Separation from Syria

Marwan, found today, was later reported to have been reunited with his family, yet this image of a child alone in the desert seems like an icon representing the connection between Syria and the rest of the world.

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Nuclear scientists are not terrorists

In an op-ed for the New Scientist, Debora MacKenzie writes: Attempts to derail a country’s nuclear programme by killing its scientists “are products of desperation”, says [William] Tobey [of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University] – citing a US effort to kill legendary physicist Werner Heisenberg during the second world war, abandoned at the last minute only when the would-be assassin decided Heisenberg was not involved in a Nazi nuclear effort after all.

“Nuclear scientists are not terrorists,” says Tobey in the BAS this week. Killing them at best delays bomb development, by removing key people and perhaps deterring young scientists from careers in nuclear science. But it will not stop bomb development.

These slim advantages are far outweighed, Tobey says, by the downsides: possible retaliation, reduced chances for diplomacy, tighter security around nuclear installations and a pretext for Iran to hamper IAEA monitoring.

Iran has already accused the IAEA of abetting the assassinations by publicising confidential Iranian lists of key nuclear scientists and engineers.

The IAEA needs such information, as talks with nuclear personnel are considered essential for verifying safeguards against diverting uranium to bombs, says Tobey. Making this process harder only makes sense if the people behind the assassinations think it is too late for safeguards and that slowing bomb R&D by killing scientists is therefore more expedient.

The Israeli columnist Ron Ben-Yishai writes: The most curious question in the face of these incidents is why Iran, which does not shy away from threatening the world with closure of the Hormuz Straits, has failed to retaliate for the painful blows to its nuclear and missile program? After all, the Revolutionary Guards have a special arm, Quds, whose aim (among others) is to carry out terror attacks and secret assassinations against enemies of the regime overseas.

Moreover, if the Iranians do not wish to directly target Western or Israeli interests, they can prompt their agents, that is, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and other groups, to do the job. In the past, Iran did not shy away from carrying out terror attacks in Europe (in Paris and Berlin) and in South America (in Buenos Aires,) so why is it showing restraint now?

The reason is apparently Iran’s fear of Western retaliation. Any terror attack against Israel or another Western target – whether it is carried out directly by the Quds force or by Hezbollah – may prompt a Western response. Under such circumstances, Israel or a Western coalition (or both) will have an excellent pretext to strike and destroy Iran’s nuclear and missile sites.

This sounds like a confirmation that Israel is indeed wanting to provoke Iran in order to start a war.

But here’s the paradox: if Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons then it has ever incentive to continue keeping its powder dry. Why should it jeopardize its nuclear program by succumbing to provocation?

On the other hand if Israel’s covert war does indeed succeed in triggering a full-scale war, this may be an indication that Iran never intended to go further than develop a nuclear break-out capacity.

At the same time, the idea that Iran can only strike back through some form of violence, ignores the economic and psychological levers that it can pull much more easily.

The question may not be how much provocation Iran can withstand but rather how high can the price for oil rise before the global economy buckles?

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Torture doesn’t reduce crime

The proponents of a harsh penal system argue that being tough on criminals is the most effective way of tackling crime. A comparison between Virginia and the Netherlands makes it clear that this is a baseless argument. The Netherlands has twice the population of Virgina, twice the population density, lower per capita income, and yet Virginia incarcerates 40,000 of its population and tortures some of those — 1800 are held in solitary confinement — while the Netherlands has just 12,000 detainees — with about 20 prisoners in solitary confinement — and has in recent years closed prisons because there were too many empty cells.

The Washington Post reports: At Red Onion State Prison, built on a mountaintop in a remote pocket of southwest Virginia, more than two-thirds of the inmates live in solitary confinement.

In a state where about 1 in 20 prisoners are held in solitary, Red Onion, a so-called supermax prison, isolates more inmates than any other facility, keeping more than 500 of its nearly 750 charges alone for 23 hours a day in cells the size of a doctor’s exam room.

Virginia, one of 44 states that use solitary confinement, has 1,800 people in isolation, a sizable share of the estimated 25,000 people in solitary in the nation’s state and federal prisons.

As more becomes known about the effects of isolation — on inmate health, public safety and prison budgets — some states have begun to reconsider the practice, among them Texas, which, like Virginia, is known as a law-and-order state.

Mississippi, New York and Texas have begun to scale back the use of solitary confinement under pressure from prison watchdogs.

Now critics have set their sights on Virginia, where lawyers and inmates say some of the state’s 40,000 prisoners, including some with mental-health issues, have been kept in isolation for years, in one case for 14 years.

Nrc.nl reported: The Dutch justice ministry has announced it will close eight prisons and cut 1,200 jobs in the prison system. A decline in crime has left many cells empty.

During the 1990s the Netherlands faced a shortage of prison cells, but a decline in crime has since led to overcapacity in the prison system. The country now has capacity for 14,000 prisoners but only 12,000 detainees.

Deputy justice minister Nebahat Albayrak announced on Tuesday that eight prisons will be closed, resulting in the loss of 1,200 jobs. Natural redundancy and other measures should prevent any forced lay-offs, the minister said.

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U.S. government threatens free speech with calls for Twitter censorship

What so often gets forgotten about the nature of free speech is that its sole value lies in protecting the right of public communication for those organizations and individuals that governments would rather silence. Speech that is utterly inoffensive is never in need of protection.

At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Jillian C. York and Trevor Timm write about the growing number of calls for Twitter to ban the accounts of America’s designated enemies.

In a December 14th article in the New York Times, anonymous U.S. officials claimed they “may have the legal authority to demand that Twitter close” a Twitter account associated with the militant Somali group Al-Shabaab. A week later, the Telegraph reported that Sen. Joe Lieberman contacted Twitter to remove two “propaganda” accounts allegedly run by the Taliban. More recently, an Israeli law firm threatened to sue Twitter if they did not remove accounts run by Hezbollah.

Twitter is right to resist. If the U.S. were to pressure Twitter to censor tweets by organizations it opposes, even those on the terrorist lists, it would join the ranks of countries like India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Syria, Uzbekistan, all of which have censored online speech in the name of “national security.” And it would be even worse if Twitter were to undertake its own censorship regime, which would have to be based upon its own investigations or relying on the investigations of others that certain account holders were, in fact, terrorists.

Let’s review the various calls for Twitter to censor their site and the possible causes of action: [Continue reading...]

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Iranians fear war, deprived of life-saving medicines — Washington satisfied

The Obama administration’s definition of diplomacy with Iran is that it does not talk about “regime change.” Instead it talks about “tightening the noose.”

As the rial collapses and Iranians die because they can’t afford life-saving medicines, no doubt they feel deeply grateful for America’s kind attention.

The Washington Post reports: At a time when U.S. officials are increasingly confident that economic and political pressure alone may succeed in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the mood here has turned bleak and belligerent as Iranians prepare grimly for a period of prolonged hardship and, they fear, war.

This stark contrast has been evident in the Iranian capital this week as a top military commander declared a “critical point” in the country’s long feud with the West and ordinary Iranians stocked up on essential supplies. Merchants watched helplessly as the Iranian currency, the rial, shed more than a third of its value, triggering huge increases in the prices of imported goods.

“I will tell you what this is leading to: war,” said a merchant in Tehran’s popular Paytakht bazaar who gave his name only as Milad. “My family, friends and I — we are all desperate.”

The sense of impending confrontation is not shared in Washington and other Western capitals, where government officials and analysts expressed cautious satisfaction that their policies are working.

Former and current U.S. government officials did not dismiss the possibility of a military confrontation but said they saw recent threats by Iranian leaders — including warning a U.S. aircraft carrier this week not to return to the crucial Strait of Hormuz — mainly as signs of rising frustration. U.S. officials say this amounts to vindication of a years-long policy of increasing pressure, including through clandestine operations, on Iran’s clerical rulers without provoking war.

“The reasons you’re seeing the bluster now is because they’re feeling it,” said Dennis Ross, who was one of the White House’s chief advisers on Iran before stepping down late last year. With even tougher sanctions poised to take effect in weeks, the White House had succeeded in dramatically raising the costs of Iran’s nuclear program, he said.

“The measure, in the end, is, ‘Do they change their behavior?’ ” Ross said.

The Obama administration is readying new punitive measures targeting the Central Bank of Iran, while leaders of the European Union took a step this week toward approving strict curbs on imports of Iranian petroleum in hopes of pressuring the nation to abandon what they say is a drive to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy production.

State Department spokes­woman Victoria Nuland deemed as “very good news” the E.U.’s commitment to shutting off the flow of Iranian oil to Europe.

“This is consistent with tightening the noose on Iran economically,” Nuland told reporters Wednesday. “We think that the place to get Iran’s attention is with regard to its oil sector.”

In Tehran, that tightening is being felt by millions of people. Economists and independent analysts say the sanctions have aggravated the country’s chronic economic problems and fueled a currency crisis that is limiting the availability of a broad array of goods, including illegally imported iPhones and life-saving medicines.

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Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan and the non-interventionists

Noting the fact that Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan both share the ‘virtue’ of being non-interventionists, Fred Clark starts drilling into the question of whether there really is such a principle as non-interventionism.

I want to look one further step back from this discussion and question the assumption here that “non-interventionism” is a Good Thing.

I don’t think it’s a Good Thing because I don’t think it’s a thing at all. “Non-interventionism” is no more a principle than “interventionism” is. It’s not obvious to me that “never intervene” is a wiser, more sensible, more prudent or more just approach than “always intervene” would be.

It seems to me, rather, to be the sort of crutch one falls back on instead of engaging in the difficult, messy business of an actual principled approach to evaluating any given situation. It allows you to escape having to know or care at all about any particular situation, because you’ve got a one-size-fits-all answer to any and every question.

Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul both happened to be right in opposing the invasion of Iraq, but that had nothing to do with their principled evaluation of that situation. They’re more like my friend in algebra class in high school who always said that X=3. Sometimes X did equal 3, but even when he got the answer right it wasn’t because he understood the question.

“Non-intervention” may sometimes be the better course of action. It usually is. But it may also sometimes be the worse course of action. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spent three years battling against non-interventionists. I think that he and his supporter Dr. Seuss were right and their non-interventionist opponents were wrong.

President Bill Clinton chose to intervene in Bosnia. He chose not to intervene in Rwanda. One of those decisions was justified. The other proved to be a monstrous mistake.

Those same two cases — Bosnia and Rwanda — shaped the perspective of our current secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in response to Gadhafi’s lethal attempt to quash the uprising in Libya. The Obama administration chose the path of intervention in Libya, with an approach that in many ways mirrored NATO’s intervention in Bosnia. It confuses more than it clarifies to label that response as “interventionism” and to declare it indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

I would add one other thought. For those of us who would most likely never consider voting for Ron Paul, the debate about his virtues as a presidential candidate is somewhat redundant. The broader question of greater relevance is whether his presence in the presidential race has had a positive or negative effect. To suggest that the GOP contest would have been better without Paul’s participation, seems to me to be to be a pretty difficult argument to win.

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In Syria, another Friday, another Damascus bomb

The Daily Telegraph reports: At least 25 people were reportedly killed or wounded after a suicide bomber blew himself up in central Damascus on Friday, the second such attack on the Syrian capital in a fortnight.

The bomb was detonated at a set of traffic lights in the historic district of al-Midan, just south of Damascus’s ancient walled city, state television reported.

Video footage indicated that a police bus had borne the brunt of the blast. Reduced to a shell, its seats were soaked in blood and covered in shards of glass.

The television station claimed that the majority of the casualties were civilians, saying that the attack took place “in a heavily populated working-class neighbourhood near a school”. More than 46 people were also wounded in the attack, it added.

There was no independent confirmation of the number of fatalities. The regime was quick to blame the attack on “terrorists”, which it says have been at the forefront of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that erupted last March.

The attack came exactly a fortnight after two booby-trapped cars, allegedly driven by suicide bombers, exploded in front of government intelligence buildings in Damascus on December 23rd, killing 44 people.

Friday’s attack, like the one before it, coincided with mass protests called to demand Mr Assad’s overthrow and opposition officials claimed the blast was planned by the government to distract attention from the demonstrations.

Protests after noon prayers on Fridays have traditionally drawn the largest turnouts of the uprising, and organisers said they expected hundreds of thousands to take to the streets.

Once again one needs to ask: whose interests appear to be getting served by these bombings?

The regime claims it is not being challenged by a popular uprising but by “terrorists” — low and behold we get a universally recognized demonstration of terrorists at work. Not only that, but both performances have occurred during the period in which the audience includes Arab League observers present in Syria.

And since Friday is the easiest day on which mass protests can be organized, how could bombings on that day possibly serve the interests of the protesters? The bombers seem to be more interested in providing protesters with an incentive to avoid the streets and stay at home.

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Forging ties with democratic Egyptian government is like reaching out to the Soviet Union?

The New York Times reports: With the Muslim Brotherhood pulling within reach of an outright majority in Egypt’s new Parliament, the Obama administration has begun to reverse decades of mistrust and hostility as it seeks to forge closer ties with an organization once viewed as irreconcilably opposed to United States interests.

The administration’s overtures — including high-level meetings in recent weeks — constitute a historic shift in a foreign policy held by successive American administrations that steadfastly supported the autocratic government of President Hosni Mubarak in part out of concern for the Brotherhood’s Islamist ideology and historic ties to militants.

The shift is, on one level, an acknowledgment of the new political reality here, and indeed around the region, as Islamist groups come to power. Having won nearly half the seats contested in the first two rounds of the country’s legislative elections, the Brotherhood on Tuesday entered the third and final round with a chance to extend its lead to a clear majority as the vote moved into districts long considered strongholds.

The reversal also reflects the administration’s growing acceptance of the Brotherhood’s repeated assurances that its lawmakers want to build a modern democracy that will respect individual freedoms, free markets and international commitments, including Egypt’s treaty with Israel.

And at the same time it underscores Washington’s increasing frustration with Egypt’s military rulers, who have sought to carve out permanent political powers for themselves and used deadly force against protesters seeking an end to their rule.

The administration, however, has also sought to preserve its deep ties to the military rulers, who have held themselves up as potential guardians of their state’s secular character. The administration has never explicitly threatened to take away the $1.3 billion a year in American military aid to Egypt, though new Congressional restrictions could force cuts.

Nevertheless, as the Brotherhood moves toward an expected showdown with the military this month over who should control the interim government — the newly elected Parliament or the ruling military council — the administration’s public outreach to the Brotherhood could give the Islamic movement in Egypt important support. It could also confer greater international legitimacy on the Brotherhood.

It would be “totally impractical” not to engage with the Brotherhood “because of U.S. security and regional interests in Egypt,” a senior administration official involved in shaping the new policy said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic affairs.

“There doesn’t seem to me to be any other way to do it, except to engage with the party that won the election,” the official said, adding, “They’ve been very specific about conveying a moderate message — on regional security and domestic issues, and economic issues, as well.”

Some close to the administration have even called this emerging American relationship with the Brotherhood a first step toward a pattern that could take shape with the Islamist parties’ coming to power around the region in the aftermath of the uprisings of the Arab Spring. Islamists have taken important roles in Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt in less than a year.

“You’re certainly going to have to figure out how to deal with democratic governments that don’t espouse every policy or value you have,” said Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and recently joined with the ambassador to Egypt, Anne W. Patterson, for a meeting with top leaders of the Brotherhood’s political party.

He compared the Obama administration’s outreach to President Ronald Reagan’s arms negotiations with the Soviet Union. “The United States needs to deal with the new reality,” Mr. Kerry said. “And it needs to step up its game.”

Kerry often serves as a kind of surrogate Secretary of State for the current administration — the one who presents policy that the administration struggles to articulate itself. So, especially during an election year, it’s hardly surprising that he is being called on to explain why Washington is now reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood as the Islamist movement stands on the brink of gaining control of Egypt’s parliament.

But why liken this move to the realpolitik of dealing with the utterly undemocratic Soviet Union? The analogy is not only extreme but also offensive and unnecessarily antagonistic. The U.S. reached out to the Soviet Union at the same time as it hoped to witness its destruction. Is that the message that the U.S. now wants to send to the Middle East’s rising Islamists? That we have no choice but talk to them even while hoping for their demise?

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U.S. no longer able to disregard Pakistan’s sovereignty

The New York Times reports: With the United States facing the reality that its broad security partnership with Pakistan is over, American officials are seeking to salvage a more limited counterterrorism alliance that they acknowledge will complicate their ability to launch attacks against extremists and move supplies into Afghanistan.

The United States will be forced to restrict drone strikes, limit the number of its spies and soldiers on the ground and spend more to transport supplies through Pakistan to allied troops in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said. United States aid to Pakistan will also be reduced sharply, they said.

“We’ve closed the chapter on the post-9/11 period,” said a senior United States official, who requested anonymity to avoid antagonizing Pakistani officials. “Pakistan has told us very clearly that they are re-evaluating the entire relationship.”

American officials say that the relationship will endure in some form, but that the contours will not be clear until Pakistan completes its wide-ranging review in the coming weeks.

The Obama administration got a taste of the new terms immediately after an American airstrike killed 26 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border last month. Pakistan closed the supply routes into Afghanistan, boycotted a conference in Germany on the future of Afghanistan and forced the United States to shut its drone operations at a base in southwestern Pakistan.

Mushahid Hussain Sayed, the secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, an opposition political party, summed up the anger that he said many harbored: “We feel like the U.S. treats Pakistan like a rainy-day girlfriend.”

Whatever emerges will be a shadow of the sweeping strategic relationship that Richard C. Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, championed before his death a year ago. Officials from both countries filled more than a dozen committees to work on issues like health, the rule of law and economic development.

All of that has been abandoned and will most likely be replaced by a much narrower set of agreements on core priorities — countering terrorists, stabilizing Afghanistan and ensuring the safety of Pakistan’s arsenal of more than 100 nuclear weapons — that Pakistan will want spelled out in writing and agreed to in advance.

With American diplomats essentially waiting quietly and Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes on hold since Nov. 16 — the longest pause since 2008 — Pakistan’s government is drawing up what Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called “red lines” for a new relationship that protects his country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Said an American official: “Both countries recognize the benefits of partnering against common threats, but those must be balanced against national interests as well. The balancing is a continuous process.”

First, officials said, will likely be a series of step-by-step agreements on military cooperation, intelligence sharing and counterterrorism operations, including revamped “kill boxes,” the term for flight zones over Pakistan’s largely ungoverned borderlands where C.I.A. drones will be allowed to hunt a shrinking number of Al Qaeda leaders and other militants.

The C.I.A. has conducted 64 missile attacks in Pakistan using drones this year, compared with 117 last year and 53 in 2009, according to The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks the strikes.

In one of the most visible signs of rising anti-American sentiment in this country, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Lahore and Peshawar this month. And on Sunday in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, at least 100,000 people rallied to support Imran Khan, a cricket celebrity and rising opposition politician who is outspoken in his criticism of the drone strikes and ties with the United States.

The supposed threat posed by Imran Khan is nothing more than the danger that Pakistan might get a government that was more loyal to the will of the Pakistani people than its paymasters in Washington. Khan’s promise, if his party was to gain power, is to purge the country of corruption. Those who regard him as a threat must presumably see corruption as their friend.

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Why anti-government Americans should be pro-Palestinian

On the right in the U.S., nothing garners political support as easily as preaching the evils of Big Government. But if someone wants to observe big government in one of its most tyrannical expressions, there’s probably no place better to go than the West Bank where Palestinians live under Israeli military rule.

Haaretz reports on the red tape that controls everyday life:

Israel’s Civil Administration issues 101 different types of permits to govern the movement of Palestinians, whether within the West Bank, between the West Bank and Israel or beyond the borders of the state, according to an agency document of which Haaretz obtained a copy.

The most common permits are those allowing Palestinians to work in Israel, or in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Over the decades, however, the permit regimen has grown into a vast, triple-digit bureaucracy.

There are separate permits for worshipers who attend Friday prayers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and for clerics working at the site; for unspecified clergy and for church employees. Medical permits differentiate between physicians and ambulance drivers, and between “medical emergency staff” and “medical staff in the seam zone,” meaning the border between Israel and the West Bank. There is a permit for escorting a patient in an ambulance and one for simply escorting a patient.

There are separate permits for traveling to a wedding in the West Bank or traveling to a wedding in Israel, and also for going to Israel for a funeral, a work meeting, or a court hearing.

The separation fence gave rise to an entirely new category of permits, for farmers cut off from their fields. Thus, for instance, there is a permit for a “farmer in the seam zone,” not to be confused with the permit for a “permanent farmer in the seam zone.”

Human rights organizations have challenged the permit regime on various grounds.

According to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, international agencies operating in the West Bank waste an estimated 20 percent of their working days on permits from the Civil Administration – applying for them, renewing them and sorting out problems.

The checkpoint-monitoring organization Machsom Watch claims that the Shin Bet security service uses the permit regime to recruit informers. Palestinians whose permit requests are rejected “for security reasons” are often invited to meetings with Shin Bet agents, who then offer “assistance” in obtaining the desired permits in exchange for information.

Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said in response that the Civil Administration is aware of the issues raised in the article and intends to evaluate them in the coming year as part of its streamlining program.

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Did Israel knowlingly supply Iran with internet monitoring equipment?

Bloomberg reports: The clandestine arrangement worked smoothly for years. The Israeli company shipped its Internet- monitoring equipment to a distributor in Denmark. Once there, workers stripped away the packaging and removed the labels.

Then they sent it to a man named “Hossein” in Iran, an amiable technology distributor known to them only by his first name and impeccable English, say his partners in Israel and Denmark.

Israeli trade, customs and defense officials say their departments didn’t know that the systems for peering into Internet traffic, sold under the brand name NetEnforcer, had gone to a country whose leaders have called for the destruction of the Jewish state. Israel’s ban on trade with its enemy failed, even though a paper trail on the deals was available in Denmark.
[...]
Allot Communications Ltd., a Hod Hasharon, Israel-based firm whose stock trades on Nasdaq and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and which reported $57 million in sales last year, sold its systems to a Randers, Denmark-based technology distributor.

Workers at that company, RanTek A/S, repackaged the gear and shipped it to Iran, according to four former employees of Allot and RanTek. The shipments were legal under Danish law.
Skirting a Ban

A sale as early as 2006 is corroborated by an export license application filed by RanTek, though the name of the customer in Iran was redacted by Danish authorities who provided the document to Bloomberg News.

The former employees identified the buyer as the technology distributor, Hossein.

The sales skirted a strict Israeli ban that prohibits “trading with the enemy,” including any shipments that reach Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

“This covers everything,” says Gavriel Bar, manager of the Middle East department at Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. “Imports, exports, direct, indirect. An Israeli company is not allowed to trade with Iran in any way.”

Three former sales employees for Allot say it was well known inside the company that the equipment was headed for Iran. Allot officials say they have no knowledge of their equipment going there and are looking into RanTek’s sales.

The simplest explanation for what was going on here was that Allot wasn’t going to let a trade ban stand in the way of a business opportunity. At the same time, there is little reason to think that the current Israeli government would have misgivings about the Iranian government being provided with additional tools to suppress political dissent. A democratic Iran would be unlikely to abandon its nuclear programme, yet it could not be demonized in the same way as the current regime — Ahmadinejad remains Israel’s worst and best enemy.

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‘It’s time to stop the bully’: Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn on Occupy Wall Street, the Israel lobby and the New York Times

Mondoweiss interviews the founder of Adbusters: When the Occupy Wall Street protests began to attract attention in the fall, everyone wanted to know where the idea to set up a permanent protest at the heart of Manhattan’s financial district came from. The answer was the mind of Kalle Lasn, the co-editor (along with Micah White) of the anti-consumerist “culture jamming” magazine Adbusters. It was Adbusters, calling for an American “Tahrir moment,” that originally put out the call to occupy Wall Street on September 17.

But not all the attention Lasn and his magazine received was positive, though. It was the New York Times coverage of Adbusters and Lasn’s role in the Occupy movement that caused him the most grief by smearing them as anti-Semitic.

“For me, the New York Times is really important right now, because it was one of the most ugly experiences of my year, where they took a couple of quick swipes at my magazine and me personally,” Lasn told Mondoweiss in a recent phone interview. “I have such huge respect for the New York Times and I subscribe to it and I’ve been reading it every morning for the last ten years of my life.”

Now, Lasn is speaking out about the New York Times‘ refusal to print his response to two articles in the newspaper that alleged Adbusters was anti-Semitic. (Read more about the controversy here, and read this New Yorker article on the origins and future of Occupy Wall Street for more about Lasn and White.)

Mondoweiss recently caught up with Lasn for an extended interview with the sixty-nine year old activist to discuss Occupy Wall Street, Palestine, the Israel lobby and more. [Continue reading...]

The New York Times also features an article on Lasn today which includes this line: “In 2004, Adbusters published an article claiming that a large percentage of neoconservatives behind American foreign policy were Jewish.” This is a classic example of the way the New York Times subtly distorts the truth.

Lasn’s article did indeed make that claim, but to call it a claim is to suspend judgement on whether it has a factual basis. It is to say that Lasn made such an assertion but the journalist reporting it was in no position to verify or refute its validity. If there was a disputable claim it was that the 50 individuals Lasn named were indeed the most influential among the neoconservative — though Lasn himself attached the caveat that “neoconservative” is for some a badge of honor while for others an unwanted label and thus identifying who is and who is not a neoconservative is not that easy. But among those 50, Lasn pointed out that half of them are Jewish.

Now if he was pointing this out because he was conducting some kind of “Jew watch”, then he could reasonably be accused of being antisemtic. But far from doing that, he was instead asserting that the centrality that many neoconservatives give to Israel’s interests is not just coincidentally related to the fact that a disproportionate number of neoconservatives are Jews. The fact that he got attacked for pointing out a fairly obvious connection, rather than indicating that he must have had an insidious motive, much more strongly indicates how easily the neoconservatives feel threatened by anyone who highlights their ties to Israel.

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Israel behind deadly explosion at Iran missile base?

Whether it was the result of an Israeli covert operation, or, as Iran claims, an accident, the latest deadly incident once again highlights the willingness of the United States and Israel to engage in acts of violence that were they instigated by Iran or any other state or non-state actor would simply be called acts of terrorism.

Karl Vick reports: Israeli newspapers on Sunday were thick with innuendo, the front pages of the three largest dailies dominated by variations on the headline “Mysterious Explosion in Iranian Missile Base.” Turn the page, and the mystery is answered with a wink. “Who Is Responsible for Attacks on the Iranian Army?” asks Maariv, and the paper lists without further comment a half-dozen other violent setbacks to Iran’s nuclear and military nexus. For Israeli readers, the coy implication is that their own government was behind Saturday’s massive blast just outside Tehran. It is an assumption a Western intelligence source insists is correct: the Mossad — the Israeli agency charged with covert operations — did it. “Don’t believe the Iranians that it was an accident,” the official tells TIME, adding that other sabotage is being planned to impede the Iranian ability to develop and deliver a nuclear weapon. “There are more bullets in the magazine,” the official says.

The powerful blast or series of blasts — reports described an initial explosion followed by a much larger one — devastated a missile base in the gritty urban sprawl to the west of the Iranian capital. The base housed Shahab missiles, which, at their longest range, can reach Israel. Last week’s report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had experimented with removing the conventional warhead on the Shahab-3 and replacing it with one that would hold a nuclear device. Iran says the explosion was an accident that came while troops were transferring ammunition out of the depot “toward the appropriate site.” (See why ties between the U.S. and Iran are under threat.)

The explosion killed at least 17 people, including Major General Hassan Moqqadam, described by Iranian state media as a pioneer in Iranian missile development and the Revolutionary Guard commander in charge of “ensuring self-sufficiency” in armaments, a challenging task in light of international sanctions.

Coming the weekend after the release of the unusually critical IAEA report, which laid out page upon page of evidence that Iran is moving toward a nuclear weapon, the blast naturally sharpened concern over Israel’s threat to launch airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Half the stories on the Tehran Times website on Sunday referenced the possibility of a military strike, most warning of dire repercussions.

But the incident also argued, maybe even augured, against an outright strike. If Israel — perhaps in concert with Washington and other allies — can continue to inflict damage to the Iranian nuclear effort through covert actions, the need diminishes for overt, incendiary moves like air strikes. The Stuxnet computer worm bollixed Iran’s centrifuges for months, wreaking havoc on the crucial process of uranium enrichment.

And in Sunday’s editions, the Hebrew press coyly listed what Yedioth Ahronoth called “Iran’s Mysterious Mishaps.” The tallies ran from the November 2007 explosion at a missile base south of Tehran to the October 2010 blast at a Shahab facility in southwestern Iran, to the assassinations of three Iranian scientists working in the nuclear program — two last year and one in July.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports:

Barack Obama’s push for consensus over renewed concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme have had a lukewarm response from the Russian and Chinese leaders attending the APEC summit in Hawaii.

The US president had sought support from Dmitry Medvedev and Hu Jintao as he seeks to rein back Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but he got no public endorsement from either of them.

Obama met his counterparts on Sunday on the sidelines of the summit in Honolulu, the capital of his home state, where he discussed a UN nuclear watchdog report that said there was “credible” information that Tehran may have worked on developing nuclear weapons.

Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Honolulu, said there was “absolutely no consensus” between the leaders on how to deal with Iran following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report.

“This was President Obama’s first face-to-face meeting with Hu and Medvedev since the IAEA report came out. The US believes that it needs China and Russia to get on board with sanctions and it was fairly clear … that he did not get any reassurances,” she said.

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Sarkozy tells truth about Netanyahu but press decide it’s too sensitive to report

Sarkozy tells Obama, Netanyahu's a liar. Journalists blush.

“Who the fuck does he think he is? Who’s the fucking superpower here?” Bill Clinton said in exasperation about Benjamin Netanyahu after one of the Israeli prime minister’s characteristic displays of arrogance in 1996.

Now we learn that last Thursday at the G20 summit in Cannes, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy privately described Netanyahu as a “liar” and said “I cannot stand him,” to which President Obama gave the fairly tepid response: “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day!”

The exchange was picked up on an open microphone but the press in Cannes who overheard the presidential tête-à-tête agreed that it was too sensitive to report.

Are these journalists or presidential courtiers?

The surprising lack of coverage may be explained by a report alleging that journalists present at the event were requested to sign an agreement to keep mum on the embarrassing comments. A Reuters reporter was among the journalists present and can confirm the veracity of the comments.

A member of the media confirmed Monday that “there were discussions between journalists and they agreed not to publish the comments due to the sensitivity of the issue.”

He added that while it was annoying to have to refrain from publishing the information, the journalists are subject to precise rules of conduct.

Like when they are supposed to curtsy, make full bows, or discreetly look the other way?

Even now, now that the Sarkozy-Obama indiscretion has leaked out, there are several variations of translation of what Obama said.

“You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day.” “You’ve had enough of him? I have to deal with him every day!”

These are different ways of translating “Tu en as marre de lui, mais moi, je dois traiter avec lui tous les jours !” That’s how Obama’s words were rendered on ArretSurImages.net.

So even though the press has broken its four day silence, instead of reporting the exact wording — words surely spoken in English — the press is merely repeating what has been reported on the French website — and even though the contents of that report have been confirmed by Reuters.

Watch out for the word sensitivity in any news report. Chances are, what it really refers to is complicity.

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Tony Blair views Arab desire for democracy as a threat to Mideast peace

Forever the slick salesman, Tony Blair says evolution is better than revolution — which sounds like saying change is good so long as there isn’t too much of it and it doesn’t come too fast. That’s the kind of change he can believe in. Just like a peace process which in the eyes of most observers looks like a rotting corpse, but for Blair it’s just a matter of getting it back on track — a track the clearly leads nowhere.

Reuters reports: Arab pro-democracy uprisings spell more regional instability that could complicate peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians but also make it necessary to get the process back on track, envoy Tony Blair said on Sunday.

Blair will sit down separately with Israeli and Palestinian officials this week in Jerusalem to try to revive a peace process that broke down more than a year ago because of a dispute over Jewish settlement expansion.

“It is a great thing that people are wanting democracy, but in the short term there is reduced stability in the region so that can pose problems for Israel and the peace process,” said Blair.

“Because of the instability and uncertainty in the region, it’s right that we grip the peace process and put it back on track again.”

“We need strong, clear commitments that both parties will produce comprehensive proposals on borders and security within 90 days,” he said.

Underlining the bleak prospects for a breakthrough, Israel recently unveiled plans for new settlement building including 2,600 homes on land near East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians aim to found their capital.

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U.S. backs probe into circumstances of Gaddafi death

Reuters reports: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday backed a possible U.N. investigation into the death of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and called for the convicted Lockerbie bomber to be jailed again.

There is growing international disquiet about the chaotic scenes surrounding Gaddafi’s apparent summary execution following the fall of his hometown of Sirte on Thursday.

“I would strongly support both a U.N. investigation that has been called for and the investigation that the Transitional National Council said they will conduct,” Clinton told the NBC program “Meet the Press,” referring to Libya’s interim rulers.

“You know, I think it’s important that this new government, this effort to have a democratic Libya, start with the rule of law, start with accountability,” she said.

U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay has called for an investigation into the killing.

Libya’s outgoing prime minister said on Sunday a bullet that hit Muammar Gaddafi’s head may have been fired by one of his own guards during a shootout with government forces in Sirte.

“So I view the investigation on its own merits as important but also as part of a process that will give Libya the best possible chance to navigate toward a stable, secure, democratic future,” Clinton said.

Perhaps the Libyans regard the US as a democratic role model and on that basis assumed that it would be OK and indeed be the American way to administer swift justice to Gaddafi.

If someone like Anwar al-Awlaki could be deemed such an imminent threat to the United States that he could be assassinated and there be no legal justification presented for his killing nor any investigation, should anyone in the Obama administration now wonder why Gaddafi’s captors might have felt similarly empowered to end Gaddafi’s life? After all, Awlaki never killed a single American, whereas Gaddafi was responsible for killing thousands of Libyans.

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