Friday, January 19, 2007
The US has signaled a dramatic shift in its Iraq policy, aimed at deterring Iran's "hegemony" and putting Washington in league with the anti-Iran Sunni alliance. Moscow and Beijing have their own imperatives, and destabilizing Iran is not one of them. Kaveh L Afrasiabi foresees a future in which local and international rivals clash head on in the region.
Jan 20, 2007
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
No doubt, we are now witnessing the dawn of a new great game over Iraq. A recent communique by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has stated its "collective desire to prevent Iraq from becoming a battleground for regional and international powers".
The irony, however, is that this communique is also signed by two "out of area" Arab states, Jordan and Egypt, whose inclusion in the security calculus of the Persian Gulf rattles Iran and fuels the growing rivalry between the Shi'ite power bloc and the Sunni Arabs led by Saudi Arabia.
Simultaneously, in a clue to the rather dizzying pattern of cross-cutting, paradoxical alliances and would-be alliances, the US has signaled a dramatic shift in its Iraq policy, aimed at deterring Iran's "hegemony", which puts Washington in league with the anti-Iran Sunni alliance precisely at a time when the US-Shi'ite alliance in Iraq is, while strained, still holding and there is no conceivable alternative to it, given the Shi'ite majority in the country. Or is there?
Shi'ites betrayed again?
Are they going to be betrayed again? This is a question increasingly on the mind of many Shi'ites in Iran, Iraq and elsewhere, who have a vivid memory of how then-US president George H W Bush betrayed Iraq's Shi'ites during the Gulf War in 1991 by first exhorting them to rebel against the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and, when they did in Basra, Najaf and Karbala, became complicit in their suppression.
The Americans not only failed to support them but, worse, by lifting the no-fly zone for Saddam's helicopters that airlifted troops to the rebellious south, the dictator's forces were given the green light by none other than the US Central Command chief at the time, General Norman Schwarzkopf. That little episode is barely mentioned in Schwarzkopf's memoir, A Soldier of Conscience.
From the vantage point of many Shi'ites in the region, the new accent on Iran in Iraq is a ruse for a change of heart in Washington toward the post-Saddam political process, and a prelude for a U-turn. Little wonder it took Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki more than two days to provide a tepid response to US President George W Bush's "new Iraq strategy", which ignores Maliki's own script for Baghdad security - the latter includes his appointment of a new commander for Baghdad, from the Shi'ite south and distrusted by the US generals.
"The US wants to have its cake and eat it too," a Tehran political analyst told the author, adding, "Bush is now appeasing the Sunni bloc and squeezing the Shi'ites and still wants to claim a continuity of US policy in Iraq when it is abundantly clear that discontinuity is gaining the upper hand."
Another point conveyed by this analyst concerned the US kidnapping of several Iranians at the consular office in the Kurdish city of Irbil. US officials have accused those Iranians of being from the Qods Group of the Revolutionary Guards and involved in subversive activities, a charge vigorously denied by Tehran.
A shade of Bosnia
"There is a shade of Bosnia here," explained the analyst, referring to the US-Iran cooperation in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the early 1990s, which saved the beleaguered Bosnian Muslims from Serbian atrocities, notwithstanding a United Nations arms embargo.
Then-US president Bill Clinton, urged by his top aides, authorized that cooperation, which involved "the Pentagon's own secret service" instead of the Central Intelligence Agency, as per a 1997 congressional document. According to that report, the United States was "very closely involved" in the Iranian arms pipeline to Bosnia through Turkey and Croatia, which involved small arms, mortars, anti-tank guns and surface-to-air missiles.
Indeed, the history of US-Qods cooperation in Bosnia and subsequently in Afghanistan is instructive, given the avalanche of negative commentaries in the US media that portray a completely adversarial relationship between the US and Iran. In 1996, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the US House of Representative, set up a special committee to investigate US-Iran relations in Bosnia, which some US senators, including John Kerry, castigated as Clinton's version of the "Iran-Contra affair", with Kerry accusing Clinton of "turning a blind eye to Iranian shipments".
As a result of such political pressures, the Clinton administration shifted its policy toward the Iranians in Bosnia: the Revolutionary Guards' offices in Bosnia were ordered closed and, in one case reminiscent of the Irbil incident, US forces took over one of those liaison offices and temporarily apprehended several Iranians whom they accused of subversive activities.
Expelling the Iranians from Bosnia after they were no longer needed seemed like the right policy, and all the signs are that the US is inclined to repeat it in Iraq, irrespective of the stark differences relating to Iran's proximity to neighboring Iraq and the wealth of historical and religious ties.
But as stated above, in addition to Bosnia, the US military and the Qods Group cooperated in Afghanistan. In a conversation with the author in Tehran in the autumn of 2004, a Revolutionary Guard commander recalled his meeting with a top US general in a tent at Baghram Airport, where the two hammered out the number of northern front troops who would enter Kabul without causing much-feared bloodshed.
Turning to Iraq, the question is: What is the ultimate objective of the US? Clearly, the Bush administration has nullified the possibility of US-Iran cooperation in Iraq, as called for by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, opting instead for the path of hostility and confrontation. There is now open talk of "crossing into Iran" and smashing the Iranian networks inside Iraq, as if those networks are constantly working at cross-purposes with the US mission. But what exactly is the US mission in Iraq?
The facade of a self-imposed mission to "spread democracy" is wearing thinner by the hour, seeing how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not bother to invoke the word "democracy" once in her latest trip to Cairo and Riyadh, focusing instead on "stability" and raising the specter that "the Iranians are coming" - this from a specialist in Russia and the Cold War who is at home with Cold War posturing.
Handicapped by her lack of knowledge of Middle Eastern history and politics, Rice must now ponder the quick drift toward military confrontation with Iran in light of the nuclear standoff and the seemingly irresistible Israeli pressure to act now before Iran reaches "the point of no return". We must also add: before the Bush administration becomes a "lame duck" and is drawn by the president's own weakness into yet another foreign gambit by the weight of upcoming electoral politics.
Spring of military action
Various US pundits have openly opined that the first half of 2007 is the best time for military action against Iran, with that country internationally isolated, the Arab tide against Tehran at its all-time highest, and Iran's own house divided among competing factions unable to reach consensus on important foreign-policy priorities.
Bulking up its military presence by dispatching a fresh aircraft-carrier task force to the Persian Gulf, as well as several nuclear-armed submarines, and sending Patriot missiles to the US-friendly states in the region, the Bush administration might actually gain in Iraq by subduing Iran militarily, ostensibly over the nuclear issue.
The problem with this rationale, however, is that it disregards the likelihood of Iranian retaliation in Iraq, regional "blowback", and the threats to the world economy posed by curtailed oil traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. Concerning the last, the US has reportedly made contingency plans for the indefinite takeover of Iranian territory in Chah Bahar, which would deny Tehran its strategic leverage with Hormuz.
A limited war with Iran is, as pointed out by this author previously, likely to degenerate into a regional conflagration, substantially complicating the picture in Iraq (and Afghanistan as well), perhaps prompting the US to push for outright "regime change" in Tehran, despite the lack of troops necessary for even a limited, contained war. That would mean expanding the Iraq war to Iran, with several intended and unintended consequences, one of which is potentially depriving Russia of the Iranian buffer it now enjoys vis-a-vis the power of the US military machine.
It comes as no surprise, then, that in the midst of US-Russian common cause at the UN Security Council against Iran, Moscow has proceeded with the delivery of an air-defense system to Iran and is hinting at the sale of an even more advanced system in the future. Russia's national-security interests would be badly bruised by a US-Iran military showdown that would bring the intrusive Western superpower closer to Russia's (insecure) southern borders.
Nor would China benefit geostrategically from such an outcome, in light of that country's burgeoning energy relations with Iran today, further solidified by a new US$3.6 billion Tehran-Beijing agreement for liquefied natural gas.
In signing this LNG deal, the Chinese government had to ignore a blunt US warning not to proceed, with the foreign minister telling the US "not to meddle" in China's relations with Iran. Clearly, China could not have the same expectations about the nature of Iranian regime change after an unequal bout between the recalcitrant Iranians and the US.
In a word, the long-term geopolitical ramifications for both China and Russia are too serious to ignore by their policymakers. Moscow and Beijing have joined the bandwagon over US-led efforts to impose sanctions on Iran, overlooking their own previously stated insight that such sanctions would be a "prelude to war".
Indeed, how little time Washington has lost in following up Security Council Resolution 1737 with ratcheted-up military threats against Iran. Looking far ahead, this, in turn, raises another vexing question: Is the US-Iran rivalry the outer ring of a broader, new Cold War between the US and the countervailing powers of China and Russia?
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.
Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd.
I write this as a former Capitol Hill staffer. I have been there, done that.
I am reporting on this matter because, if Democrats (and Trent Lott) in the United States Senate get their way, it may be illegal for me to say this or anything like this, beginning on January 1, 2008.
If you want to know what is the highest priority of the new Congress, don't watch TV. Don't listen to the posturing of politicians in high places regarding the war in Iraq, the safety of Americans from terror, and the plight of the poor. As Attorney General John Mitchell said, before he went to jail: "Watch what we do, not what we say."
I can tell you what the highest priority of Democrats in the United States Senate is. How do I know? Because the Senate has labeled the following piece of proposed legislation, Senate Bill S1. That's numero uno. The bill's title: "To provide greater transparency in the legislative process."
When you see a high-falutin title like this, you can be certain of one thing: Its promoters intend the opposite.
The proposed bill is long and detailed. It is not the product of some immediate national crisis. It is the product of many months of careful crafting in the shadows. It received no publicity, before or after it was submitted. The Democratic leadership in the Senate has entered this bill as its top priority.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
What is this bill all about? Simple: taking heat off of Congress.
From Congress's point of view, there is a growing problem. That problem is the Internet. It allows people to communicate with each other almost free of charge.
An email can be sent to a million people at little or no marginal cost. A mailing list becomes a tool of instant education and motivation.
All over the wired world, politicians are finding that every government leak gets to a large audience within hours. I call this the Drudge-Lewinsky factor.
Every audience has a hot button. Politicians today cannot pass any bill, short of a national emergency, in which they do not inevitably press some special-interest group's negative hot button.
If people on an email list are alerted to what the politicians are planning to do to them, they will in turn send an email, phone their representatives, or even – I am not making this up – sit down, write a letter of protest, put it in an envelope, stamp the envelope, and mail it to their political representative. (Yes, such things are still done. Or so I'm told.)
Worse, from the politicians' point of view, the Internet allows organizations to remind people on their mailing lists which politicians voted the wrong way. The subscribers would normally forget within six months, but not if they keep getting reminded.
The Internet makes it cheap to remind them.
The Internet is therefore a tool of voters to impose their will on recalcitrant politicians. So far, the politicians have been powerless to stop this.
This is about to change.
You know the term "grassroots." It is one of the traditional terms of endearment in American democracy. (It does not resonate in Arab oil nations, where there is neither democracy nor grass.) "Grassroots" means "back home, where the voters are." It means, above all, OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY.
Inside the beltway, the free ride has officially ended for the adjective, "grassroots." The term is being re-defined by Democrats in the Senate . . . and Trent Lott. It now means "special-interest lobbying."
We all know what incumbent politicians think of the special interests, at least the special interests that vote rather than set up Political Action Committees (PACs) to hand out money to politicians. Senator Snort is always ready to denounce the special interests – those narrow-minded, single-issue, red hot-button special pleaders, those ideological fanatics who cannot be bought off with pork barrel largesse.
The special-interest groups that provoke the ire of politicians are the ones that do not write checks but who instead send emails to their representatives. These groups are mobilized into action, more often than not, by negative reactions. Their subscribers are negative single-issue voters.
Special-interest groups that set up PACs are part of the Capitol Hill club. They get lots of money from well-organized beneficiaries of special legislation. They hire lots of lawyers. They hire former Congressmen. This offers lifetime income prospects for incumbent politicians who lose elections. (Yes, this still occasionally happens, despite Gerrymandering.) They have staffs to fill out Federally mandated forms. They write checks. Do they ever write checks! They are not grassroots special interests. They are inside-the-beltway special interests. So, they are not defined as special interests. They are defined as "sources of expert information, which is vital to the legislative process."
Congress's problem with grassroots negative special-interest groups is two-fold: (1) they can inflict pain on election day on any politician who has voted the wrong way; (2) they rarely send money to the re-election campaign committees of those who voted the right way. They are all pain, no pleasure. In the eyes of incumbent politicians, they are a menace to society, a cancer on the body politic, a mockery of democracy as we have come to know it.
They must be stopped!
Hence, Section 220 of S.1: DISCLOSURE OF PAID EFFORTS TO STIMULATE GRASSROOTS LOBBYING.
Here are a few highlights. First, a definition:
The term 'grassroots lobbying' means the voluntary efforts of members of the general public to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials or to encourage other members of the general public to do the same.
You know the types: people who conclude that a piece of legislation is against their interests, and who then try to defeat the legislation by communicating their hostile views to their elected representatives. Vicious!
Millions of these people have signed up to receive emails from donor-supported organizations that help alert them when Congress submits a bill for consideration. They do not usually join these organizations. They probably do not donate money. They are classic free riders. But the organizations need them, because these people will take action to stop a proposed piece of legislation.
These organizations attempt to coordinate the efforts of non-member, non-donating email subscribers – called "the general public" – by keeping them informed by email. In the eyes of Democrats in the Senate (and Trent Lott), such organizations are not quite criminal conspiracies, but they are close . . . very close. You see, these organizations get paid to keep the general public informed. Paid! Can you imagine this?
The term 'paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying' means any paid attempt in support of lobbying contacts on behalf of a client to influence the general public or segments thereof to contact one or more covered legislative or executive branch officials (or Congress as a whole) to urge such officials (or Congress) to take specific action with respect to a matter described in section 3(8)(A), except that such term does not include any communications by an entity directed to its members, employees, officers, or shareholders.
This wording says that they may communicate to their members without being defined as grassroots lobbying organizations, but not to the general public.
This bill says that before any such organization communicates to the general public, it must fill out Federal forms. It must fill out even more forms after it communicates to the general public.
If it fails to honor this law, if enacted, a donor-supported entity can be hauled into court by an Executive agency and fined $100,000 if it cannot prove that a particular email alert was never intended to persuade members of "the general public" to contact members of Congress.
The costs of hiring the defense lawyers will probably exceed the fine.
If your group is small, there is no problem. Small groups are politically impotent and do not constitute a threat to incumbents. Therefore. . . .
(B) PAID ATTEMPT TO INFLUENCE THE GENERAL PUBLIC OR SEGMENTS THEREOF – The term 'paid attempt to influence the general public or segments thereof' does not include an attempt to influence directed at less than 500 members of the general public.
So, if your email list has under 500 people, your organization are safe. For now. But you may have to prove that you have fewer than 500 non-member names of your list. The Executive will insist that its has the legal authority to demand that you turn over that list, just to make sure it is under 500 names. It will then have to compare this list with the names of your members. You will hand all this over or be fined for contempt.
There is another problem. A Web site is aimed at the general public. It may not be not members-only.
I operate a Web site, www.garynorth.com, that has a public section and a members-only section. According to this bill, I am allowed to communicate my concern about a proposed bill to my site's members. But what if I try to communicate the same message on the open-access portion of my site? How could I prove that I am not trying to influence over 500 members of the general public?
I get paid by site members. So, if I ever mention a piece of legislation on the "general public" part of my site, does this payment by members make me a grassroots lobbyist? How much will it cost me in legal fees to prove that I'm not?
You are reading this letter. You are probably not a member of my Web site. You are not my employee. You are not an officer or a shareholder in my corporation (unless you are my wife). But I have now sent you a warning about a proposed bill. I strongly suggest that you contact both of your Senators to tell them that you oppose S1.
They pay more attention to letters than to emails. So, here is the address:
A low-level staffer will then send you a polite form letter assuring you how much the Senator appreciates hearing from you, and how he will consider your opinion very carefully before he votes.
Rest assured, there is a computer data base that records YES and NO letters on each bill. Your opinion regarding S1 is very important to your Senator if there is a large majority in the data base of voters in your state who share your opinion.
If the form letter tells you that you have misinterpreted the bill, that it means something else entirely – which means that your Senator plans to vote for it – remember this: An Executive agency can enforce a law any way it sees fit.
Congress has no direct power over Executive agencies. This is part of the separation of powers principle of the U.S. Constitution. A law that is crystal clear, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which said explicitly that there would be no government-enforced racial quotas, will be interpreted however an "administrative law judge" (in-house agency prosecutor) wants to interpret the law in your case. This law is anything but crystal clear.
If an organization spends money to run an ad in a newspaper in order to influence the general public, it is clearly at risk under the terms of this law. It must report the expenditure to the Federal government. No organization is excluded from having to send reports on its actions.
(B) In the event income or expenses do not exceed $10,000, the registrant shall include a statement that income or expenses totaled less than $10,000 for the reporting period.
Of course, this law is specifically designed to increase the ethics of incumbent politicians and their staffs.
SEC. 232. MANDATORY SENATE ETHICS TRAINING FOR MEMBERS AND STAFF. (a) Training Program – The Select Committee on Ethics shall conduct ongoing ethics training and awareness programs for Members of the Senate and Senate staff.
Stop that giggling. You hear me? Stop it this instant! This is serious.
So far, this bill has received little attention by the thousands of special interest groups that will become its potential victims if it is signed into law. The mainstream media have said nothing, but this is not surprising. This is "buried deep in a bill" material, and the mainstream media rarely report on most of the hundreds of bills that are introduced each year.
A few conservative activist groups have issued warnings. Here is the assessment of the bill by the American Family Association. As you read it, think of this: What would it cost the organization to track all this?"
Under Senate Bill 1, AFA would have to report the issues, employees, contractors and dollars spent in what is called "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" (that phrase is not defined). This reporting requirement is triggered by two actions: (1) a lobbying "contact" – a personal or written communication with an individual in the executive or legislative branch of the federal government concerning public policy issues, from legislation to nominations; and (2) communications with grassroots (that's you) that "influence" them to contact the executive or legislative branches ("influence" is not defined, but it apparently doesn't even have to include a specific "call to action.") There is no minimum dollar spending requirement that triggers the reporting requirement by AFA for our efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying.
Once AFA identifies a "lobbying contact" that it has had (e.g., We talk with a senator about a Supreme Court nomination), then AFA will have to track all internal expenditures on that issue: AFA Journal articles, printing costs, payments to authors, etc.; AFA Online e-mailing costs; special website creations; broadcast expenses; and issue advertising (creative costs, ad buys, etc.). Cost of trips, speeches, and fundraising letters will have to be allocated to the correct "issue." (We could be dealing with a half-dozen issues, and we will have to keep tract and expense of every issue we deal with.) The compliance costs alone will be heavy, with the hiring of perhaps as many as 8–10 new employees to track both accounting and legal oversight involved and all the paperwork required.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Section 220 would subject such groups to miles of red tape and greatly increase their costs – difficulties that could critically hamper their ability to rally constituents to contact their elected officials.
"This should be called the 'Silence the Citizens Act of 2007,' " Perkins said.
The bill is so complex that, even though it appears to exempt churches from its provisions, it might not actually do so.
"Even pastors who would encourage the members of their congregation to call their senators, their congressmen, about marriage, about life issues," Perkins said, "could theoretically fall under the provisions of this measure."
Amanda Banks, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said the provision would apply if a group called on people to take action or not.
"Any time that we send out a CitizenLink e-mail, or we write an article for Citizen magazine or Dr. Dobson goes on his broadcast and talks about legislation – like he did today – we would have to record and report to the government four times a year," Banks said. "If we did not meet those guidelines, we would be subject to fines of $100,000."
The Democrats in the Senate (and Trent Lott) do not want to hear from you. They want to go about their business – and it IS a business! – in a quiet, orderly, and undisturbed manner.
Whether it's Iraq or the minimum wage, whether it's homeland security or the latest piece of pork for the contractors back home, they don't want to hear from you. They want your vote every six years. They do not want your opinion in between.
January 18, 2007
Over Iraq, Arab states lost their way, putting the survival of the Arab order subservient to external favour, and US-inspired coalitions, writes Azmi Bishara
Will the deception of historical progression -- or the irony of fate -- manifest itself in this region with the collapse of Arab nationalism, not at the hands of pan-Arab or pan-Islamic movements but by force of local kin and sectarian groupings, which had originally inspired the ideology of pan-Arab statehood in the colonialist mandate era? It seems that these forces, with the help of some petit politicians, are incapable of tearing down the edifice on their own. However strong the ambitions of their leaders are to free themselves from the constraints of ideology and to mobilise popular bases behind them, not on the basis of a political calling, but on the basis of blood ties and cries for vengeance without going so far as to exact revenge, not all countries are Somalia.
Elsewhere there are actual states, with governing institutions and national armies. It is in their interest to survive, even, perhaps, if that requires reform, and their survival instinct should have been sharpened by having been first-hand witnesses to the catastrophe that is Iraq. Yet the danger looms that the regimes of these states will ally themselves, individually or in coalitions, with the organic tribal or sectarian groupings inside each separate country, heedless of the exorbitant costs entailed in the attempt to realise their short-term and narrow political ambitions. The price will be no less than the sacrifice of any dream of national unity and all possibility of creating an overarching bond of citizenship because these will have been cast to the winds by the drive to fuel fears and to inflame ethnic and sectarian hatreds, and by the cries for blood that resound from the primitive depths of the earth.
Iraq was smashed to pieces because various Arab powers colluded with American designs and the Arabs that opposed this war were effectively isolated by force of the same collusion. Iran rose to the vanguard of the most vocal opponents to the war as a result of the official Arab stance, particularly that of the Gulf states, which could barely conceal their glee at the fall of the Iraqi regime beneath relentless bombardment and at the subsequent capture of Saddam Hussein. But what a different tune they were singing then in contrast to their recent protests against the execution of Saddam on the first day of the Feast of Sacrifice. What has happened in the interval to cause this remarkable about-face? On the one hand, the Iraqi resistance has proven its efficacy and durability. On the other, the boundaries of regional axes have gelled, and the members of one of these are pounding their chests and protesting the insult to their honour, now that they've realised that Iran was the foremost beneficiary of the dissolution of the Iraqi army and anti-Baath Party law which they had once cheered so rowdily. Not that these Arab officials went so far as to actually denounce Saddam's execution. They were just upset that it had been carried out on the first day of the feast. Which is worse. What this implies is that they actually approved of the execution and hoped for the opportunity to exploit it, themselves, to stir sectarian passions against adversaries who had nothing to do with the fall of the Saddam regime or his execution, such as Hizbullah and the Palestinian resistance.
At various points along the way, most importantly when the constitution came out, certain parties called into question Iraq's Arab identity and scoffed at those who protested the refutation of this identity. Not a single voice from Arab officialdom, which is now wringing its hands over Iran's gains from the decimation of Iraq, was among the protestors. And, today, instead of responding to Iran's (and America's) sectarian tactics with calls for Arab unity, Arab officialdom is busily fuelling Sunni anti-Shia sentiments. Nothing could be further from the spirit and behaviour of the Sunnis who had once rallied and still rally behind the call to Arab nationalism and unity.
In none of the other trouble spots that flared up or that were ignited in the Arab world is there sufficient endemic cause for full-scale internecine conflict. In Lebanon, for example, the internal dynamics of Lebanese politics, the Lebanese political mentality and the Lebanese political rhetoric are, in themselves, insufficient to spark confrontation, let alone civil war. No one in Lebanon, if left to his own devices and left to face his society on his own, would dare suggest that he hopes to or can settle the conflict over power in his favour and to the exclusion of others. No one in Lebanon could look themselves in the mirror and honestly say that they are capable of governing alone. The structure of Lebanese society would not permit it; nor would the structure and history of the state, or the economy of the country, or the demands of national security, which happens to be the most crucial factor in this case.
Nothing bears this out more than the fact that the most crucial formative experience of the contemporary Lebanese national consciousness was the protracted civil war, lasting from the mid-1970s to the Taif Agreement. The civil war was about power-seeking adventurism. It was about the delusion of one side that it could settle the conflict in favour of moving Lebanon into the Soviet camp, and the delusion of the other side, allied with Israel, that it could wrest Lebanese national security out of its cultural, Arab nationalist and historical context because it refused to fathom that Lebanon had expanded from an Ottoman directorate with a Maronite majority and Druze minority into a state with a Muslim majority in the grips of an identity crisis -- or multiple identity crises -- just like all the other by-products of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The true deterrent against internal strife is not some illusory dreamy dove of peace. Rather it resides in that new open-eyed Lebanese identity that has shed its illusions, an identity forged in the crucible of a civil war that drenched its blood with militias and warlords and their self-serving and destructive slogans.
But just as there exists no internal mechanism propelling the Lebanese to confrontation, there exists no internal mechanism to deter it. They are thus all the more vulnerable to the external dynamic that does propel towards civil strife: the conflict between regional axes. Lebanese society is still holding out against this threat that is encroaching upon it so forcefully. However, it will not be able to continue to do so for long unless it develops some mechanism for promoting and safeguarding national concord and unless the axes in question realise that it is in their mutual interest to talk with one another.
Until a short time ago, neither the Lebanese government as a whole, nor individual Lebanese leaders, had openly come out for disarming the resistance or made moves to effectively seize power with the aim of bringing Lebanon into the American fold. Undoubtedly, some of the leaders harboured this intent. But they would not have believed themselves capable of acting on it until certain tensions mounted in Saudi-Syrian and Saudi- Iranian relations and encouraged them in that direction.
This was before the war against Lebanon. After Israel attacked, the game of bisecting the region into opposing camps played itself out in the form of censuring the resistance for triggering the war and the steadily intensifying campaign to capitalise on this in Lebanon in order to tilt the balance of power towards a single player. The campaign culminated in Security Council Resolution 1701. Because the resistance leadership realised that it would wake up to an entirely different Lebanon within less than a year if it failed to act, it quickly moved to break the blockade. But the aim of its counterattack was not to seize power for itself. What the resistance seeks is a share in power, rather than a monopoly on power, the notion of which it has vehemently protested. But it insists upon real power-sharing, not power-sharing in form with actual decision-making power in the hands of an eternal "democratic minority" that has disproportionate weight in forming a government. It demands an effective say on crucial issues, especially security related ones. The problem is that the other side is pushing for a monopoly on power, not particularly because it is capable of exercising this monopoly or really wants it, but because its most extreme wing, which could be kept in check in the past, is now taking its cues from a regional axis that, for the time being, rejects talks with the other regional axis.
How do people who know they do not possess the leverage to resolve things the way they want justify trying to do that anyway? Perhaps they believe that by securing for themselves key offices and allying themselves with the mightiest military and economic power in the world they can turn the situation to their advantage and push through their plans gradually and without confrontation.
In Palestine, for example, a particular faction might contemplate changing the government in a manner that would guarantee it hold over such key authorities as the ministries of interior, foreign affairs and security. Add these to the presidency, recognised by the government, and access to various sources of money and it becomes possible to strike an agreement with Israel through secret negotiations. It's all a question of time. Afterwards, of course, the agreement can be put to general referendum, and the best way to ensure that this comes out in favour of an unjust settlement is to choke off the people's access to food, release the grip gradually to give them a taste, and then let the people use their imaginations to draw the comparison between times under economic blockade and the times to come after it is lifted.
The only alternative open to the other side, which had formed a government after attaining a parliamentary majority through a fair and transparent electoral process, is to put a stop to these tactics by refusing to cooperate and insisting on the appropriate conditions for national unity. But this is not to the liking of one of the regional axes. With the failure of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon coming on top of the unmitigated disaster in Iraq, the members of this axis, along with Israel, are desperate to revive the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating track. Towards this end they feel it necessary to propel the Palestinians towards an internal confrontation that most of the Palestinians themselves believe unnecessary and unwarranted.
But Israel is not hanging around with Christmas presents, such as Jerusalem and the Palestinian right to return, to hand out to the clever folks who ignite this confrontation. Israel is not suddenly going to turn into Santa Claus. This realisation alone should be sufficient cause for the Palestinians to reject the ploys of the extremists, known as "moderates" abroad, who are propelling the situation towards civil war at home in order to secure a settlement abroad, and to forge ahead with the creation of a national unity government that will challenge the blockade. Haste in reaching a settlement is "the devil's work," as we say, and the work of those who are heaping their destructive divide-and-conquer tactics on certain trouble spots in the region.
States that had never stepped foot in Lebanon before are now gate crashing into the country through the torn off doors and windows of Lebanese domestic politics, because suddenly they discovered that the way to America's heart is to sign up with the anti-Iran axis. Lebanon is the place to be. As for why these same parties hadn't joined the anti-Iran axis in Iraq, by supporting the Iraqi resistance, this is a question that can only be answered by someone who realises that these parties' allegiances have nothing to do with being for or against Shias or Sunnis in Iraq or elsewhere, and everything to do with being with America, in Lebanon, in Iraq and in Palestine. They tuned their attitude on Iraq to America's. They may have contributed to a small extent to altering the American attitude, here, the major determinant of the American shift in attitude was the Iraqi resistance, which they opposed and which opposed them.
The most tragic disasters are those that could have been avoided. After Iraq, the US no longer had the ability to force its confrontationist policies on anyone, and the pro-American Arab axis that coalesced during the build-up to the Iraqi war could have made the US understand that its coalition politics would lead to nothing but the collapse of Iraq and, along with it, the collapse of the regional order that had emerged from the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. They could have told America that the ensuing chaos would sweep away everything and that, while this might please Israel and some of Israel's supporters in Washington, they would have nothing to do with bringing it on. They could have been so bold but, sadly, they passed up the chance.
The only sound alternative these powers have now is to abandon this coalition politics and pit their forces together, as sovereign governments that have in interest in a stable Iraq, following the American withdrawal. This will require an understanding between Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran, and cooperation with Turkey. Saddam Hussein was pushed into war against Iran and then abandoned and subsequently cold-shouldered by the Gulf and barely tolerated by Iran. Syria managed to sustain good relations with both Iran and with the Gulf countries and, therefore, was able to act as a pacifying mediator between them. But rather than capitalising on this role, the partners to coalition politics are contributing to the isolation of Syria. Iran, for its part, should reassure the Arabs -- by which I mean Arab public opinion -- that it recognises the Arab identity of Iraq. It should further relinquish its vindictive policies and its collusion with vindictive practices in Iraq, the most recent manifestation of which was the disgracefully bloodthirsty execution of the president of an Arab state, beneath the axe of the occupation -- a savage act recorded and broadcast with such disgusting felicity that even Arabs who hated Saddam could not help but to feel insulted and degraded. The only way to restrain Iran is to establish a relationship with it that keeps the channels of communication and understanding over Iraq open. To do so, Arab regimes must reassure Iran that they are not colluding with the US against it, as they colluded with the US during the build-up to the war against Iraq, "on the condition that this war gets rid of Saddam."
Many fingers got burned by confrontationist coalition politics in Iraq. Entire hands will get burned from this type of politics in Lebanon and Palestine. But everything will be consumed by a confrontation with Iran. It is not just the Arab axis that will crumble from igniting sectarian tensions in a confrontation of this nature. So, too, will the entire Arab order, that is, if it has not entirely lost its instinct and will to survive.
Last update - 12:45 19/01/2007
By Aryeh Dayan
There is something sad and perhaps even pathetic about the way Muhammad Abu Aisha pulls out the old and wrinkled paper he always keeps in one of the pockets of his clothing. He lives on the second floor of the house surrounded by a metal screen that is across from the Jewish settlers' compound in Tel Rumeida in Hebron, and he is the grandfather of Rajaa Abu Aisha, the young woman of 19 who lives in the same building and who made headlines this week in the wake of the short film she made. In it, her neighbor, Israeli settler Yifat Alkobi, is seen cursing her again and again.
The paper that Abu Aisha keeps in his pocket, and which he hastened to display this week to everyone who visited his home, is a faded photocopy of a page of "The Hebron Book," a deluxe album that was published at the start of the 1970s in order to perpetuate the memory of the Jewish community that lived in the town until the massacre in 1929. Even though he does not read Hebrew, he knows very well what is written on the page, an account of those among the Arabs of Hebron who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors. At the bottom of the page is a blurred photograph of two men embracing. "This is Ya'akov Ezra and this is my father, Hamed Abu Aisha," says the elderly man.
At the beginning of the 1980s, he relates, Dr. Yosef Burg, who was then interior minister, and whose wife was born in Hebron, visited the town. According to Abu Aisha, Burg "told the settlers that they must not harm the Abu Aisha family, because everyone knows that members of the family saved Jews. But Burg departed and left us with Baruch Marzel."
Yifat Alkobi and Rajaa Abu Aisha, the two women who gained momentary fame thanks to the repulsive film that set the country on edge this week, are clear representatives of the communities to which they belong. The Jewish settlement mustered behind Alkobi, while Abu Aisha became the heroine of the day for the Palestinians in Hebron and the West Bank, as well as many on the Israeli left. Their tale is not just a story of two neighbors at odds, but rather and primarily the story of the impossible reality that has developed in Hebron as a result of the presence of the Jewish settlers in the heart of the Palestinian city. The Abu Aisha family's home, surrounded by a metal screen and looking more like a cage now than a residence, can be understood as the symbol of this reality. The curses that Alkobi hured at her neighbor on the other side of the metal screen are the soundtrack of this film.
Muhammad Abu Aisha, who is 72 and now lives on the second floor of the house with his wife, who is younger than him by 20 years, and their three small children, built this house back in the days of Jordanian rule. During the first decade of Israeli rule, after 1967, the family did not experience any unusual incidents, and also after 1982, when the first settlers came to Tel Rumeida, the Abu Aishas continued to live undisturbed. "In the beginning we even had good relations with the Jewish neighbors," he relates. "I would bring them peaches and grapes from my orchard and my vineyard and they also related to us well."
The problems started later
This idyllic reality began to change during the course of the 1980s, as the number of settlers increased and their age changed. "At first," relates Abu Aisha, "there were mature people here, who were like the Jews who lived in Hebron until 1929. The problems started later, when the older people left and in their stead people like Baruch Marzel and Noam Federman came," he said, referring to the two right-wing extremists who have had frequent run-ins with the law for attacks on their Palestinian neighbors, among other things. He had to erect the dense metal screen in 1996, when stones hurled at the windows of his home became a daily phenomenon. Rima Abu Aisha, his daughter-in-law, who lives with her family on the house's first floor, says that ever since the mid-1990s, every exit from the house has become a real danger for her seven children.
"In the morning I send them to school only after I see that the vehicle that takes the settler children to school has already left the neighborhood," she relates. "If our children leave the house while the settler children are still waiting in the street for their vehicle, my children will be the targets of stone-throwing and spitting." In the afternoon, at the end of the school day, she goes up on the roof and does surveillance of the surroundings. If she sees a clustering of settler children, she phones her sister-in-law, whose house is along the route of her children's return from school, and asks her to wait for them and bring them into her home until the settler children have passed.
They have been living this way for many years now. About two years ago her daughter Rajaa told an investigator for B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Territories, that her father had bought bicycles for her brothers but they do not dare use them outside for fear of the settler children. Instead, they ride inside the house, in a large room where from time to time their mother moves the furniture aside for that purpose. "It pains me when I see the settlers' children playing soccer and happily riding bikes under our house, with soldiers protecting them," she said in her testimony in 2005. "We can't do that, and all the time we're looking at them enviously through the window. We even have a problem with their games. My father bought Ashraf [her brother] a soccer ball. One of the soldiers came into our house and said that the ball wasn't ours and that it belonged to the settlers' children. The soldier took the ball from Ashraf and gave it to the [settler] children. My brothers can't even buy toy rifles because this is prohibited. To tell the truth," she continued in her testimony, "there isn't anyone in my family whom the settlers haven't attacked."
This week her grandfather displayed a plastic bag, in which he keeps copies of more than 20 complaints against the neighbors that he and his family have submitted to the police. In most of the complaints the subject is listed as "Assault." In a few, it is stated as "Curses," "Spitting" or "Violent Behavior." He relates that "every time we complain, the police demand that we say exactly who attacked us, what his name is, what he looks like, what the color of his eyes is, what shape of skullcap he has and what his father's name is. If we can't answer all of those questions, they don't deal with the complaint."
And indeed nearly all the files that the police have opened in the wake of their complaints were closed after a short time. This is not exceptional or unusual. From data gathered by B'Tselem, it emerges that in 2005, 176 complaints against settlers were submitted to the Hebron police. Of the cases that were opened in the wake of the complaints, 87 were closed immediately, and in 43 of the cases it emerged that the acts were committed by minors who had not yet reached the age of criminal responsibility. Only in five cases did the police recommend filing an indictment. The figures relating to the first 10 months of 2006 show that during that period, the police dealt with 352 incidents of settler violence, and that only in 27 of them did it recommend filing indictments.
Two of the four Palestinian families who lived adjacent to the settlers in Tel Rumeida got fed up with this reality and abandoned their homes. The members of the Abu Aisha family, on whose front door settlers painted a large Star of David, see this as a declaration of intentions and are convinced that the aim is to cause them to leave as well. Muhammad Abu Aisha promises that he will not leave his home. "They don't understand that as long as I am living here, they are protected," he says. "Allah and His Prophet Muhammad command me to protect my neighbors, and I really do tell Palestinians in other parts of Hebron that they should not harm my neighbors, even though they harm me. The moment I am no longer here, they will be exposed to attacks."
This could happen anywhere
The wall of the settlers' compound is less than five meters away from the screen surrounding the Abu Aisha family's home. There they see a different reality and present an opposite picture, according to which they, the settlers, are victims of organized Palestinian violence and also of an Israeli law-enforcement system that time and again is deceived by an efficient propaganda machine, in which are partners Palestinians, international organizations and elements from Israel.
David Wilder, a Hebron resident who serves as the spokesman to the foreign media for the Jewish settlement in the town, claimed this week, in an interview with CNN, that "the Alkobi affair" is nothing but an ordinary dispute between neighbors, "of the sort that could also happen in the United States or Japan." It has been exploited, Wilder added, by a coalition of leftist Israeli and international organizations, to shame the Hebron settlers and damage the legitimacy of their presence in the town. He also claimed that the Palestinians who eight years ago killed Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan succeeded in penetrating Ra'anan's home in Tel Rumeida, thanks to "prior information" provided to them by "the Arab inhabitants of the neighborhood."
Like Muhammad Abu Aisha, Wilder tells of the decent neighborly relations that once prevailed in Tel Rumeida. One member of the Abu Aisha family, a carpenter by trade, once repaired a broken chair for one of the settlers and refused to accept payment. "It seemed as though the days of the Messiah had come," says Wilder. "Children from the two families, Jewish and Arab, started playing together." Abu Aisha, incidentally, confirms the story of the chair but says that there had never been friendly relations among the children.
Wilder asserts that the friendship between the Jewish and the Palestinian children ended when a quarrel broke out between them. Children quarrel everywhere in the world, but what it led to here, according to Wilder, was different from what happens in other places. In the wake of the quarrel, a member of the Abu Aisha family came to the home of the setter family and yelled for a long time at the woman who opened the door to him. "A soldier who was there asked the woman of the house whether she wanted to file a complaint about the man who shouted," he relates, "and she answered him that she did not understand Arabic and that she had no idea what he was saying. The soldier said to her that he did understand Arabic, and that the man had said that he intended to come back with a knife and kill all of them. Of course the children stopped playing together." Wilder says that this was the start of the quarrel that led to Yifat Alkobi's curses.
It was only the continuation of the quarrel that had a political context, according to him. "About a year and a half ago," Wilder explains, "groups of Arab extremists got organized, headed by an Arab-Palestinian organization that is funded by the European Union, and together with other organizations, like Anarchists Against the Wall, they decided to focus on the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, with the aim of causing as much disorder as possible, so that they would be able to blame 'the monstrous Jews.'" He claims that activists of the foreign organizations "are inciting against the security forces" and fomenting "provocations against civilians, in an attempt to draw adults, youths and children into violent situations, which they film in a very selective way and distribute on sites on the Internet." Thus, he says, was created the short film in which Alkobi appears.
"What happened? What do you see in the film?" Wilder asks, with the aim of playing down the conflict that is seen there. "One woman is shouting at another woman. Is this material for a news headline? For a reaction from the prime minister?" He acknowledges that "her language was not all that refined," but is convinced that there was no justification for the uproar that the film caused.
Only a few dozen shops remain
However, a short visit to Tel Rumeida and its environs suffices to confirm that what is happening there is very far from an ordinary dispute between neighbors, and that the policy implemented by the Israel Defense Forces in areas where settlers live has led, in fact, to the demise of Palestinian life in the area. The IDF prohibits the Palestinian families living there from moving around the area in vehicles, a prohibition that extends as well to other quarters of Hebron where settlers live. And Palestinians from other neighborhoods, or from outside Hebron altogether, are prohibited by the IDF from entering these areas even by foot. Thus total social isolation has been imposed on the Palestinians who still reside in areas around the settlers' houses.
The city was divided in the 1998 Hebron agreement. Most of it was handed over to the full responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, but Israel retained security responsibilty for a small part of it, where today some 400 Jewish settlers and about 30,000 Palestinians live. This part of Hebron, which surrounds the Tomb of the Patriarchs, was until 1998 the commercial and social heart of Palestinian Hebron. For decades, the Casbah, which is adjacent to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and the streets around it constituted a huge market that supported thousands of families and provided varied services to the villages of the entire large rural area surrounding Hebron. All this died out entirely in the wake of the prohibitions on movement that the IDF has imposed in recent years. In the Casbah, where in the past many hundreds of shops had been active, only a very few dozen remain. In the afternoon hours of Thursday of this week, for example, the lanes of the Casbah were nearly deserted with only a few shoppers moving among the small number of shops that have not yet been abandoned.
The scene outside the Casbah, in the huge commercial area that used to surround the buildings where the setters live, is much bleaker. The entire quarter, which is comprised of many streets that until about a decade ago were vibrant and lively and thronged with people, has become a ghost town, which looks as though it is a cardboard movie set. The thousands of shops, workshops, offices and business centers that were active there for decades and formed the center of Hebron have been abandoned and closed. Cars do not travel on the roads, pedestrians do not walk on the sidewalks and the glass in the windows in the upper stories of the buildings is shattered. The gas station has been dismantled and it too is abandoned. Only a few faded signs that have not yet been ripped out testify to what had been there in the past. Next to Beit Romano, one of the settlers' buildings in the town, it is possible to make out, for example, the sign that Dr. Muhammad Tamimi, General Practitioner, hung at the entrance to his clinic to announce his reception hours. Further along the street, one can still see the sign of the Halil al Rahman Travel Agency, which specialized in organizing pilgrimage trips to Mecca. Not far from there is the sign of the pharmacy that was managed by Dr. Idris al Keisi. Across from there, on the iron door of what was once the office of the Al Andalus Taxi stand, it now says, in big, black Hebrew letters: "Death to the Arabs."
by Jacob G. Hornberger, Posted January 19, 2007
It is impossible to overstate the significance of the Franklin Roosevelt administration’s confiscation of gold and its nullification of gold clauses in contracts. It is one of the most sordid episodes in American history. To get an accurate sense of Roosevelt’s actions, it would not be inappropriate to compare what he did with the domestic economic policies of a later 20th-century ruler, Cuba’s socialist president, Fidel Castro.
On April 5, 1933, newly inaugurated President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102, which prohibited the “hoarding” of gold by U.S. citizens. Americans were required to turn their gold holdings over to the federal government at the prevailing price of $20.67 per ounce.
Pursuant to Roosevelt’s executive order, anyone caught violating the law was subject to a federal felony conviction, 10 years’ confinement in a federal penitentiary, and a $10,000 fine. Soon after the confiscation, U.S. officials announced that the government would sell its gold in international markets for $35 an ounce, thereby devaluing the dollar by almost 70 percent and immediately “earning” a potential profit of almost $15 an ounce on the gold it had confiscated.
Two months later, Congress enacted legislation nullifying gold clauses in both government and private contracts, thereby requiring creditors in such contracts to accept devalued paper money in payment of such contractual obligations, even though the contract itself stipulated payment tied to gold.
Reflect for a moment on the significance of what Roosevelt did. Gold coins and gold bullion were private property, just like a person’s automobile, clothing, home, and food. On the mere command of the president of the United States, federal authorities simply confiscated gold holdings that were the private property of the American people and made it a grave federal offense to own such property in the future.
The gold seizure was no different in principle from Fidel Castro’s seizure of homes and businesses more than 25 years later in Cuba, an episode that U.S. officials still rail against while praising what Roosevelt did. Sure, Roosevelt paid Americans more money for the gold he seized than Castro paid Cubans and American companies for the property he seized, but the principle was the same: the rulers in both Cuba and the United States could appropriate people’s property at their whim.
What was Roosevelt’s justification for the gold seizure? He said that it was necessary to battle the Great Depression. Now, think about that for a moment. How in the world could the seizure of people’s gold relieve the consequences of the Great Depression?
Let’s say that I have $10,000 in gold coin in my house. The Depression hits. Prices plummet. Unemployment soars. How is my delivering my gold to the federal government in return for depreciated paper money going to relieve anyone else’s distress?
No, the real reason for Roosevelt’s gold seizure was twofold: First, he seized people’s gold for the same reason that Castro later seized people’s homes and businesses — to enrich the coffers of the federal government. Second, but more important, he did it to prevent the American people from protecting themselves from the onslaught of ever-depreciating paper money that he planned to use to finance his ever-extravagant welfare-state programs.
Keep in mind that the Framers had implemented a gold standard so that the American people would be forever protected from the destructiveness of inflation. It was the gold standard — that is, the requirement that the federal government redeem all its paper notes and bills in gold — that had operated as a restraint on government’s ability to print ever-increasing amounts of paper money. The gold standard’s positive effect on capital markets was also one of the primary reasons that the United States rather quickly became one of the most prosperous nations in history.
With his seizure of gold, Franklin Roosevelt revolutionized the monetary system of the United States — and without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment. It is instructive to understand how he pulled this off in a legal sense.
Roosevelt’s rule by decree
In issuing his executive order, Roosevelt relied on the Trading with the Enemy Act, which had been passed in 1917 as part America’s war against Germany in World War I. Yes, World War I, the infamous war that was supposed to make the world safe for democracy! This “temporary emergency” law, which should have expired with the end of the war, had instead been left on the books through the 1930s. This is the law that Roosevelt relied on in issuing his executive order confiscating people’s gold.
There’s another significant aspect to the executive order — the issuance of the order itself. That is, Congress did not enact a law expressly authorizing the gold seizure. Instead it was accomplished simply through a decree issued by the president.
What the Congress had done is delegate its power to make certain laws to the president, essentially vesting Roosevelt with dictatorial powers. In March 1933, Congress amended the Trading with the Enemy Act to vest the president with the power to declare “national emergencies” and then issue necessary decrees to deal with such emergencies, including even setting criminal punishments.
It was a type of executive power — rule by decree — that had characterized dictatorships throughout history. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of Roosevelt’s biggest admirers was Adolf Hitler, who was dealing with the Depression in Germany in much the same way that Roosevelt was dealing with it in the United States. As John Toland pointed out in his biography Adolf Hitler,
Hitler had genuine admiration for the decisive manner in which the President had taken over the reins of government. “I have sympathy for Mr. Roosevelt,” he told a correspondent for the New York Times two months later, “because he marches straight toward his objectives over Congress, lobbies and bureaucracy.” Hitler went on to note that he was the sole leader in Europe who expressed “understanding of the methods and motives of President Roosevelt.”
Nullifying the gold clauses
Roosevelt and his Congress did not stop at seizing the gold of the American people and making it illegal for them to protect themselves from the ravages of inflation. They also nullified every clause in every contract, both government and private, that tied the financial obligation to gold.
How did these gold clauses operate? Let’s say a corporation issued a 100-year bond for $20, promising to pay 3 percent interest. Any lender would ask himself the obvious question, “Why wouldn’t this bond be worthless in a hundred years because of inflation?” To ensure that that wouldn’t happen, the note would contain a “gold clause” which stipulated that the company had to repay the bond, both principal and interest, in the same standard of gold that existed at the issuance of the note.
So let’s say, for simplicity’s sake, the $20 bond was issued in 1885, with $20 equal to a one-ounce gold coin. Let also say that because of inflation, when the bond became due 100 years later, it would take $100 in paper notes and bills to buy one ounce of gold. With the gold clause in the $20 bond, the debtor would have to pay the creditor either a one-ounce gold coin or $100 in paper notes (plus interest). With the gold clause nullified, all the debtor would have to pay would be $20 in paper money (plus interest), even though it would purchase only one-fifth of an ounce of gold at the time of repayment.
It’s not difficult to imagine the adverse effect that Roosevelt’s actions had on long-term capital markets.
The Supreme Court
The constitutionality of Roosevelt’s gold-confiscation decree was never addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court. There were few federal prosecutions, possibly because Roosevelt didn’t want to take the chance that the Supreme Court would declare his confiscation unconstitutional. Better to simply let the lambs who were meekly complying with the law continue filling the government’s coffers with gold and leave the ones who weren’t obeying the law alone.
The gold-clause cases did reach the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, a majority of the Court declared the nullification of the gold clauses in private contracts to be a constitutional exercise of the president’s power. While it declared the nullification of gold clauses in government notes to be unconstitutional, the Court also held, in a twisted form of logic, that the holders of government debt had suffered no damage because gold was then illegal to own anyway.
The Supreme Court’s opinions in the gold-clause cases are worth reading. (See Norman v. Baltimore & O.R. Co.). The most persuasive arguments, not surprisingly, were published by the dissenters — McReynolds, Sutherland, Van Devanter, and Butler, who often voted to declare much of Roosevelt’s New Deal unconstitutional:
Just men regard repudiation and spoliation of citizens by their sovereign with abhorrence; but we are asked to affirm that the Constitution has granted power to accomplish both. No definite delegation of such a power exists; and we cannot believe the farseeing framers, who labored with hope of establishing justice and securing the blessings of liberty, intended that the expected government should have authority to annihilate its own obligations and destroy the very rights which they were endeavoring to protect. Not only is there no permission for such actions; they are inhibited. And no plenitude of words can conform them to our charter....
Under the challenged statutes it is said the United States have realized profits amounting to $2,800,000,000. But this assumes that gain may be generated by legislative fiat. To such counterfeit profits there would be no limit; with each new debasement of the dollar they would expand. Two billions might be ballooned indefinitely — to twenty, thirty, or what you will.
Loss of reputation for honorable dealing will bring us unending humiliation; the impending legal and moral chaos is appalling.
What was the reaction of the American people to Roosevelt’s gold seizure? By the 1930s, most of the United States had been under systems of public (i.e., government) schooling for at least three decades. After years of such indoctrination, even though Americans had not yet become dependent on the federal government’s welfare dole that Roosevelt was initiating, most of them nevertheless now deferred to the wisdom of federal officials to deal with such complicated subjects as economics, depressions, and monetary policy.
Thus, when Roosevelt issued his decree, it was not met with massive protests and demonstrations but rather with the same degree of meekness and submission that many (but certainly not all) of the Cuban people would display when their homes and businesses were confiscated by Castro several decades later.
The additional value of the public-school indoctrination was that it effectively immunized federal officials from having to bear responsibility for the consequences of their own wrongful conduct. For when U.S. officials announced that the 1929 stock-market crash and the resulting Great Depression were all the fault of “free enterprise” and that such things as the gold seizure and the New Deal were necessary “to save free enterprise,” entire generations of public-schooled Americans had no idea that they were being misled. If Americans had known the truth — that the stock-market crash and Great Depression, along with all the financial devastation and unemployment — had actually been the fault of the Federal Reserve, there would have been considerable anger, perhaps even violent revolts, against the federal government.
In 1974 Congress made it legal to own gold once again, providing Americans the means to protect their wealth from the inflationary propensities of the federal government.
Is there a possibility, however, that federal officials could confiscate gold again and make it illegal to own it? You bet your bottom gold dollar there is. For one thing, the Trading with the Enemy Act is still on the books and is still being used as the basis for presidential decrees. For another, ever since the Roosevelt administration, federal officials, assisted by the Federal Reserve, have never desisted from issuing ever-growing quantities of paper money, an inflationary process that has ravaged people’s savings. Finally, federal officials hate gold because its rising price in the face of inflation provides a public and an easily readable market message to the citizenry that government officials are destroying the currency.
And make no mistake about it. If another U.S. president issues a gold-confiscation decree, it will be enforced violently and brutally by federal officials. In the climate of the perpetual “crisis” known as the “war on terrorism,” combined with an “economic emergency,” it is not difficult to imagine that federal officials would conduct warrantless raids on banks to search bank records and safety deposit boxes and prosecute dangerous “enemy combatants” and “terrorist sympathizers” who show they “hate their country” by violating the law against the ownership of gold.
The ultimate solution to this financial chaos, destruction, and morass lies in sound money. The ideal is a free market in money, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich A. Hayek observed. The second-best solution is the type of gold standard established by the Framers, where gold and silver coin are the official money and where the federal government is required to redeem all bills and notes in such money.
Both solutions would necessarily entail the abolition of one of the most powerful engines of financial destruction in American history — the Federal Reserve System — as well as the repeal of all legal-tender laws.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.
One of eight Iraqis is displaced, and the number is growing rapidly. An estimated 1,500 people flee their homes each day, especially in mixed-religion neighborhoods and cities. Of those, an unknown but significant number are Iraqis who have risked their lives to provide assistance to the U.S.-led coalition, to foreign journalists or to international nongovernmental organizations.
By any possible interpretation of the "Pottery Barn rule," the U.S. has a deep responsibility to assist in the well-being of these Iraqis. Yet the number of Iraqis granted political asylum in the U.S. last year was appallingly low: 202. In September, the administration set its 2007 asylum target at a miserly 500.
Why? One former Bush administration official has said that granting too many Iraqis refugee status would be a tacit admission that Iraq "is a losing cause." This is politics at its most cynical. Iraq's refugee crisis competes with Darfur's as the worst in the world (and it is certainly the one the U.S. is most responsible for), yet the welcome mat has gone missing. More than $100 billion in U.S. taxpayer money will be spent on war and reconstruction in Iraq this year, but only $20 million has been allocated for migration and refugee assistance.
Among the thousands of Iraqis desperately seeking a U.S. visa is the former translator for U.S. freelance journalist Steven Vincent. Vincent was murdered in 2005 in Basra. His translator was eventually spirited out of Iraq, but she can't get a visa into the United States.
Vincent's widow testified this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I have been told," she said, that her dead husband's translator "does not qualify for refugee or asylum status because Iraq is now a democracy, hence there should be no reason she would need to flee."
On "60 Minutes" this week, President Bush said Iraqis "owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude." One way to encourage gratitude is to show a little of your own — starting with the people who risked their lives to help U.S. and other forces try to succeed.
How misinformation, and the debunking of that misinformation, spreads through the blogosphere and the traditional media
January 19, 2007
When the liar is a friend
When you read a news story, do you take it at face value until something raises a flag or do you look at the source and decide in advance whether you're going to read with a skeptical eye? Are you more likely to believe news if it fits neatly into your existing worldview or are you really objective? Without a healthy skepticism, we would fall for every sales pitch on TV -- but by trusting some sources less it follows that we trust some sources more, and that leaves us vulnerable to carefully placed deceit. I wonder if there's any way to reduce that weak spot without losing trust altogether.
I like to think of this site as having a special interest in evidence-based debunkery. emptywheel's book, Anatomy of Deceit, is a great example. DemFromCT's FluWiki is another. The rest of us have our own pet projects, from Kagro X putting the lie to "we don't have the numbers" to DHinMI putting the fool's cap on fraudsters and conspiracy theorists. My own little project recently has been to show up a series of anti-science lies from PETA that recently crossed over into the mainstream press. Besides exposing the lies themselves, it's worth talking about how they spread and how they've been unspread.
The lies -- which falsely claim that a scientist in Oregon named Charles Roselli is (1) a homophobe, (2) trying to cure gayness in humans, (3) has already cured gayness in sheep, and (4) is cutting open sheep brains, attaching electronic devices, and injecting their brains with hormones to do so -- began last August, and after debunking these claims I wrote a post laying out a strategy I'd used for "unspreading" the lie, and detailing how well it had (and hadn't) worked. In short, the method was first to write a detailed factual post that corrects the lies, then to use search tools to identify blogs repeating the lies, and finally to systematically visit those sites and write comments referring the bloggers to the correction post (without trying to convert them ideologically, and sticking strictly to correcting the facts). That exercise last August proved to be a small-scale practice run for the onslaught of misinformation that followed when the story crossed into the mainstream press about three weeks ago. The basic model has held up fairly well. Here, I'll run through how well it scales up and what improvements may be made. The question to keep in mind is whether a story simply has a life of its own, or how much its spread depends on its source -- and what that implies for debunkery.
Rather than coming from PETA, now the story was coming from Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times in the UK. Unlike the PETA release, which hit animal rights sites and GLBT community sites first, this time the story was channeled through right-wing sites, appearing immediately on Free Republic and many smaller religious and conservative blogs. These posts were uncritical of the story's content, either reposting the piece without commentary or chuckling at its false suggestion that gay children could be identified and aborted and how that would "prove" to the Left the immorality of the pro-choice position. I hesitate to link to any of this crap but here's one noxious example to give you an idea.
The lefty blogs weren't angels on this matter, either. Uncritical repetitions of the Times' lies were posted on dailykos, where they went uncontested, and on Booman Tribune. But most lefty blogs were amenable to fact-checking. I made a point of posting comments without regard to a blog's politics, and while several right-wing blog administrators deleted my fact-check comments in order not to have their mistakes exposed (with the occasional exception), I found that lefty blogs not only let the comments stand but many writers went the extra step and posted an update, retraction or correction (now, if only the Sunday Times had the same integrity). These included 100 Days, Pam's House Blend, Joan of Snark, LiveJournal blogs including Such a Nice Boy and two really thoughtful posts from Paul Decelles here and here. Other bloggers did the research themselves and came across my debunking, most notably Joe.My.God who posted not only an update but an outstanding encapsulation of the story to date and whose heavily-trafficked site was key in getting the truth to the GLBT blogosphere.
Around this time something new began to happen. Rather than having to post the debunking links myself on others' blogs, I began finding that I'd go to a site and another commenter -- often one I had never interacted with or heard of -- had already posted a correction. It happened at Crooks & Liars, where a commenter named Morris Berg who had read my post here added a link in the comments that led to an update/semi-correction on the front-page post itself. It happened at Rhetorically Speaking with a commenter named Jon, and that blog later posted a very funny edit of the Times piece for accuracy. It happened on a GLBT site with a comment from Jonathan Korman (same Jon? if so, thanks twice!). It happened on Dyke Squad with a commenter named johnicholas, and that site later posted an update based on C&L's correction via Morris Berg. No commenter was so prolific, however, as OHSU's press person Jim Newman. It is unusual for a university to embrace new media the way OHSU has, but I think the results are showing. I did a blogsearch the other day and (painstakingly) counted through 55 separate blog postings on the story, half of which were "real" posts that presented a viewpoint and half of which were straight blockquotes with at most a line of snark added. Newman had commented on 26 of these with links to my debunking or other debunkings. In some cases his comments led to the retractions I linked to above; in other cases just a note in the comments: "PETA, huh? Thanks, Jim. I knew that this story was at the very least sensationalized." On some blogs Newman's often hit-and-run comments were backed up and expanded by a site's regular commenters who decided to look into the story. At the same time, other writers began debunking the Sunday Times' lies (either independently or cribbing from me without linking, who knows -- as long as the story is told right, I don't really care). The word was spreading, and now the task of correcting this anti-science propaganda had been taken up by others.
As encouraging as this progress was in the blogosphere, PETA's lies continued to spread, discouragingly, through conservative pundits. I'm told it went out over Rush Limbaugh's show, and the columnist Mark Steyn polluted the Chicago Sun-Times with a version of the story that invented steaming piles of new lies to augment the ones PETA had begun (including the insane assertion that a skin patch had already been developed to alter sexuality in the womb) and was immediately linked far and wide across the right-wing blogosphere. However, more thoughtful conservative writers like Andrew Sullivan posted updates and corrections, with each of these leading to more commenters (here, Steven B) on other sites correcting the lies as they spread. Meanwhile, Newman continued to debunk the story, regularly linking to my posts here rather than sticking to OHSU-generated material. He went on Penn Jillette's radio show to explain the real science, and contacted other media outlets to stop their spreading the lies (in many cases, to their credit, American media contacted OHSU, learned the real story and then decided to ignore the PETA-manufactured "controversy" -- although they didn't go so far as to help debunk it). In the UK's Guardian, the columnist Ben Goldacre wrote a good piece (expanded on-line version here) debunking PETA's lies and acknowledging the role of the blogosphere -- including TNH -- along the way. Each post like Goldacre's led to more and more and more and more, and... well, you get the idea. Paradoxically, many of these posts carried along the theme of "bloggers get the story right where the mainstream media sensationalizes" -- although they themselves had missed the blogosphere debunking until the mainstream press picked it up. Accuracy aside, the mainstream press has a reach far beyond what someone like myself can achieve.
This story spread for two reasons. First, its sheer (or should I say "shear"?) sensationalism -- not to mention the tempting puns, each of which I've seen used about 80 times by now, amazingly with no loss of self-satisfaction at each punster's supposed cleverness. One of my favorite sites, Language Log, ran a great and mercifully pun-free analysis concluding that sensationalism was the overriding reason the Times went ahead with reprinting lies it knew to be false:
But on balance, it doesn't seem likely to me that their Times article was "a deliberate political hit job". Rather, it seems to have been one of the modern "bible stories" that are published so often these days in the guise of science journalism.
You start with a grabby narrative with mythic resonances -- here it's one about scientists using neurosurgery and hormone injections into the brain to "cure" homosexuality, testing their techniques by cruel experimentation on cute little sheep...
Then you add journalists and editors eager to create some buzz. The fairy tale about fixing gay rams with brain surgery is definitely buzz-worthy, sure to rile up the anti-vivisectionists and the gay rights activists, and maybe the religious right too. Does it have any correspondence whatsoever to the facts of the world or even to the claims of the research? Who cares? Not the reporters or their editors, apparently. So they bang it out in the form that's appropriate for their medium, and we're off.
But it's important to note that these people are not lying, exactly. They simply don't care one way or another about what the facts are, and this shifts their work out of the category of lies and into the category for which Harry Frankfurt has suggested the technical term bullshit...
As I wrote last year after hearing Frankfurt speak, he defines buillshit not as lies or truth but as total disregard for veracity either way. I disagree that that's what happened at the Sunday Times, although it comes down to a disagreement about when willful blindness to a fact laid before you crosses the line from bullshit to lying. Clearly, though, this sensationalist angle -- our bullshit addiction -- fueled the spread of the lies through the blogs. Fortunately, an equal passion for evidence-based argument (perhaps fueled by a combative love of proving the other guy wrong) exists on blogs as well.
The other reason this story spread is the more pernicious and, I think, the more overlooked. In a really excellent and thoughtful post from Thomas Kraemer, he puts these lies in a box called "agitprop":
Agitprop (agitation propaganda) is an old political technique that was used by communists to gain popular support. PETA is trying to agitate gay people by convincing them that Oregon State University is doing homophobic research. Agitation makes people more susceptible to following a political group's agenda, which in PETA's case is the elimination of all animal research.
It's easy to say that the media is full of lies, and will print anything sensational with or without facts behind it. But that is a fairly destructive point of view: at some point, to participate in a democracy, you need to get news you can believe. You can't dismiss it all.
That's why this story has been so damaging. We are accustomed to attacks on science from the right -- against stem cell research, climate research, against evolution -- and have learned not to take a Heritage Foundation "scientist" seriously. However, PETA, while largely discredited, still retains some leftist credentials. They sensationalize, they overstate, they are more into symbolic protests than results -- but they are usually behind at least nominally progressive-sympathetic causes. That made it all the more nasty when they concocted these out-and-out lies targeted not against a field of science (which would have been a transparent anti-research attack) but against an individual scientist. Here was a group on the left raising an alarm, and from the "facts" they gave there was every reason to be alarmed. And because it was presented as a gay rights cause, because it was agitprop so skillfully designed to exploit the GLBT community, the story was sold without concern that the "facts" were, in reality, all lies.
Perhaps the Sunday Times saw this as a useful story for its own ends. It took the agitprop PETA had targeted to exploit gays, and used it to advance the conservative anti-science agenda: by portraying scientists as dangerous, by advancing the "Mad Scientist" frame I wrote about last week, the conservative movement from the Times to Mark Steyn was able to play down the PETA association -- that wouldn't sit well with their audience -- and use it to advance the idea that all scientists are nuts, evil wizards meddling with nature. And that helps advance their fight to stifle science on other fronts.
What happened then, was not just a function of the story but very much a function of who was telling it. What began as anti-gay lies cooked up by PETA last August made a first round among progressive groups, then having rested a few months was dressed up by conservative actors in "evils of science" language and found a second life abetting their cause. Folks on the left and the right were scammed equally.
How can we stop it happening again? Evidence-based argument worked this time. But I'm afraid it may not work for long. In Congressional debate, fringe "scientists" have long been used by corporations to plant doubt about topics from environmental impact of CFCs to the effects of second-hand smoke. The Sunday Times article made use of Michael Bailey as an expert, citing him as a neurology professor without mentioning he is a fringe figure with a disturbingly checkered past of exploiting and abusing transgendered people. It can't be much longer before we see a similar effect on the internet: for every debunking post I can put up, surely PETA and sockpuppet "scientific" agencies will be able to post a rebuttal -- their links will all be circular, their "facts" will all be lies, but what reader is going to go through and compare theirs to mine side-by-side, link by link? What reader has the time or expertise to really learn the area and decide who's telling the truth?
In the end, it comes down to reputation. Right now, in the early days of blogs, things are relatively clear: here at TNH we have a certain reputation, and PETA hasn't done much to set up sockpuppets to circumvent their own bad rep. I'm afraid that in the future the democratic nature of the internet will lead to simply too many "expert" voices, many of them Trojan Horses posing as voices on the opposite side of their true intent, and the very thing that makes this medium so powerful -- the ability of a lone anonymous voice to write a heavily-linked, evidence-based post and persuade many people of the truth -- may also prove its greatest weakness.