Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Proper Thinking

The Net-Zero Gas Tax
A once-in-a-generation chance.
by Charles Krauthammer
01/05/2009, Volume 014, Issue 16

Americans have a deep and understandable aversion to gasoline taxes. In a culture more single-mindedly devoted to individual freedom than any other, tampering with access to the open road is met with visceral opposition. That's why earnest efforts to alter American driving habits take the form of regulation of the auto companies--the better to hide the hand of government and protect politicians from the inevitable popular backlash.

But it's not just love of the car. America is a nation of continental expanses. Distances between population centers can be vast. The mass-transit mini-car culture of Europe just doesn't work in big sky country.

This combination of geography and romance is the principal reason gas taxes are so astonishingly low in America. The federal tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. In Britain, as in much of Europe, the tax approaches $4 per gallon--more than 20 times the federal levy here.

Savvy politicians (i.e., those who succeed in getting themselves elected president) know this and tread carefully. Ronald Reagan managed a 5-cent increase. So did Bush 41. Bill Clinton needed a big fight to get a 4.3-cent increase. The lesson has been widely learned. No one with national ambitions proposes a major gas tax. Indeed, this summer featured the absurd spectacle of two leading presidential candidates (John McCain and Hillary Clinton) seriously proposing a temporary gas tax suspension.

Today's economic climate of financial instability and deepening recession, moreover, makes the piling on of new taxes--gasoline or otherwise--not just politically unpalatable but economically dubious in the

So why even think about it? Because the virtues of a gas tax remain what they have always been. A tax that suppresses U.S. gas consumption can have a major effect on reducing world oil prices. And the benefits of low world oil prices are obvious: They put tremendous pressure on OPEC, as evidenced by its disarray during the current collapse; they deal serious economic damage to energy-exporting geopolitical adversaries such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran; and they reduce the enormous U.S. imbalance of oil trade which last year alone diverted a quarter of $1 trillion abroad. Furthermore, a reduction in U.S. demand alters the balance of power between producer and consumer, making us less dependent on oil exporters. It begins weaning us off foreign oil, and, if combined with nuclear power and renewed U.S. oil and gas drilling, puts us on the road to energy independence.

High gas prices, whether achieved by market forces or by government imposition, encourage fuel economy. In the short term, they simply reduce the amount of driving. In the longer term, they lead to the increased (voluntary) shift to more fuel-efficient cars. They render redundant and unnecessary the absurd CAFE standards--the ever-changing Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations that mandate the fuel efficiency of various car and truck fleets--which introduce terrible distortions into the market. As the consumer market adjusts itself to more fuel-efficient autos, the green car culture of the future that environmentalists are attempting to impose by decree begins to shape itself unmandated. This shift has the collateral environmental effect of reducing pollution and CO2 emissions, an important benefit for those who believe in man-made global warming and a painless bonus for agnostics (like me) who nonetheless believe that the endless pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere cannot be a good thing.

These benefits are blindingly obvious. They always have been. But the only time you can possibly think of imposing a tax to achieve them is when oil prices are very low. We had such an opportunity when prices collapsed in the mid-1980s and again in the late 1990s. Both opportunities were squandered. Nothing was done.

Today we are experiencing a unique moment. Oil prices are in a historic free fall from a peak of $147 a barrel to $39 today. In July, U.S. gasoline was selling for $4.11 a gallon. It now sells for $1.65. With $4 gas still fresh in our memories, the psychological impact of a tax that boosts the pump price to near $3 would be far less than at any point in decades. Indeed, an immediate $1 tax would still leave the price more than one-third below its July peak.

The rub, of course, is that this price drop is happening at a time of severe recession. Not only would the cash-strapped consumer rebel against a gas tax. The economic pitfalls would be enormous. At a time when overall consumer demand is shrinking, any tax would further drain the economy of disposable income, decreasing purchasing power just when consumer spending needs to be supported.

What to do? Something radically new. A net-zero gas tax. Not a freestanding gas tax but a swap that couples the tax with an equal payroll tax reduction. A two-part solution that yields the government no net increase in revenue and, more importantly--that is
why this proposal is different from others--immediately renders the average gasoline consumer financially whole.

Here is how it works. The simultaneous enactment of two measures: A $1 increase in the federal gasoline tax--together with an immediate $14 a week reduction of the FICA tax. Indeed, that reduction in payroll tax should go into effect the preceding week, so that the upside of the swap (the cash from the payroll tax rebate) is in hand even before the downside (the tax) kicks in.

The math is simple. The average American buys roughly 14 gallons of gasoline a week. The $1 gas tax takes $14 out of his pocket. The reduction in payroll tax puts it right back. The average driver comes out even, and the government makes nothing on the transaction. (There are, of course, more drivers than workers--203 million vs. 163 million. The 10 million unemployed would receive the extra $14 in their unemployment insurance checks. And the elderly who drive--there are 30 million licensed drivers over 65--would receive it with their Social Security payments.)

Revenue neutrality is essential. No money is taken out of the economy. Washington doesn't get fatter. Nor does it get leaner. It is simply a transfer agent moving money from one activity (gasoline purchasing) to another (employment) with zero net revenue for the government.

Revenue neutrality for the consumer is perhaps even more important. Unlike the stand-alone gas tax, it does not drain his wallet, which would produce not only insuperable popular resistance but also a new drag on purchasing power in the midst of a severe recession. Unlike other tax rebate plans, moreover, the consumer doesn't have to wait for a lump-sum reimbursement at tax time next April, after having seethed for a year about government robbing him every time he fills up. The reimbursement is immediate. Indeed, at its inception, the reimbursement precedes the tax expenditure.

One nice detail is that the $14 rebate is mildly progressive. The lower wage earner gets a slightly greater percentage of his payroll tax reduced than does the higher earner. But that's a side effect. The main point is that the federal government is left with no net revenue--even temporarily. And the average worker is left with no net loss. (As the tax takes effect and demand is suppressed, average gas consumption will begin to fall below 14 gallons a week. There would need to be a review, say yearly, to adjust the payroll tax rebate to maintain revenue neutrality. For example, at 13 gallons purchased per week, the rebate would be reduced to $13.)

Of course, as with any simple proposal, there are complications. Doesn't reimbursement-by-payroll-tax-cut just cancel out the incentive to drive less and shift to fuel-efficient cars? No. The $14 in cash can be spent on anything. You can blow it all on gas by driving your usual number of miles, or you can drive a bit less and actually have money in your pocket for something else. There's no particular reason why the individual consumer would want to plow it all back into a commodity that is now $1 more expensive. When something becomes more expensive, less of it is bought.

The idea that the demand for gasoline is inelastic is a myth. A 2007 study done at the University of California, Davis, shows that during the oil shocks of the late 1970s, a 20 percent increase in oil prices produced a 6 percent drop in per capita gas consumption. During the first half of this decade, demand proved more resistant to change--until the dramatic increases of the last two years. Between November 2007 and October 2008, the United States experienced the largest continual decline in driving history (100 billion miles). Last August, shortly after pump prices peaked at $4.11 per gallon, the year-on-year decrease in driving reached 5.6 percent--the largest ever year-to-year decline recorded in a single month, reported the Department of Transportation. (Records go back to 1942.) At the same time, mass transit--buses, subways, and light rail--has seen record increases in ridership. Amtrak reported more riders and revenue in fiscal 2008 than ever in its 37-year history.

Gasoline demand can be stubbornly inelastic, but only up to a point. In this last run-up, the point of free fall appeared to be around $4. If it turns out that at the current world price of $39 a barrel, a $1 tax does not discourage demand enough to keep the price down, we simply increase the tax. The beauty of the gas tax is that we--and not OPEC--do the adjusting. And that increase in price doesn't go into the pocket of various foreign thugs and unfriendlies, but back into the pocket of the American consumer.

What about special cases? Of course there are variations in how much people drive. It depends on geography, occupation, and a host of other factors. These variations are unavoidable, and in part, welcome. The whole idea is to reward those who drive less and to disadvantage those who drive more. Indeed, inequities of this sort are always introduced when, for overarching national reasons, government creates incentives and disincentives for certain behaviors. A tax credit for college tuition essentially takes money out of the non-college going population to subsidize those who do go--and will likely be wealthier in the end than their non-college contributors. Not very fair. Nonetheless, we support such incentives because college education is a national good that we wish to encourage. Decreased oil consumption is a similarly desirable national good.

There will certainly be special cases, such as truck drivers and others for whom longer distance driving is a necessity that might warrant some special program of relief. That would require some small bureaucracy, some filings for exemption or rebate, and perhaps even some very minor tweak of the gas tax (say, an extra penny or two beyond the dollar). But that's a detail. Most people can drive less. They already do.

Why a $1 tax? Because we need a significant increase in the cost of gasoline to change our habits--or, more accurately, maintain the new driving habits and auto purchase patterns that have already occurred as a result of the recent oil shock. We know from the history of the 1980s and 1990s that these habits will be undone and unlearned if gasoline remains at today's amazingly low price. In the very short time that prices have been this low, we have already seen a slight rebound in SUV sales. They remain far below the level of last year--in part because no one is buying anything in this recession, and in part because we have not fully recovered from the psychological impact of $4 gasoline. We are not quite ready to believe that gas will remain this low. But if it does remain this low, as the night follows day, we will resume our gas-guzzling habits.

It might therefore be objected that a $1 gasoline tax won't be enough. If $4 was the price point that precipitated a major decrease in driving and a collapse of SUV sales, an immediate imposition of a $1 gas tax would only bring the average price to $2.65.

To which I have two answers. First, my preliminary assumption is that it takes $4 to break the habit of gas-guzzling profligacy. But once that is done, it might take something less, only in the range of $3, to maintain the new habit. It may turn out that these guesses are slightly off. The virtue of a gas tax is that these conjectures can be empirically tested and refined, and the precise amount of the tax adjusted to consumer response.

Second, my personal preference would be a $1.25 tax today (at $1.65 gasoline) or even a $1.50 tax if gas prices begin to slide below $1.50--the target being near-$3 gasoline. (The payroll tax rebate would, of course, be adjusted accordingly: If the tax is $1.50, the rebate is $21 a week.) The $1 proposal is offered because it seems more politically palatable. My personal preference for a higher initial tax stems from my assumption that the more sharply and quickly the higher prices are imposed, the greater and more lasting the effect on consumption.

But whatever one's assumptions and choice of initial tax, the net-zero tax swap remains flexible, adjustable, testable, and nonbureaucratic. Behavior is changed, driving is curtailed, fuel efficiency is increased, without any of the arbitrary, shifting, often mindless mandates decreed by Congress.

This is a major benefit of the gas tax that is generally overlooked. It is not just an alternative to regulation; because it is so much more efficient, it is a killer of regulation. The most egregious of these regulations are the fleet fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards forced on auto companies. Rather than creating market conditions that encourage people to voluntarily buy greener cars, the CAFE standards simply impose them. And once the regulations are written--with their arbitrary miles-per-gallon numbers and target dates--they are not easily changed. If they are changed, moreover, they cause massive dislocation, and yet more inefficiency, in the auto industry.

CAFE standards have proven devastating to Detroit. When oil prices were relatively low, they forced U.S. auto companies to produce small cars that they could only sell at a loss. They were essentially making unsellable cars to fulfill mandated quotas, like steel producers in socialist countries meeting five-year plan production targets with equal disregard for demand.

Yet the great 2008 run-up in world oil prices showed what happens without any government coercion. As the price of gas approached $4 a gallon, there was a collapse of big-car sales that caused U.S. manufacturers to begin cutting SUV production and restructuring the composition of their fleets. GM's CEO, for example, declared in June, "these prices are changing consumer behavior and changing it rapidly," and announced the closing of four SUV plants and the addition of a third shift in two plants making smaller cars.

Which is precisely why a gas tax would render these government-dictated regulations irrelevant and obsolete. If you want to shift to fuel-efficient cars, don't mandate, don't scold, don't appeal to the better angels of our nature. Find the price point, reach it with a tax, and let the market do the rest.

Yes, a high gas tax constitutes a very serious government intervention. But it has the virtue of simplicity. It is clean, adaptable, and easy to administer. Admittedly, it takes a massive external force to alter behavior and tastes. But given the national security and the economic need for more fuel efficiency, and given the leverage that environmental considerations will have on the incoming Democratic administration and Democratic Congress, that change in behavior and taste will occur one way or the other. Better a gas tax that activates free market mechanisms rather than regulation that causes cascading market distortions.

The net-zero gas tax not only obviates the need for government regulation. It obviates the need for government spending as well. Expensive gas creates the market for the fuel-efficient car without Washington having to pick winners and losers with massive government "investment" and arbitrary grants. No regulations, no mandates, no spending programs to prop up the production of green cars that consumer demand would not otherwise support. And if we find this transition going too quickly or too slowly, we can alter it with the simple expedient of altering the gas tax, rather than undertaking the enormously complicated review and rewriting of fuel-efficiency regulations.

Then there are the so-called externalities: national security, balance of payments, and the environment. The most important of these is national security. In July, when gasoline was at $4, a full $3 was going to the oil producer. (On average thus far this year, 70 percent of pump prices went to pay for the crude.) And God in his infinite wisdom has put oil in many unfortunate places. The American people understand that these dollars were going out of the U.S. economy and into the treasuries of Hugo Chávez, Vladimir Putin, the Iranian mullahs (indirectly, since the oil is fungible), and various other miscreants.

The point of a high U.S. gas tax is to suppress domestic demand and thus suppress the world price. Low world prices are a huge blow to overseas producers, particularly ones with relatively large populations, nationalized industries that are increasingly inefficient, and budgetary obligations built on the expectation of a continuing energy bonanza. Countries such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran.

A UBS analysis estimates that Iran and Venezuela need $90 oil to balance their budgets. And at $70, according to Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin, Russia goes into deficit. It is now draining the reserves built up during the fat years. At current oil prices, Russia will soon become a debtor nation. The World Bank's lead economist for Russia, Zeljko Bogetic, said on December 19 that at $30 a barrel, "financing constraint would become so sharp that it's possible even to envisage Russia's return from a creditor to international organizations to [that of] a borrower." This will be a far humbler Russia than the one that invaded Georgia, built a nuclear reactor in Iran, threatens Poland and the Czech Republic, and is reestablishing naval bases in such former Soviet satellites as Syria.

The Russian navy just made calls in Nicaragua and Cuba. It has conducted joint exercises with Venezuela in an open challenge to America. These are, as yet, not serious threats. But with a stronger Russia and Venezuela, they could be. The projection of power is very expensive, as Americans very well know. Oil at $39 would simply starve Russia and Venezuela of the means to sustain this adventurism.

Similarly Iran, which is already under sanctions, already suffering high inflation, already the subject of popular discontent over corruption and economic mismanagement. All this was cushioned by high oil prices. They allowed the Islamic republic to act like the regional superpower, giving military and financial support to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, "special groups" and Sadrist militias in Iraq, and various other terrorists. And, of course, oil revenues permit the continued large-scale operation of Iran's nuclear weapons development program.

Of all the instruments of foreign policy, military and diplomatic, that we have at our disposal against these adversaries, none is as powerful as $39 (or less) oil. It makes power projection by these regimes far more expensive and difficult. And even more profoundly, if world oil prices remain this low for a significant period of time, the very stability of the regimes in Russia, Venezuela, and Iran will be jeopardized--increasing the possibility of regime change without the expenditure of a single U.S. defense dollar and without the risk of a single U.S. soldier.

Not all oil exporters are adversaries. But many are indifferent to the economic repercussions of high world prices on the American consumer and the American economy. Three of the last four global recessions were preceded--and significantly precipitated--by major oil price spikes. Suppressing the world price through the help of a high U.S. gas tax weakens these producers and makes far more problematic their periodic attempt to extort yet more revenue from us by means of cartel-wide production cuts. Combined with reduction of our overall oil importation, that significantly reduces our dependence on--and our helplessness in the face of--their production decisions. It reduces the power of OPEC over oil prices, and thus over our economic life. And it constitutes the beginning of energy independence--particularly if coupled with increased production of various kinds at home. (But that's another subject.)

We underestimate our power. Of course, the slump in China and other rapidly growing economies has contributed to the current extreme price collapse. But China consumes only 9 percent of the world's oil. The United States consumes 24 percent. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia produces 13 percent of the world's oil. We don't generally see ourselves as the Saudi Arabia of oil consumers, but we are. The Saudis have the most effect on the world price because they are the swing producer. We are, in effect, the swing consumer. And since oil peaked earlier this year, we are consuming less. October was yet another month of record year-on-year decline of gasoline consumption in the United States. And that's just the immediate effect, before the long-term impact of changes in our automobile fleet can take hold. And that long-term change will only occur if we keep the domestic price high.

The further advantage of keeping it artificially high by means of a tax is that it keeps a large part of the money paid at the pump at home in the U.S. economy. Last year, we sent $246 billion to foreign countries to pay for oil. With oil fetching a price today more than 70 percent below its peak, billions that just this summer were going overseas are now getting pumped back into the U.S. economy. This does not just look pretty on our trade balance sheet. It helps protect the dollar by reducing the number of dollars that would otherwise be held abroad, often by countries whose attitude towards America is ambivalent, if not hostile.

And finally there is the environmental effect. If anthropogenic global warming is real, a reduction in driving and increase in fuel-efficiency is an unvarnished good. If anthropogenic global warming is as yet unproved, as I happen to believe, then the reduction in CO2 pumped into the atmosphere is a reasonable bet in conditions of uncertainty.

Prudence would suggest taking modest steps. Politics makes such steps imperative. Whatever the scientific truth, climate change has become dogma in the West. In the schools, it is already a religion. Public policy is shaped not by scientific reality but by public perceptions. The environmental movement not only has hegemony in the media. Its political party is now in control of the U.S. executive and the legislature. They will see to it that actions are taken to reduce greenhouse gases.

We therefore have a choice. These measures can either be radical and economically ruinous, such as renewed moratoria on oil and gas drilling, the effective abolition of the coal industry, forced production of green cars that have no market and are so economically unviable that they will ruin the companies that make them. (The Chevy Volt will go 40 miles on a charge and cost about $35,000 after a required $7,500 government rebate. A real winner.) Or we can do it sensibly. Curtail oil consumption and encourage fuel-efficient technologies by means of a net-zero gas tax. It would reduce pollution and CO2 emissions at no economic cost. If we can do environmentally sensible things, particularly ones that will have overwhelming economic and national security advantages, why not pocket the environmental gains, and obviate the need for more extreme alternatives?

I am not a car hater. It is a wondrous source of connectedness, convenience, and individual freedom. But it has its social costs, its externalities. If we can control these fairly painlessly by keeping the price of gas relatively high--though lower than what it was just a few months ago--we can gain this subsidiary benefit of prophylactic environmental action. Again, without mandates, without massive bureaucracies, and with a host of collateral benefits.

In our current economic crisis, there is but a single silver lining--the collapse of world oil prices. This in turn is already stimulating a struggling economy, helping our balance of payments, humbling OPEC, and weakening our adversaries. When economic conditions improve, and oil consumption and prices rise again, these benefits will evaporate precisely as they have time and again since the first oil shock of 1973. A time of $1.65 gasoline is our chance to enact a net-zero gas tax. It is a once in a generation opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

Charles Krauthammer is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Democrat Thinking

Editorial from NY Slime
The Gas Tax

President-elect Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress seem to have a clear vision of the auto industry they think the country needs. It must be financially self-sufficient. It also must be capable of producing highly fuel-efficient, next-generation vehicles that can help the nation cope with climate change and finite supplies of oil.

Yet for all the conditions attached to it, the multibillion-dollar aid package for Detroit’s carmakers approved by the White House (with Mr. Obama’s support) fails to address one crucial question: Who will buy all the fuel-efficient cars that Detroit carmakers are supposed to make?

The danger is that too few will, especially if gasoline prices remain low. Therefore, it might be time for the president-elect and Congress to think seriously about imposing a gas tax or similar levy to keep gas prices up after the economy recovers from recession.

Americans did not buy enormous gas guzzlers just because Detroit marketed them relentlessly. They bought them because they wanted big cars — and because gas was cheap. If gas stays cheap, Americans would be less inclined to squeeze their families into a lithe fuel-efficient alternative.

Furthermore, even if the government managed to convert General Motors, Chrysler and Ford to the cause of energy efficiency, cheap gas could open the door for a competitor — Toyota, perhaps? — to take over the lucrative market for gas-chuggers, leaving Detroit’s automakers eating dust once again.

Americans have flirted with fuel-efficient cars before only to jilt them when gas prices fell. In the late 1970s, for instance, they spurned light trucks as gas prices doubled. But as gas prices declined between 1981 and 2005, the market share of sport-utility vehicles, pickups, vans and the like jumped from 16 percent to 61 percent of vehicle sales in the United States.

The recent infatuation with the Toyota Prius and other fuel-efficient cars could well come to a similar end. It took a gallon of gas at $4.10 to push the share of light trucks down to 45 percent in July. But as gasoline plummeted back to $1.60 a gallon, their share inched back up to 49 percent of auto sales in November.

There are several ways to tax gas. One would be to devise a variable consumption tax in such a way that a gallon of unleaded gasoline at the pump would never go below a floor of $4 or $5 (in 2008 dollars), fluctuating to accommodate changing oil prices and other costs. Robert Lawrence, an economist at Harvard, proposes a variable tariff on imported oil to achieve the same effect and also to stimulate the development of domestic energy sources.

In both cases, the fuel taxes could be offset with tax credits to protect vulnerable segments of the population.

While oil prices are all but sure to rise again as the world emerges from recession, further tempering consumption with a gas tax would both slow the rise in the price of crude and steer more revenue from energy consumption to the United States budget, rather than that of oil-exporting countries.

A bitter recession is not the most opportune time to ratchet up the price of energy. But if the Obama administration is to meet its twin objectives of reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and cutting its emissions of greenhouse gases, it needs to start thinking now about mechanisms to curb the nation’s demand for energy when the economy emerges from recession in the future.

This also would serve as a signal to American automakers and American drivers that the era of cheap gasoline is not going to last.

Why is this Idiot even over there?

Long Brain Dead My Senator Arlen Specter is an ASS.

The same fool who came up with the theory that one bullet put six holes in 2 people and then fell out on gurney in the hospital in pristine condition. Lost his marbles long before he had a brain tumor.

Is now plying his genius in the middle east. One of the poster children for term limits Specter who refuses to retire never had the sense to get out of the rain in the first place.

Specter takes message from PM to Assad

US Senator Arlen Specter carried a message Monday from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Syrian President Bashar Assad, despite Syria's announcement it had broken off its indirect talks with Israel.(Which is not his Job he is not even Legally allowed in Syria, let alone acting as an emissary. Who sent this fool there?)

Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania who travels frequently to both Israel and Syria, left Israel Monday after a short visit for a meeting with Assad. (which as a member of the Senate and a representative of the US he is forbidden to travel to.)

Specter met with Olmert on Sunday, and said he "got a review of the Syrian negotiations from Olmert." (did Bush give him a job as Envoy or are the voices in his head giving him instructions)

Specter refused to divulge the contents of the message Olmert asked him to take to Assad.

Syria said Sunday that the indirect peace talks through Turkey were halted because of Israel's offensive in Gaza. Specter said that this was not discussed with Olmert.

The senator has long been an advocate of pursuing talks with Syria, and in 2006 was criticized by the Bush administration for visiting Damascus, because it was felt that these visits gave Assad legitimacy. (and yet he continues to do it. His Passport should be revoked while he is overseas)

"I believe the efforts to isolate Syria have not been successful," Specter said. "We ought to try to change things. President [Bill] Clinton tried to do a good job in 1995 and 2000, and I think it ought to be pursued." (You don't have that authority you ass!)

He said that "there could be a great deal to gained" if an agreement with Syria were reached and the proper terms were met. He said the conditions included Syria allowing Lebanon to function as an independent nation and stop transferring Iranian arms to Hizbullah, cut off aid to Hamas, and see if there was a way "to stop Iranian influence." (Keep taking your Cancer Medicine Arlen, your Brain tumor has returned)

Specter said he thought "it would be very difficult" to draw Syria out of Iran's orbit, because the ties go back "a long way." But, he said, "it is an evolving picture, and interests change. I think Syria would definitely like a closer relationship with the US. I have always been an advocate of diplomacy." (you don't set policy you idiot)

In addition to pushing for talks with Syria, Specter has for many years advocated talking with the Iranians. He took issue with a suggestion made earlier this month by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman that any dialogue with Iran be of a limited duration, perhaps three months, so Teheran didn't use it as cover to pursue their nuclear program. (Specter needs to be tested to see just what is left of his thinking ability)

"I think the dialogue ought to last however long the dialogue needs to last," he said. "I would hope that it would last and be successful, and lead to diplomatic relations, and peaceful terms, and to a new Iranian president who doesn't want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, that's what I would like." (I hope you will retire but that won't happen either)

Regarding whether the Iranians would use the talks as a cover to move their nuclear program forward, Specter said, "They are going to move that forward whether we like it or not." (so fuck it lets talk to them anyway)

Specter said that it needed to be communicated to the Iranians "in unmistakable terms that it is unacceptable for them to have a nuclear weapon, but I don't think we are well advised to say anything beyond that. No threats, no implied threats, just that it is unacceptable." (oh please stop we won't do anything you just play nice)

Regarding Gaza, Specter said that he did not think Israel was using disproportionate force, and said Israel was just seeking to remove the Hamas threat. He also said that he believed American support for the Israeli operation would continue, and that US President George W. Bush had made it clear that Washington saw Hamas as the provocateur. (sit down, shut up, and retire you old asshole. You should be arrested for treason the second you set foot back in the country)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

At Least He is Learning to Keep his Mouth shut

'Obama monitoring situation in Gaza'

A top adviser to Barack Obama said the US president-elect is monitoring Israel's intense air offensive again Gaza rocket squads and Hamas members but declined comment on the fresh Mideast crisis, deferring to the Bush administration.

David Axelrod said Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, was in contact with US President George W. Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice but that comment from him was not appropriate. More than 290 Palestinians have died in the first two days of the air campaign.

"President Bush speaks for the United States until Jan. 20 and we're going to honor that," Axelrod said Sunday.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Long but worth the Read

Eradicating the “Little Satan”
Ze’ev Maghen
January 2009

The accession of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been accompanied by a sharp transformation in the Iranian attitude to, and depiction of, the state of Israel. This change includes not only an amplification of the traditional hostility toward the Jewish polity, but also—most ominously—a new conception of that polity as weak and unstable, an easy target for a united Muslim (or united Shiite) offensive.

The prevailing opinion among Middle East experts and Iran watchers, however, is that the revised rhetoric is just that—rhetoric—and that it harbors no significant ramifications for policy-making on the part of Israel or any other states in the region or the world. Vociferous Iranian declarations about the need to erase Israel from the map are seen as nothing more than a means toward achieving certain pragmatic goals, such as eventual détente with the West.

This view is wrong. Iranian-Islamist threats to Israel’s existence are sincere, and they signal the determined pursuit of tenaciously-held ends.


In January 2006, the Iranian daily Jomhuriya Eslami carried the text of a speech delivered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran’s main mosque. Attempting to defuse the diplomatic tension occasioned by the call for Israel’s destruction issued by the then-newly elected President Ahmadinejad at the previous month’s “World Without Zionism” conference, Khamenei concluded his uncharacteristically moderate sermon with the following ringing remarks:

We Iranians intend no harm to any nation, nor will we be the first to attack any nation. We do not deny the right of any polity in any place on God’s earth to exist and prosper. We are a peace-loving country whose only wish is to live, and to let live, in peace.

Without missing a beat, or evincing a discernible hint of irony, the reporter who covered the event continued:

The congregation of worshippers, some 7,000 in number, expressed their unanimous support for the Supreme Leader’s words by repeatedly chanting, marg bar Omrika, marg bar Esra’il “Death to America! Death to Israel!”

This is not as strange as it sounds. Chanting “Death to America! Death to Israel!” has been the way Iranians applaud for over a quarter-century. When the soccer team from Isfahan scores a goal against the soccer team from Shiraz, its fans cheer wildly: “Death to America! Death to Israel!” At the end of an exquisitely performed sitar solo, the genteel audience in a concert hall in Tabriz shows its appreciation by loudly heaping imprecations upon “International Arrogance” (the USA) and “its Bastard Offspring” (the Jewish state). Even during the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Iranian participants have replaced their traditionally pious ejaculations of “I am at your service, O Lord, there is none like unto You!” with responsive Persian cursing sessions aimed at the Hebrew- and English-speaking enemies of everything that is holy. Like the daily “Two-Minutes Hate” in George Orwell’s 1984, this venom-spewing is the mantra upon which an entire generation of Iranians has been raised.

What does this persistent indoctrination, imbibed with mother’s milk and drummed by rote into the consciousnesses of the Iranian citizenry, mean for the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic? In the eyes of many Western and non-Western experts, the answer is: nothing. First of all, these experts urge, we must distinguish between image and reality, between ideology and strategy, between the fiery rhetoric of preachers or street mobs and the sober goals of an essentially pragmatic regime. Indeed, they insist, even the chest-beaters of mosque and madrassa are only repeating slogans that have long since lost all significance in their minds: they are just going through the motions.

“Sadly,” writes the Asia Times columnist Kaveh Afrasiabi, too many Israelis ignore “the gap between mass-generated, largely symbolic rhetoric and [Iran’s] actual policy.” Nor, we are urged to believe, is such “mass-generated rhetoric” truly massive in scope. “The Iranians we should be listening to,” explains Middle East specialist Mark LeVine, “are not the 100,000 or so marchers in support of Ahmadinejad’s [anti-Israel] remarks, but the tens of millions who had something better to do that day.” According to Paul Reynolds, a BBC world-affairs correspondent, President Ahmadinejad’s vitriol is in any case intended primarily for domestic consumption, as a means of distracting the Iranian populace from the economic failures of the Islamic revolution, and no one should mistake it for a guide to foreign policy.

Ultimately, most analysts agree, Ahmadinejad’s menacing proclamations are meant to serve as a bargaining chip: something to be given away in exchange for normalized relations with the West. After all, they stress, there is no rational reason for any eruption of hostilities between Iran and Israel. The two countries do not even share a common border, and their national and economic interests are not in conflict. To the contrary, both have traditionally conceived their “frontline” adversaries to be Arab states, and history has time and again thrown them into each other’s arms, both before and even after the Islamic revolution of 1979. “Iran and Israel have no differences or occasions for getting into active hostilities, let alone a nuclear exchange,” reassures Shahram Chubin, the director of the Geneva Center for Security Policy. To quote Afrasiabi again, “[I]t is difficult to find any expert on Iran’s foreign affairs today who actually shares the view [that there exists a basis for] strategic conflict between Iran and Israel.”


Is the daily drill of Israel-damning in Iran only a tired exercise, a formalistic ceremony no longer accompanied by genuine passion or serious intent? Are the experts correct on this score? In a word: yes. Oblivious to the content of their own words, thousands of mosque- and madrassa-goers calling for the demise of Israel are not, for the most part, expressing a bona-fide, heartfelt hatred for the Jewish citizens or even the Jewish government of the state of Israel. About this the experts are quite right: it is ritual, and the Iranians do not really “mean it.”

But therein lies the rub. In the end, it can often be far more dangerous not to mean what one is saying than to mean it—a point that may be illuminated by a brief detour into mass psychology. Fierce anger and hatred are highly intense, all-consuming emotions that subside quickly if the psyche is not to combust and collapse. Such emotions, moreover, are not only extremely intense but exceedingly unstable. People who truly hate are often just as capable of experiencing other intense emotions, including pity or empathy or remorse.

For this reason, among others, genuine anger and hatred, of the kind that is really “meant” and strongly felt, are inefficient tools for creating or sustaining an atmosphere conducive to long-term persecution or mass murder. That is why the truly horrific atrocities in human history—the enslavements, the inquisitions, the terrorisms, the genocides—have been perpetrated not in hot blood but in cold: not as a result of urgent and immanent feeling but in the name of a transcendent ideology and as a result of painstaking indoctrination.

The vast majority of Germans in World War II did not personally and passionately hate the Jews: they had never even met the men, women, children, and infants whom they would eventually butcher en masse. It was, for the most part, a methodically drilled-in ideology that powered the genocide machine, a machine that killed six million Jews despite the fact that the Germans did not hate them.

Similarly with the events of September 11, 2001. Did Muhammad Atta, the ringleader of the terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers, genuinely and fervently hate every single individual working there on that fateful day, let alone all of the passengers on the plane he commandeered? How could he? He had never met them, and they had never personally done anything to him. What is more, Atta had spent many years in the United States preparing for his mission, during which time he rubbed elbows with all types of Americans. Is it plausible that he managed to maintain a constant boiling rage all day every day toward every one of these acquaintances and their fellow countrymen? How could such a creature survive, or master the self-control to carry out his assigned role?

What is true for Nazi storm troopers and al-Qaeda operatives is true for today’s fundamentalist Shiites. It is not their genuine, vehement hatred that we have to fear; it is their endless, drone-like training. Their militant hostility to Israel is no more a function of immediate, genuine, blood-boiling rage than it is the result of some heinous act or other performed by the Jewish state, however frequently such purported crimes are exploited as triggers of “popular” protest. The hostility is, unfortunately, something far more durable and deeply implanted.

That Israel is the devil, the root of all evil, a criminal cancer that must be excised from the Muslim body politic—these propositions are not ephemeral feelings for most Iranian Muslims, but rather eternal truths that gradually, through endless, tantra-like repetition, have cloyed in the conscious mind while simultaneously installing themselves beneath the level of immediate emotion and awareness, in the place where basic instincts, automatic assumptions, and ontological verities reside. There they have taken root, to remain dormant until circumstances require their activation. When the time is right—and the rulers of Iran have made no secret of their conviction that the time is drawing ever nearer—decades of propaganda will serve the same function for them that centuries of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe performed for the Nazis.

The analysts and pundits are thus indeed correct in asserting that the Iranians do not really “mean it.” They fail to realize, however, that this is the very reason why they may well “do it.” By casting an entire people as a parasitic infestation, by demonizing, de-legitimizing, and dehumanizing them at home, in school, in the mosque, and in the media, the quarter-century-old routine of Israel-hatred, added to 1,400 years of traditional Islamic anti-Semitism, has prepared in the minds of Iranians and their neighboring coreligionists the moral ground for the eradication of the state of Israel.


What, then, of the second argument advanced by Iran specialists, to the effect that Iranian verbal belligerence toward Israel is really a means toward an entirely different end, something to be bartered in exchange for full relations with Washington and sundry other international benefits? Here, too, the analysts have it half-right. At least some elements within today’s Iranian leadership are indeed interested in a rapprochement with the West and especially with America. But Tehran in no way intends to lessen its enmity toward Israel in exchange. To the contrary: the Islamic Republic is offering to diminish its enmity toward the West in exchange for the latter’s abandonment of Israel.

In this connection, we must grasp a crucial distinction between Iranian attitudes to the “Great Satan” of the United States and to the “Little Satan” of Israel. Iranians may chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” with equal fervor, but from a tactical standpoint they well understand that the Great Satan is . . . great. The leaders of the Islamic Republic, even the fiercest ideologues among them, are under no illusion that the United States is about to be conquered by and for Islam in the near future.

Israel, however, is another matter. More and more Iranian Islamists today—together with their zealous coreligionists in other Muslim countries—believe that the erasure of the Jewish state from the map is a dream that can be realized in the here and now, whether in one fell swoop or through a relentless process of attrition and erosion. And one strong indication of this, beginning in 2005 and continuing and intensifying up to the present, is a major turnaround in government statements and published material about Israel and the Jews in the official Persian press.

Up until recently, the prevalent tendency of such coverage had involved the traditional exaggeration of the power and influence of the “Jewish lobby” and the long arm and entrenched tentacles of the government of Israel and the World Zionist Organization. This entailed everything from in-depth “analyses” of how the Jewish cabal that owns Hollywood has utilized the enormous potential of “the world’s seventh art” to bolster Zionism and blacken the face of Islam; to “documentary evidence” that Zionist money and pressure is responsible for the anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite bent of the al-Jazeera television network; to in-depth “scholarly” exposés of the manner in which historically the Jews carved Protestantism out of Catholicism in order to re-impose on Christianity the ethos of the Hebrew Bible with its doctrine of the chosen people.

But these and hundreds of other portraits of Israel and world Jewry as the “hidden hand” undermining Islam at every turn have dwindled considerably of late, giving way instead to their opposite. The emphasis now is on every detectable crack, fault, and weakness in the Jewish national edifice, and on Israel as a polity teetering on the brink of collapse.


The new approach is epitomized by Ahmadinejad himself, with his repeated descriptions of Israel as a “rotten tree” and a “house of straw,” as well as his pledge to his constituents and to the rest of the Muslim world that “this shameful stain on the face of the land of Islam will soon be cleansed.” But the trend is far more widespread than the expostulations of one man. In the Iranian media, for instance, Israel’s evacuation of its Gaza settlements in the summer of 2005 has become a major symbol of the decrepitude of the Jewish state. “The Zionist regime retreats in the face of the slightest resistance,” the newspaper Hamshahri gloated in the wake of the disengagement process. “The willingness of the Zionists to leave behind their synagogues in Gaza demonstrates conclusively that they have no God, and therefore, of course, no religious connection to the Holy Land; they will now be easily ejected from all of occupied Palestine.”

Soon after the Gaza pullout, the headline on a lengthy interview with Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Iranian-backed Hizballah, proclaimed: “We, Too, Drove Out the Israeli Cowards.” The reference was to Israel’s prior withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000—a retreat that in the eyes of Ayatollah Khamenei had similarly “proved the justness of the Islamic struggle” and demonstrated that if Muslims put their trust in God, “victory will be certain.” As for Israel’s July 2006 incursion into Lebanon in response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Iranians were initially shocked by the force of it. But by the end of hostilities in mid-August the Iranian press—like that of many other Middle Eastern countries—was pouncing on the lack of a clear Israeli victory as a sign that the Jewish state was even feebler than many had presumed.

The perceived military defeats of “the Jerusalem-occupying regime” are regularly coupled with still another alleged indication of Israeli weakness—namely, the security fence protecting Israel’s civilian population from Arab terrorism. Ayatollah Khamenei recently described this barrier as “a symbol of the impotence of the Zionists and of their inability to rein in the intifada.” So successful have suicide operations been in sowing “terror and panic” among Israelis, Khamenei declared, that, like their trembling forebears in Europe, they were now retreating behind a ghetto wall. “The Islamic nation,” he added, “is fully capable of deciding the fate of Palestine here and now.”


But it is not the actual wall but the metaphorical walls dividing the different sectors and camps within Israeli society that have received the fullest and most scornful coverage. The Iranian press delights in every instance—real, imagined, or exaggerated—of internecine Jewish conflict: between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, religious Israelis and secular Israelis, new immigrants and old immigrants, right-wingers and left-wingers, Zionists, non-Zionists, anti-Zionists, and post-Zionists.

Thus, a recent article in the daily Javan entitled “Post-Zionism and the Identity Crisis in Israel” pitted “extremist Jews,” i.e., nationalists and settlers, against “religious Jews,” i.e., ultra-Orthodox non-nationalists. Another piece described the supposedly large numbers of Russian immigrants who have not managed to integrate into the life of the country and have either left for good or else ended up joining the Jews for Jesus movement or various satanic and neo-Nazi cults. Still another report, devoted to the intricacies of recent Israeli political maneuvering, included a photograph of President Shimon Peres and former Defense Minister Amir Peretz conversing in an office. “Note that Peres is wearing a suit and tie,” wrote the author, “whereas Peretz is not even wearing a jacket and has his shirt open. This is the traditional method of showing disrespect in Israel, whose politicians all hate one another with a vicious hatred.”

And so forth. This, too, represents a volte-face of sorts: in the past, the prevailing tendency of the official Iranian press was to dismiss any distinctions among Jews as mere smokescreens, a mask behind which they plotted their diabolical conspiracies. But today’s view is also not entirely new. None other than Ayatollah Khomeini portrayed the Jewish state as weak and divided. “If the Muslims were only unified,” he declared, “and each one of them took a bucket of water and poured it out onto Israel, this straw state that is already eating itself alive would be washed away in no time.”

In that light, it is not altogether surprising that the rise to power of Ahmadinejad, who paints himself as the renewer of Khomeini’s revolutionary zeal, should have been accompanied by a resurgence of the belief that Israel is but a flimsy façade whose end is near. “The Zionist entity,” proclaimed the president recently, “has reached a dead end and is in a process of precipitous decline. . . . All of the conditions are ripe for its removal” by means of an “explosion of Muslim rage.” Elaborating on the same motif in the summer of 2006, Ayatollah Ahmad-e-Jannati, General Secretary of the Guardian Council, whipped up the audience of his Friday sermon with the assertion—first uttered by Egypt’s chief propagandist Ahmad Said on the brink of the Six-Day war—that all the Muslims need do is spit, and Israel will drown.


The shifting Iranian line on the condition of the Jewish state—from Potemkin village, to potent nemesis, and now back again—is a salient illustration of a phenomenon noted by the historian Efraim Karsh. In Islamic tradition, Karsh writes, “the traits associated with Jews make a paradoxical mixture: they are seen as both domineering and wretched, both haughty and low.” Such, he adds, is “the age-old Muslim stereotype—as it is, mutatis mutandis, the Christian.” The differences encompassed in that “mutatis mutandis” are, however, pertinent to our discussion.

It has long (and correctly) been argued that major elements of modern Muslim anti-Semitism were imports into Islamic lands from Christian Europe. This holds especially true for the perception of the Jews as a powerful international cabal and a force to be not only hated but downright feared—an idea that held sway for centuries in the Christian West, and that in some locales continues to hold sway today. By contrast, this particular feature of the anti-Semitic creed, though introduced into Muslim collective consciousness relatively recently, is already waning in the Islamic world. Many factors may account for this, but to my mind one is paramount.

There is an uncanny correlation between Christian and Islamic holy scripture concerning the role played by Jews during the formative period of each religion. In the New Testament, the premier political-military enemies of Jesus were the pagan Romans. On the other hand, his increasingly meddlesome ideological-religious enemies were Jews: the scribes and Pharisees who would not cease peppering him with questions deliberately intended to trip him up and undermine his message. Similarly in Islamic historiography: Muhammad’s political-military adversaries were the members of his disowned pagan Quraysh tribe back in Mecca, who launched three successive campaigns against the nascent faith-community in Medina. But the real trouble came from his pestering ideological-religious antagonists, the (genuine or imaginary) Jewish tribes of Medina itself who with their incessant legal and theological badgering made the prophet’s spiritual life extremely difficult.

When it comes to the nature of Jewish subversive activity, the traditions of the two religions are thus almost eerily alike. But no less significant is a difference between them. In the Gospels, the Jews “win”: they succeed in having Jesus crucified and most of his immediate followers executed or banished. In the Qur’an and hadith, by contrast, Muhammad wins, vanquishing his Jewish foes, executing some, and banishing the remainder from Medina and eventually, under his immediate successors, from Arabia altogether.

This formative Islamic experience was largely responsible for the disdain and scorn expressed toward Jews over most of Muslim history, as opposed to the fear and hatred characteristic of Christian attitudes. The same derisive contempt may be reflected in the surge of confidence felt by today’s fundamentalists in their zealous resolve to eliminate the state of Israel from the map.
And that brings us to the larger, non-tactical dimension of the fundamentalists’ divergent attitudes toward the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan”—a dimension deeply rooted in both Islamic ideology and centuries of Muslim historical experience.


Early on, after their first round of lightning victories along the Mediterranean littoral, Muslims came to realize that they would have to be satisfied with conquering only part of the Western world; the other part they would have to share with Christians. Islamic leaders and even Islamic clerics accepted and even enshrined the medieval status quo, according to which hegemony would be divided between Islam in the East and Christendom in the West. To be sure, cross-boundary encroachments were a constant menace and had to be repulsed—Saladin forced out the Crusaders, and the Ottomans were rolled back from Vienna—but on the whole an equilibrium was reached in which each side might even be said to have harbored a grudging respect for the other.

This political-military compromise benefited from an important theological underpinning, epitomized in a celebrated verse from the Qur’an whose contents simultaneously suggest why, in the idealized Islamic conception of balance and mutual tolerance, there is no room today for the state of Israel:

You [i.e., Muhammad and the Muslims] will certainly find the most violent of people in enmity against the believers to be the Jews and the idolaters; and you will find those who are nearest in friendship to the believers to be those who say: “We are Christians.”

Thus, in addition to the fact that the Christian world was a massive fact of life that could not be ignored and would not go away, Christians occupied a special religious category and were mostly set apart from the age-old antipathetic strictures aimed at Jews. The name of Jesus appears a mere 25 times in the Qur’an; the name of Moses appears 131 times. Nevertheless, from the “first hijra” of Muhammad’s followers to Abyssinia (615 c.e.) down to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s open letter to President George W. Bush in March 2006, Muslims have forever invoked the common Christian and Islamic veneration of Jesus in order to promote good relations between members of the two faiths. Throughout all this time, Moses’ ubiquity in the Qur’an has rarely if ever been exploited by Muslim exponents in order to foster coexistence with Jews.

Already in 1734, the English Orientalist George Sale wrote that Muhammad “used” the Jews “much worse than he did the Christians, and frequently exclaims against them in his Koran; his followers to this day observe the same difference between them and the Christians, treating the former as the most abject and contemptible people on earth.” This traditional attitude was amplified a hundredfold after the rise of Zionism, finding expression in the adamant rejectionism that characterized the Arab position on Israel.


The distinction between the classical Islamic attitude toward Christians on the one hand, and toward Jews on the other hand, plays a greater role today than ever before in the formulation of “Islamic” foreign policy toward non-Muslims. The reasons for this include the fact that never before has there existed an actual Muslim theocracy capable of formulating such an “Islamic” foreign policy, together with the fact that never before has there existed a genuine Jewish polity toward which that Islamic policy could be formulated or implemented. The result is of major significance for the Iran-Israel standoff, as well as for any statesman or analyst who purports to understand it or hopes to influence its direction.

Among theorists of international conflict resolution, the belief is widely held that the removal of one party’s “enclaves” or “outposts” from territory claimed by a rival party can not only help create mutually satisfactory borders but can inaugurate the kind of equilibrium that will eventually allow foes to become friends. In Europe, the great example is the post-World War II territorial adjustments that, however painful, put an end at last to the centuries-old enmity of France and Germany. In the Middle East, on a purely local scale, the same logic underlay Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policy of evacuating Israel’s Gaza settlements and handing over the territory to the Palestinians, as it did Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s projected “consolidation” of the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.

The specter that now haunts the state of Israel is that the West may some day adopt this logic, deeply problematic as it has proved to be locally, and apply it internationally vis-à-vis Iran and the “Little Satan” as a means of resolving the larger conflict between fundamentalist Islam and the “Great Satan.” For no agenda is being pushed more energetically by today’s Islamists worldwide than that, for the sake of Muslim-Christian rapprochement, and on pain of terrible consequences otherwise, America and Europe agree to offer up the Western imperialist enclave or outpost known as Israel on the altar of “accommodation.”

This, indeed, was the implicit central theme of Ahmadinejad’s 2006 letter to President Bush, as it is the menacing import of the Iranian president’s most recent remarks on the subject:

[T]oday, it has been proven that the Zionists are not opposed only to Islam and the Muslims. They are opposed to humanity as a whole. They want to dominate the entire world. They would even sacrifice the Western regimes for their own sake. I have said in Tehran, and I say it again here—I say to the leaders of some Western countries: stop supporting these corrupt people. Behold, the rage of the Muslim peoples is accumulating. The rage of the Muslim peoples may soon reach the point of explosion. If that day comes, they must know that the waves of this explosion will not be restricted to the boundaries of our region. They will definitely reach the corrupt forces that support this fake regime.

The Iranians and their allies throughout the Muslim world are bent on making the abandonment of Israel the price of “peace in our time.” In a scenario that should ring frighteningly familiar, a charismatic leader of an ideological, totalitarian state is building upon an endemic anti-Semitism inculcated by centuries of religious indoctrination to create an atmosphere in which the massacre of large numbers of Jews and the destruction of their independent polity will be considered a tolerable if not indeed a legitimate eventuality.

That is ominous enough. Even more ominous is the apparent willingness of any number of leaders of the Western world, under the banner of a hoped-for “reconciliation” with a major Middle Eastern power and a world religion, to tilt dangerously toward appeasement, ignoring the requirements of rational decision-making and putting at risk the West’s own abiding interests and deepest values.

As for Israel, if it takes today’s challenges seriously and prepares to meet them with the requisite strength and creativity, this may yet turn out to be its finest hour. If not, we may be witnessing the prelude to its last.

Friday, December 26, 2008

And we're the Barbarians

On Christmas Eve, Palestinian Legislature Introduces Crucifixion As Means Of Capital Punishment

Bill Awaits Signature Of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
By David Bedein, Middle East Correspondent
Published: Friday, December 26, 2008

The democratically elected Palestinian parliament in Gaza voted in favor of a law allowing courts to mete out sentences in the spirit of Islam, the London-based Arab daily Al Hayat reported Wednesday, the day before Christmas.

According to the bill, approved in its second reading and awaiting the signature of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian constitution demands, courts will be able to condemn offenders to a plethora of violent punitive measures.

Such punishments include crucifixion and hanging.

The bill reserves death sentences to persons who negotiate with a foreign government "against the Palestinian interest" and engage in any activity that can "hurt Palestinian morale."

For more on this story, please see the Mon., Dec. 29 edition of The Bulletin.

We can have NO Faith Obama will Know how to deal with Russia

Russia to supply missiles to Syria

Russia plans to supply air-defense missile systems valued at $250 million to seven countries including Syria, Libya and Venezuela, Vedomosti reported, citing an unidentified Russian Technologies Corp official.

The Moscow-based newspaper reported that Russia had started fulfilling orders of 200 S-125 systems that were due to be delivered during the next three years.

Russia will ship about 70 missile systems to Egypt, and will also supply Myanmar, Vietnam and Turkmenistan with the systems, the paper said.

On Monday, US officials said that they wanted answers from Russia about whether it was selling advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

A senior military intelligence official said that while Moscow has sent out conflicting responses to reports on sales of long-range S-300 missiles, the United States believes they are occurring.

Russia's state arms export agency said Monday it was supplying Iran with defensive weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, but did not say whether they include sophisticated long-range S-300 missiles.

A day earlier Israeli officials categorically denied Iranian press reports that Russia would soon begin delivery of the state-of-the-art anti-missile system that could make it considerably harder to attack the Islamic republic's nuclear facilities.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel had been assured by senior Russian officials that these reports were "baseless," and that the Kremlin stood by the agreement, reached with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his visit there in October, not to sell weapons in the region that would "tip the strategic balance."

Herb Keinon, Yaakov Katz, AP and Bloomberg contributed to this report.

Shut up and sing

I liked Springsteen's music growing up, He hit it big at the same time I was young whipper snapper drinking at the Jersey Shore. As a mater of principal now I wouldn't buy a damn thing he puts out. Singers ad Actors should do their trade and make their Millions, but just because they have made Millions Singing or pretending to be someone else does not mean their opinion is worth anything. Like the man said everyone has an opinion and an asshole they usually both stink. In Bruce's case it's certainly true.

Dear Friends and Fans,

Some notes on the beginnings of Working on a Dream. During the last weeks of mixing Magic, we recorded a song called "What Love Can Do." It was sort of a "love in the time of Bush" meditation. It was a great track but felt more like a first song of new record rather than something that would fit on Magic. So our producer Brendan O'Brien said, "Hey, let's make another one right now!" I thought, no, I haven't done that since my first two records came out in the same year. And usually I don't write that quickly. But that night I went back to my hotel in Atlanta and over the next week, I wrote several songs ("This Life," "My Lucky Day," "Life Itself," along with "Good Eye" and "Tomorrow Never Knows") that formed the beginnings of our new album. Excited by the sounds we made on Magic I found there was more than enough fuel for the fire to keep going. Brendan and I demo'd these songs before we left the studio and agreed we'd somehow find time during the touring year to get this record made.

Over the past 10 years with Brendan, our ability to get records done and to work on a variety of projects at the same time (Yes, we can multi-task!) has allowed us to get a steadier stream of our best music out to our fans. This is something I've always wanted to do. We found time to book sessions, get the band while it was hot off the road, write and record a new record, while giving our audience what I hope was some of the best E Street shows we've ever done. We're excited about you hearing this music and I just wanted to drop a line about how it all started. Have a great holiday and we'll see you in the New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

They're concerned why aren't we?

Debating Iran's Nuclear Program an opinion from Iraq

The editors of my school’s biweekly Communiqué asked me and one of my colleagues to write two Op-Eds on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.
Below is my contribution and you can also find it, along with that of my colleague’s on pages 2 and 3 of the pdf version of Communiqué here.

Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is not a new source for concern. Dating as far back as the 1950s, several countries in the region have sought to build nuclear programs and ultimately, to acquire nuclear weapons.

As is the tradition in the Middle East, countries are suspicious about their neighbors’ power potential, particularly when it comes to achieving a nuclear breakthrough, even if that means just a few weapons could be produced. This suspicion is logical. Nations in the region are relatively small and only have a limited number of urban centers and no vast or redundant industrial infrastructure. In my country for instance, an attack on Baghdad and Basra with one nuclear warhead each would incinerate or irradiate a third of the population and simultaneously strip Iraq of 90% of its national income. This is one reason why we tend to be wary of nuclear weapons in the hands of neighbors, perhaps more so than people elsewhere.

Iraq and Iran fought a long war during which both countries worked furiously to build nuclear weapons. During the fighting, both countries attacked each other’s nuclear facilities. It took Iraq several air strikes over a span of five years to cripple Iran’s program. Iraq’s reactor was only slightly damaged in an Iranian raid in 1980, but was dealt a grave blow in the Israeli Operation Opera of 1981. Looking back at all the havoc Saddam Hussein wrought, many in Iraq were not unhappy with that attack—nuclear weapons in the hands of impulsive militarist dictators are more likely to undermine national security than reinforce it.

Tensions between Iraq and Iran may have eased now as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but not as much as you’d think. Iraq and Iran are officially not hostile to each other and they maintain formal diplomatic relations. Moreover, the current government in Baghdad is friendly towards Tehran, largely due to the fact that both are Shiite Islamists. However, this does not mean that things are rosy between the two neighbors.

Interests conflict quite often and when that happens, tensions and the possibility of conflict lurk in the background. Iran needs to understand that its pursuit of total security brings with it a sense of total insecurity among its neighbors. In other words, in the Middle East as in other places, states have neither perpetual friends nor eternal enemies. Iraqis are no exception to this rule. Despite their limited experience, Iraqi leaders understand this intuitive balance of power and do not put full trust in anyone. This is exacerbated by the fact that Iranians have played the factions of the Iraqi Shiite majority bloc against one another at different times. As for other Iraqi groups, Kurds don’t really trust Tehran either and consider Washington their main ally. On the other hand, many Sunni Arabs, whether pan-Arab nationalists or Islamists, consider Iran their number-one enemy – even ahead of Israel and the U.S.

To put it bluntly, Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to Iraq and the rest of the Middle East and it will continue to be perceived as such until proven otherwise.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions are not the challenge, per se. Nuclear power doesn’t threaten people—people threaten people. In fact, I would not have any objection to a guaranteed peaceful nuclear program that can be subject to unconditional inspection.
The problem is that with the current system in Iran, that guarantee is all but impossible. For those Iranians who aspire to the pride and benefits of technological advances in nuclear energy, a clear choice must be made: the regime or the nuclear program, but not both.

Iraqis simply don’t trust Iran and we don’t have a reason to do so. Even if our current leaders in Baghdad seem to befriend Iran, the state and the people are not willing to be hostage to Iranian preponderance. If the goal is nuclear weapons, which I believe to be the case, then we in Iraq and others in the region have justified concerns.

As a student of international security policy, I was taught that threat is a function of the potential adversary’s capability multiplied by his hostile intentions. I’m a realist—that is I believe relations among states are governed by power and interests—and therefore believe that intentions are neither measurable nor do they matter: what matters is capability.

Complaints about “double standards” that tolerate Israel’s nuclear capability, but not those of Iran, do little to convince. Conflict of interests and the potential for hostilities between Iraq and Iran exist, whereas those between Iraq and Israel don’t. Additionally, nuclear weapons in the hands of Israelis have always been for deterrence on the regional level whereas in Iranian hands, they will be used as to coerce others. In any case, Iraq doesn’t want to be in the crossfire between a crazy regime in Tehran and a wary Washington or Tel Aviv. We have had enough.

The solution to this crisis is in Tehran’s hands. If the Iranians decide to avert catastrophe, then they must come clean and let the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors do their job. By obstructing inspections, Iran appears to be hiding something fishy. Tehran needs to reverse course and honor the Non- Proliferation Treaty it signed and begin implementing the obligations the document entails.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Iran will wise up and spare us yet another war in the Gulf. The signs are ominous and there is a striking resemblance between the way Tehran acts today and the way Baghdad did under Saddam. The missile tests, the gloating about military industrial breakthroughs, the work of Quds Forces and yes, talk of annihilating Israel sound all too familiar to me. As we say in Iraq, “I’ve seen this movie before.”

Posted by Omar

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Conversation at the End

Judas walk with me, Yes teacher? How much do you believe, trust, have faith, and love me? With all my heart teacher Why? I have a task for you and only you. Name it and it shall be done.

Listen before you decide, you will be approached by those that wish to silence us. They will offer you money and prestige to betray me. But master I could never do this. Do this you must.

My message has been delivered, if I linger any longer there will be more than my blood that is shed. I can not allow this. My time here must end so that all to come can be saved.

They will offer you Silver and tell you all you have to do is kiss me. Then I shall be taken and crucified. No Master how can I do this? You can because it must be done, do it out of your faith and belief in me, and know even though you shall be marked as the traitor forever, it is your act of love that will save blood from being shed now and will help lead to the salvation of millions.

Is your Faith and belief in me strong enough to do this ? For you my master it shall be done.

And to the rest of us on the Eve of the Masters Birth,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Viper @ Obamas Bosom

Clinton moves to widen role of State Department

WASHINGTON: Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis. (in other words implementing Clinton NOT Obama Policy)

Clinton is recruiting Jacob Lew, the budget director under President Bill Clinton, as one of two deputies, according to people close to the Obama transition team. Lew's focus, they said, would be on increasing the share of financing that goes to the diplomatic corps. (cut straight out of the military budget)

He and James Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration, are to be Hillary Clinton's chief lieutenants. (a team designed to undermine the WOT)

Nominations of deputy secretaries, like Clinton's, would be subject to confirmation by the Senate.

The incoming administration is also likely to name several envoys, officials said, reviving a practice of the Clinton administration, when Richard Holbrooke, Dennis Ross and other diplomats played a central role in mediating disputes in the Balkans and the Middle East. (and not one will be appointed without Clinton's approval, or they will have no power ET all if not her choice)

As Clinton puts together her senior team, officials said, she is also trying to carve out a bigger role for the State Department in economic affairs, where the Treasury has dominated during the Bush years. She has sought advice from Laura D'Andrea Tyson, an economist who headed Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers. (sounds like the formation of an unvoted for alternate government)

The steps seem intended to strengthen the role of diplomacy after a long stretch, particularly under Secretary of State Colin Powell, in which the Pentagon, the vice president's office and even the intelligence agencies held considerable sway over U.S. foreign policy. (in other words nothing regarding the war gets done without Hillary's power)

Given Hillary Clinton's prominence, expanding the department's portfolio could bring on conflict with other powerful cabinet members. (no shit really?)

Clinton and President-elect Barack Obama have not settled on specific envoys or missions, although Ross's name has been mentioned as a possible Middle East envoy, as have those of Holbrooke and Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

The Bush administration has made relatively little use of special envoys. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has personally handled most peacemaking initiatives, which has meant a punishing schedule of Middle East missions, often with meager results. (Hillary will only go if a victory is eminent or she has to put someones balls in her lock box)

"There's no question that there is a reinvention of the wheel here," said Aaron David Miller, a public policy analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "But it's geared not so much as a reaction to Bush as to a fairly astute analysis of what's going to work in foreign policy." (according to the Clinton's, who let terror build around the entire world)

With so many problems, including Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, Miller said it made sense for the White House to farm out some of the diplomatic heavy lifting. (like they have a choice or a clue)

In addition to the Middle East, one Democratic foreign policy adviser said, Holbrooke might be considered for an appointment as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and possibly Iran. The adviser said the decision had not been made. (already the assumption that we will negotiate with the terrorists in Iran)

A transition official dismissed as "speculation" reports in Indian newspapers that Obama was considering appointing Bill Clinton as a special envoy to deal with Kashmir issues.

But another transition official confirmed that Obama's foreign policy advisers were discussing the possibility of appointing a special envoy to India. Steinberg, who is the dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, would probably coordinate the work of any special envoys, the official said. (no envoy gets approved with out the Hilda beasts nod)

The recruitment of Lew - for a position that was not filled in the Bush administration - suggests that Hillary Clinton is determined to win a larger share of financial resources for the department. Lew, a well-connected figure who was once an aide to the House speaker Thomas O'Neill, now works for Citigroup in a unit that oversees hedge funds. (ahh yes more money to funnel to the beast)

"If we're going to re-establish diplomacy as the critical tool in America's arsenal," a senior transition official said, "you need someone who can work both the budget and management side. He has very strong relations on the Hill; he knows the inner workings of how to manage a big enterprise." (so no more military just diplomats, sounds like the perfect plan for the terrorists to rebuild their strength)

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private, said Clinton was being supported in her push for more resources by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and by Obama's incoming national security adviser, General James Jones Jr. (both strong supporters in Diplomacy or do nothing rhetoric)

For years, some Pentagon officials have complained that jobs like the economic reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq have been added to the military's burden when they could have been handled by a robust foreign service. (bullshit)

"The Pentagon would like to turn functionality over to civilian resources, but the resources are not there," the official said. "We're looking to have a State Department that has what it needs." (notice no one is quoted for that statement)

Clinton's push for a more vigorous economic team, one of her advisers said, stems from her conviction that the State Department needs to play a part in the recovery from the global financial crisis. (yeah full involvement in flowing American tax dollars to buy off terrorist, except it doesn't work)

Economic issues also underpin some of the most important diplomatic relationships, notably with China. (maybe she'll sell them some more missile technology)

In recent years, the Treasury Department, led by Henry Paulson Jr., has dominated policy toward China. Paulson leads a "strategic economic dialogue" with China that involves several agencies. It is not yet clear who will pick up that role in the Obama administration, although Vice President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. is frequently mentioned as a possibility. (yeah will see)

And the Press Never Said A Word

Imagine if Bush, Rove, and say Karen Hughs were interrogated by Fitzgerald do you think the Press would be so kind as they are being with the Messiah, I guess because it's Christmas, take another hit Obama and keep smiling.

Obama Interviewed In Blagojevich Probe
President-elect, two aides quizzed last week by federal prosecutors

DECEMBER 23--President-elect Barack Obama and two of his top advisers were interviewed last week by federal prosecutors probing Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's alleged bid to sell Obama's vacated Senate seat, according to a report issued today by an Obama lawyer. The lawyer, Gregory Craig, concluded that Obama and his aides engaged in no improper conduct in connection with the Senate opening. A copy of the Craig report can be found below. As part of his review of transition team "contacts" with Blagojevich, Craig reported that only incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had spoke with the Illinois pol. Emanuel, Craig disclosed, had "one or two telephone calls" with Blagojevich in early-November. Emanuel reportedly gave Blagojevich a "heads up" that he was accepting Obama's offer of the chief of staff job (and, as a result, would be resigning his congressional seat). Emanuel also "had a brief discussion with the Governor about the Senate seat and the merits of various people whom the Governor might consider." Craig also noted that Emanuel had "about four telephone conversations with John Harris, Chief of Staff to the Governor, on the subject of the Senate seat. In these conversations, Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Harris discussed the merits of potential candidates and the strategic benefit that each candidate would bring to the Senate seat." In addition to the president-elect, Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett, an Obama confidante, were interviewed in the past few days by investigators with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, which, on December 9, announced criminal charges against Blagojevich and Harris. (5 pages)

Update From Hugh Hewitt

Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Was the President-elect Under Oath?Posted by: Hugh Hewitt at 5:30 PM
Incredibly, the press seems not to have asked the obvious question about the U.S. Attorney's interview with President-elect Obama on December 18.Further, the interview occurred on the 18th, and it wasn't disclosed until today? What happened to transparency?Question for prosecutors: Since the Fitzgerald team already knows what Emanuel said to Blago et al, why was he interviewed after the president-elect and Valerie Jarrett? Simple scheduling, or could there be a reason for the order of the interviews?

Another Great Depression?

By Thomas Sowell

With both Barack Obama's supporters and the media looking forward to the new administration's policies being similar to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies during the 1930s depression, it may be useful to look at just what those policies were and-- more important-- what their consequences were.

The prevailing view in many quarters is that the stock market crash of 1929 was a failure of the free market that led to massive unemployment in the 1930s-- and that it was intervention of Roosevelt's New Deal policies that rescued the economy.

It is such a good story that it seems a pity to spoil it with facts. Yet there is something to be said for not repeating the catastrophes of the past.

Let's start at square one, with the stock market crash in October 1929. Was this what led to massive unemployment?

Official government statistics suggest otherwise. So do new statistics on unemployment by two current scholars, Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway, in their book "Out of Work."

The Vedder and Gallaway statistics allow us to follow unemployment month by month. They put the unemployment rate at 5 percent in November 1929, a month after the stock market crash. It hit 9 percent in December-- but then began a generally downward trend, subsiding to 6.3 percent in June 1930.

That was when the Smoot-Hawley tariffs were passed, against the advice of economists across the country, who warned of dire consequences.

Five months after the Smoot-Hawley tariffs, the unemployment rate hit double digits for the first time in the 1930s.

This was more than a year after the stock market crash. Moreover, the unemployment rate rose to even higher levels under both Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, both of whom intervened in the economy on an unprecedented scale.

Before the Great Depression, it was not considered to be the business of the federal government to try to get the economy out of a depression. But the Smoot-Hawley tariff-- designed to save American jobs by restricting imports-- was one of Hoover's interventions, followed by even bigger interventions by FDR.

The rise in unemployment after the stock market crash of 1929 was a blip on the screen compared to the soaring unemployment rates reached later, after a series of government interventions.

For nearly three consecutive years, beginning in February 1932, the unemployment rate never fell below 20 percent for any month before January 1935, when it fell to 19.3 percent, according to the Vedder and Gallaway statistics.

In other words, the evidence suggests that it was not the "problem" of the financial crisis in 1929 that caused massive unemployment but politicians' attempted "solutions." Is that the history that we seem to be ready to repeat?

The stock market crash, which has been blamed for the widespread suffering during the Great Depression of the 1930s, created no unemployment rate that was even half of what was created in the wake of the government interventions of Hoover and FDR.

Politically, however, Franklin D. Roosevelt could not have been more successful. After all, he was the only President of the United States elected four times in a row. He was a master of political rhetoric.

If Barack Obama wants political success, following in the footsteps of FDR looks like the way to go. But people who are concerned about the economy need to take a closer look at history. We deserve something better than repeating the 1930s disasters.

There is yet another factor that provides a parallel to what happened during the Great Depression. No matter how much worse things got after government intervention under Roosevelt's New Deal policies, the party line was that he had to "do something" to get us out of the disaster created by the failure of the unregulated market and Hoover's "do nothing" policies.

Today, increasing numbers of scholars recognize that FDR's own policies were a further extension of interventions begun under Hoover. Moreover, the temporary rise in unemployment after the stock market crash was nowhere near the massive and long-lasting unemployment after government interventions.

Barack Obama already has his Herbert Hoover to blame for any and all disasters that his policies create: George W. Bush.