in the Iraqi capital, killing at least 28 people, including several members of a wedding party.


Extremists point to Western foreign policy to explain their acts. Why do we ignore them?

Mehdi Hasan writes: Did you know that the alleged ringleader in the 11 September 2001 attacks had originally planned to land one of the hijacked US airliners and give a speech to the assembled press corps? Can you guess what he wanted to rant about, live on Fox News? Seventy-two virgins in heaven? Nope. The need for sharia law? Guess again. According to the report of the official 9/11 commission, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had intended to “deliver a speech excoriating US support for Israel… and repressive governments in the Arab world”.

In the vexed discussion about extremism and radicalisation, foreign policy is the issue that dare not speak its name. Our leaders zealously police the parameters of the debate, pre-emptively warning off those who might dare connect the dots between wars abroad and terror at home. It would be “wrong”, said the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, on the morning after the attack in Woolwich, “to try to draw any link between this murder and British foreign policy”.

Really? The problem for Johnson is that the “link” was made by none other than one of the suspects in the barbaric killing of Drummer Lee Rigby, Michael Adebolajo. Straight after the murder. On camera. “The only reason we killed this man… is because Muslims are dying daily,” he said. “This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Are we expected to ignore such statements? Or notice only the references to “Muslims”?

To highlight this is to invite inevitable and hysterical criticism; I will be accused of apologising for acts of terror, or condoning them. So permit me to issue a pre-buttal: there is no moral justification for the deliberate killing of non-combatants. Nothing – no cause, no war, no grievance – justifies the murder of innocents. Yet establishment figures continue to denounce those of us who cite the radicalising role of foreign policy as (to quote the former US state department spokesman James Rubin) “excuse-makers” for al-Qaeda. To explain is not to excuse. The inconvenient truth for Rubin, Johnson et al is that Muslim extremists usually cite political, not theological, justifications for their horrendous crimes. [Continue reading…]


Holder faces new round of criticism after leak inquiries

The New York Times reports: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., a lightning rod of Republican attacks during President Obama’s first term, is now contending with a new round of criticism over the Justice Department’s campaign against leaks to the news media.

This time it is the news media and even some Democrats who are upset with Mr. Holder, who in recent days has taken steps seemingly aimed at assuaging them. He endorsed the enactment of a “media shield” law and invited leaders of news organizations to meet with him Thursday to discuss tightening rules on warrants and subpoenas for reporters’ records as part of leak investigations.

Even as Mr. Holder has sought to regain his footing, Republicans have resumed their criticism, accusing him of misleading Congress in testimony over whether the Justice Department has considered prosecuting journalists under the Espionage Act for publishing government secrets.

In a letter Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, and a Republican colleague, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, expressed “great concern” about Mr. Holder’s testimony before the committee this month, saying it “appeared to be at odds” with court documents that have come to light involving a warrant for e-mails of James Rosen, a Fox News reporter.

The prospect of a new round of perjury accusations from Congress has underscored that the furor over the leak investigations might pose a new threat to Mr. Holder, who surprised many Democrats by choosing to stay on after Mr. Obama’s re-election. For now, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are standing by Mr. Holder, even though the ranking member, Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, pronounced himself “deeply troubled” by some of the investigative tactics used in recent leak cases. [Continue reading…]

BuzzFeed: Leading civil liberties groups criticized comments made by the Democratic Party’s communications director that media groups refusing to attend an off-the-record meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder are giving up their “right [to] gripe” about the Department of Justice’s pursuit of journalists’ records under Holder’s leadership.

“I think that what the Department of Justice is doing in soliciting comments … is in principle a good thing, but the suggestion that news organizations somehow give up their right to object by not accepting the invitation is a problem,” said Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy advisor at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office.

After New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson announced the paper would not be attending a meeting with Holder to discuss the DOJ policies for dealing with reporters in leak investigations, Democratic Party communications director Brad Woodhouse tweeted:

Abramson had said in a statement, “We will not be attending the session at DOJ. It isn’t appropriate for us to attend an off the record meeting with the attorney general.” The Associated Press also will not be attending if the meeting remains off the record.

Michael Calderone is keeping track of who will be attending or not attending Holder’s meeting.

Jonathan Turley writes: Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the administration’s sweeping surveillance of journalists with the Associated Press. In the greatest attack on the free press in decades, the Justice Department seized phone records for reporters and editors in at least three AP offices as well as its office in the House of Representatives. Holder, however, proceeded to claim absolute and blissful ignorance of the investigation, even failing to recall when or how he recused himself.

Yet, this was only the latest attack on the news media under Holder’s leadership. Despite his record, he expressed surprise at the hearing that the head of the Republican National Committee had called for his resignation. After all, Holder pointed out, he did nothing. That is, of course, precisely the point. Unlike the head of the RNC, I am neither a Republican nor conservative, and I believe Holder should be fired.

Holder’s refusal to accept responsibility for the AP investigation was something of a change for the political insider. His value to President Obama has been his absolute loyalty. Holder is what we call a “sin eater” inside the Beltway — high-ranking associates who shield presidents from responsibility for their actions. Richard Nixon had H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Ronald Reagan had Oliver North and Robert “Bud” McFarlane. George W. Bush had the ultimate sin eater: Dick Cheney, who seemed to have an insatiable appetite for sins to eat. [Continue reading…]


It’s time to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry

Bill McKibben writes: Earlier this month, the trustees of the city graveyard in Santa Monica, California (final resting place of actor Glenn Ford and tennis star May Sutton) announced they were selling their million dollars worth of stock in fossil fuel companies. As far as I know they were the first cemetery board to do so, but they join a gathering wave of universities, churches and synagogues, city governments and pension funds.

In the last few months, fossil fuel divestment has turned into one of the fastest-growing protest campaigns in recent American history – and it’s already reached all the way to Australia, where portions of the Uniting Church have announced they’ll sell their fossil fuel stock as well.

It’s happening because it’s one of the few ways for concerned people and institutions to take a stand on climate change, and confront the enormous power of the fossil fuel industry. But it’s also happening because once you run the numbers, there’s no way to escape the conclusion that this industry is now an outlaw industry. Not outlaw against the laws of the state – they generally have a large hand in writing those – but outlaw against the laws of physics. [Continue reading…]


Video: Al-Nakba (episodes 1-4)


Reading Iranian minds

Paul Pillar writes: Many who offer opinions on policy toward Iran, and particularly on how to handle negotiations over its nuclear program, implicitly claim an unusual ability to read the minds of Iranian decision-makers. Assertions are made with apparent confidence about what the Iranians want, fear or believe, even without any particular evidence in support. Several possible explanations can account for the misplaced confidence.

One is that we are seeing common psychological mechanisms in action. A well-established human tendency is, for example, to interpret cooperative behavior on another person’s part as a response to one’s own behavior, while ascribing uncooperative conduct to innate orneriness on the part of the other person. Thus there is a failure to understand how firmness in Iran’s negotiating position is a response to firmness on the Western side, and there is an accompanying tendency to interpret a lack of Iranian concessions as indicating an Iranian desire to stall and drag out negotiations.

Another explanation is that a particular frame of mind is imputed to the Iranians because it implies a U.S. policy that is politically popular for other reasons. Loading ever more onerous sanctions on Iran is a popular political sport, especially on Capitol Hill, to show toughness or love for Israel. The politicians who play that sport therefore favor a view of the Iranian mindset according to which the Iranians are simply not hurting enough and need to hurt some more, after which they will cry uncle. [Continue reading…]


Iran’s sexual revolution

Afshin Shahi writes: When someone mentions Iran, what images leap into your mind? Ayatollahs, religious fanaticism, veiled women? How about sexual revolution? That’s right. Over the last 30 years, as the mainstream Western media has been preoccupied with the radical policies of the Islamic Republic, the country has undergone a fundamental social and cultural transformation.

While not necessarily positive or negative, Iran’s sexual revolution is certainly unprecedented. Social attitudes have changed so much in the last few decades that many members of the Iranian diaspora are shellshocked when they visit the country: “These days Tehran makes London look like a conservative city,” a British-Iranian acquaintance recently told me upon returning from Tehran. When it comes to sexual mores, Iran is indeed moving in the direction of Britain and the United States — and fast.

Good data on Iranian sexual habits are, not surprisingly, tough to come by. But a considerable amount can be gleaned from the official statistics compiled by the Islamic Republic. Declining birth rates, for example, signal a wider acceptance of contraceptives and other forms of family planning — as well as a deterioration of the traditional role of the family. Over the last two decades, the country has experienced the fastest drop in fertility ever recorded in human history. Iran’s annual population growth rate, meanwhile, has plunged to 1.2 percent in 2012 from 3.9 percent in 1986 — this despite the fact that more than half of Iranians are under age 35.

At the same time, the average marriage age for men has gone up from 20 to 28 years old in the last three decades, and Iranian women are now marrying at between 24 and 30 — five years later than a decade ago. Some 40 percent of adults who are of marriageable age are currently single, according to official statistics. The rate of divorce, meanwhile, has also skyrocketed, tripling from 50,000 registered divorces in the year 2000 to 150,000 in 2010. Currently, there is one divorce for every seven marriages nationwide, but in larger cities the rate gets significantly higher. In Tehran, for example, the ratio is one divorce to every 3.76 marriages — almost comparable to Britain, where 42 percent of marriages end in divorce. And there is no indication that the trend is slowing down. Over the last six months the divorce rate has increased, while the marriage rate has significantly dropped. [Continue reading…]


Video: Afghanistan drawdown


Officials: Man who knew Boston bombing suspect was unarmed when shot

The Washington Post reports: A Chechen man who was fatally shot by an FBI agent last week during an interview about one of the Boston bombing suspects was unarmed, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

An air of mystery has surrounded the FBI shooting of Ibragim Todashev, 27, since it occurred in Todashev’s apartment early on the morning of May 22. The FBI said in a news release that day that Todashev, a former Boston resident who knew bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed during an interview with several law enforcement officers.

The FBI has provided few other details, saying that the matter is being investigated by an FBI review team that may not finish its probe for several months.

“The FBI takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our agents and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for addressing them internally,” FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said in a statement Wednesday. “The review process is thorough and objective and conducted as expeditiously as possible under the circumstances.”