Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Israel - Most Dangerous Nation In The World!

Only our feckless State Dept and Obama believe in a two state solution. Even former Sen. Mitchell recently advised against it at this time in history but Obama, our messiah, believes his voice will still the sound of underground nuclear explosions and rocket launches. Chamberlain 2 with some Carter thrown in for good luck.

What is pathetically ironic is that Sec. Clinton, V.P Biden, the current CIA Director and Obama have brought more pressure to bear on Israel than on N Korea and Iran but of course Israel is a friend, a democracy an open society, more approachable and bludgeonable and, as an earlier British poll revealed, the most dangerous nation in the world.

By embracing the unachievable and inane Obama and his mentors have elevated and reinforced the challenge and thus, made it more illusive. Sad indeed.

Posted previously but worth repeating. (See 1 and 1a below.)

And finally, who cares about honest reporting. (See 1b below.)

Sec. Tim Geithner still looking for the Holy Grail? (See 2 below.)

Biden warned us during the campaign that Obama would be tested within 6 months. What he alluded to, but did not say, is that Obama would also be found wanting. Granted China has more leverage over N Korea, but we have leverage with China if we choose to play that card but we are fearful of offending China because they basically own us.

Caroline Glick reminds us of Obama's campaign comments 'words just words!'(See 3, 3a and 3b below.)

Will Israeli's continue to live under the threat of a nuclear attack? Victor Hanson discusses Iran's desire to break Israeli will. (See 4 below.)

Everything gets watered down these days because the liberal media and press tend to go out of their way not to offend. PC'ism drives the news!

We are sinking in maudlin muck!(See 5 below.)

Why should anyone become a bondholder? (See 6 below.)

Poor old Sen. Burris - he just can't avoid being 'waterboarded' by the constant dripping of the home town press. (See 7 below.)

A powerful biography will carry the day and so we have Sotomayor! (See 8 and 8a below.)

Have a great weekend.


1) Peace isn't Arab goal
By Jeff Jacoby

WHO FAVORS a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict?

President Obama does, of course, as he made clear in welcoming Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on Monday. So does former president George W. Bush, who began advocating Palestinian statehood in 2002 and continued until his final days in office. The Democratic Party's national platform endorses a two-state solution; the Republican platform does, too. The UN Security Council unanimously reaffirmed its support a few days ago, and the European Union is strongly in favor as well.

Pope Benedict XVI called for a Palestinian state during his recent visit to the Holy Land, thereby aligning himself - on this issue, at least - with the editorial boards of The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. And, for that matter, with most Israelis. A new poll shows 58 percent of the Israeli public backing a two-state solution; prominent supporters include Netanyahu's three predecessors - former prime ministers Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Barak - as well as president Shimon Peres.

The consensus, it would seem, is overwhelming. As Henri Guaino, a senior adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, put it on Sunday: "Everyone wants peace. The whole world wants a Palestinian state."

It isn't going to happen.

International consensus or no, the two-state solution is a chimera. Peace will not be achieved by granting sovereignty to the Palestinians, because Palestinian sovereignty has never been the Arabs' goal. Time and time again, a two-state solution has been proposed. Time and time again, the Arabs have turned it down.

In 1936, when Palestine was still under British rule, a royal commission headed by Lord Peel was sent to investigate the steadily worsening Arab violence. After a detailed inquiry, the Peel Commission concluded that "an irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country." It recommended a two-state solution - a partition of the land into separate Arab and Jewish states. "Partition offers a chance of ultimate peace," the commission reported. "No other plan does."

But the Arab leaders, more intent on preventing Jewish sovereignty in Palestine than in achieving a state for themselves, rejected the Peel plan out of hand. The foremost Palestinian leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, actively supported the Nazi regime in Germany. In return, Husseini wrote in his memoirs, Hitler promised him "a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world."

In 1947, the Palestinians were again presented with a two-state proposal. Again they spurned it. Like the Peel Commission, the United Nations concluded that only a division of the land into adjacent states, one Arab and one Jewish, could put an end to the conflict. On Nov. 29, 1947, by a vote of 33-13, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, partitioning Palestine on the basis of population. Had the Arabs accepted the UN decision, the Palestinian state that "the whole world wants" would today be 61 years old. Instead, the Arab League vowed to block Jewish sovereignty by waging "a war of extermination and a momentous massacre."

Over and over, the pattern has been repeated. Following its stunning victory in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel offered to exchange the land it had won for permanent peace with its neighbors. From their summit in Khartoum came the Arabs' notorious response: "No peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel."

At Camp David in 2000, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians virtually everything they claimed to be seeking - a sovereign state with its capital in East Jerusalem, 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, tens of billions of dollars in "compensation" for the plight of Palestinian refugees. Yasser Arafat refused the offer, and launched the bloodiest wave of terrorism in Israel's history.

To this day, the charters of Hamas and Fatah, the two main Palestinian factions, call for Israel's liquidation. "The whole world" may want peace and a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want something very different. Until that changes, there is no two-state solution.

1a) Israel rebuffs U.S. call for total settlement freeze
By Barak Ravid

Israel will press ahead with housing construction in its West Bank settlements despite a surprisingly blunt demand from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that all such building stop, an Israeli official said Thursday.

The Israeli position could set the stage for a showdown with the U.S. on the day President Barack Obama meets his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, at the White House. Abbas has said the freeze of the Israeli settlements will top his agenda in the talks.

Israel contests that new construction must take place to accommodate for expanding families inside the existing settlements, which the U.S. and much of the world consider an obstacle to peace because they are built on land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

When asked to respond to Clinton's call for a total settlement freeze, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that normal life in those communities must be allowed to continue. Pressed on whether the phrase normal life meant some construction will take place in existing settlements, Regev said it did.

He noted that Israel has pledged to build no new settlements and to remove
unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank. "The fate of existing settlements will be determined in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," he said.

Regev's remarks echoed those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has said Israel will continue to allow natural growth in the settlements - a
vague term that refers to construction in existing settlements to accommodate growing families.

The new U.S. administration has been noticeably more explicit in its criticism
of Israeli settlement policy than its predecessor.

The two countries each have new leaders with strikingly different approaches to Israeli-Palestinian relations, with Netanyahu refusing to endorse Palestinian independence, a notion supported by Obama, his predecessor and the previous Israeli government.

Clinton said Wednesday the U.S. wants a halt to all settlement construction - including their natural growth.

In remarks to reporters in Washington, Clinton said Obama told Netanyahu last week when the two met at the White House that the U.S. sees stopping
settlements as key to a peace deal that would see a Palestinian state created alongside Israel.

"He wants to see a stop to settlements - not some settlements, not outposts, not 'natural growth' exceptions," Clinton said. "We think it is in the best interests [of the peace process] that settlement expansion cease. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly. ... And we intend to press that point."

The remarks by Regev on Thursday also indicated that after Clinton explicitly defined natural growth as unacceptable, Israel now appears to be using the term normal life for the same phenomenon.

Earler Wednesday, an Israeli official said that the American administration shows no signs of backing down from its demands that Israel totally freeze settlement growth in the West Bank and open the Gaza border terminals to allow the rebuilding of the Strip.

These conclusions were drawn from talks held in London on Tuesday by Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor and advisers to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with American diplomats, led by U.S. special envoy George Mitchell.

According to the official, the Israeli side claimed in the talks that construction in settlements must be allowed to continue, due to natural growth. They suggested construction be limited to the existing outlines of the settlements, and to define in advance areas in which such construction will be authorized. They also said the demand of Israel to completely freeze the settlement construction was out of order, as the Palestinians have failed to fulfill their part in the first phase of the road map, in particular in combating terrorism.

The American side did not agree to the Israeli suggestions, and in addition to the settlement issue, repeatedly brought up the matter of opening the Gaza terminals to aid and construction materials necessary for rebuilding the Strip.

The same Jerusalem official also said Netanyahu was interested in reestablishing the ministerial committee on illegal outposts, to speed up negotiations with the settlers and allow for the dismantling of 22 outposts constructed after March 2001.

1b) Terror No Obstacle to Peace?

The 'Independent' mysteriously omits years of Palestinian terrorism.

There has been much analysis and a wide variety of opinions expressed in the media following this week's meeting in Washington DC between US President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Independent, however, stands out from the crowd with a glaring omission.

In an article by Donald Macintyre, "Israel goes cold on plan for regional peace deal," a list of "obstacles to peace" includes issues such as settlements, Palestinian infighting, Iran, Syria and Israel's own apparent reluctance to publicly endorse a Palestinian state.

Putting aside the relative importance or otherwise of issues such as settlements being primary stumbling blocks, Macintyre conveniently forgets a very real and potentially the greatest obstacle to peace - Palestinian terror and violence.

How can Macintyre omit the thousands of missiles fired from Gaza at Sderot and surrounding Israeli communities for several years (and before the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip)? Indeed, only the day before Macintyre's piece was published, Sderot endured a Qassam rocket attack on a courtyard adjacent to two private homes. One resident was wounded while several others were treated for shock.

And how can Macintyre forget the brutal campaign of suicide attacks against Israeli buses, cafes and other civilian targets that has claimed the lives of over 1000 Israelis and wounded thousands more since the year 2000? While major attacks have declined recently thanks to Israeli counter measures such as the Security Fence, the incentive for terrorist groups to carry out similar acts of violence has not.

We could also add to the list other potential obstacles to peace, for example, Palestinian intractability on issues such as the right of return, incitement in Palestinian media and the education system that has poisoned Palestinian minds, and the increasing role of Islamic extremism represented by Hamas.


Much media coverage of Netanyahu's meeting with Obama this week tended to concentrate on Netanyahu's refusal to formally endorse the creation of a Palestinian state. Although Netanyahu spoke eagerly about renewing negotiations and expressed support for Palestinian autonomy, the media's coverage implied that his position presented an obstacle to peace.

But as media outlets focus on the negative with Netanyahu, the real obstacle to peace - Hamas - continues to be treated differently. A case-in-point is an Associated Press article published the day after the meeting. The article provides a platform for Hamas leaders to express "moderate" positions, such as a quote from Hamas lawmaker Yehiye Moussa saying, the group is "not demanding to destroy Israel."

While writer Karen Laub is clear that Hamas is not about to change its ideology, which precludes any recognition of Israel, she notes that Hamas has begun "raising the possibility they would someday accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel."

So while Netanyahu's call for Palestinian autonomy is treated as insufficient and anti-peace, Hamas's rhetorical, though not ideological or practical, shift from total rejectionism is presented as a cause for hope.


Bilin is home of the West Bank's longest continuous run of manufactured dissent and grandstanding for the cameras.

So it's no surprise that the Associated Press would have you believe that this man holding a key aloft directly in front of a photographer Bernat Armangue simply "passed out" from tear gas at a Nakba demonstration this week.


The Columbia Journalism Review has published a fascinating case study of how the Israeli and Western news services handled the debunked allegations of IDF abuses in Gaza. The CJR traces how Danny Zamir's transcripts of the soldiers' unverified stories made their way first into Ha'aretz, Ma'ariv and Israel's Channel 10, and from there, into the Western mainstream media.

2) The Indispensable Geithner
By J.C. Arenas

Timothy Geithner was portrayed as the indispensable man, but now no matter how much the media continue to flack for him, he's still kissing the floor.

The Treasury Secretary aimed to cure the ills of the financial system by extracting toxic assets from bank balance sheets, replenishing the banks' capital resources, and bolstering the housing market to prevent further foreclosures so normal lending could resume.

Let us take a look at what he has "accomplished" thus far.

First, following a controversial vetting process and uninspiring beginning of his tenure, the Treasury Secretary finally struck fools gold after he utilized remnants of Henry Paulson's plans and created the Public-Private Investment Program to remove banks' toxic assets. The Dow rose, calls for his resignation ceased, and Newsweek immediately declared "Geithner Hits His Stride".

But the plan has been delayed because he hasn't garnered the support he had hoped for from the private entities needed in order to represent the private part of the program.

Second, Geithner has been erratic about exactly how much more capital he has at his disposal to infuse the banks while arguing at the same time they were solvent and fully capitalized.

The Potemkin model stress tests produced "largely encouraging results", but forget the fact that the banks are still undercapitalized and insolvent -- by billions of dollars -- and regulators are closing them at their fastest rate in years.

Did you get that? The banks need a lot more money, but they're doing well, when they're not. Got it?

Third, his plan to help refinance mortgages was -- in his words -- supposed to "show results quickly", but the plan was considered futile two months after its initiation. The mortgage companies have complained that the program is too complicated to set up and homeowners have had difficulty getting in touch with lenders or qualifying for the program. Ultimately, the criteria had to be expanded to include unemployed and upside-down homeowners to strengthen the program, and we're still being urged to "be patient."

So much for those quick results. Geithner further declares that "we're changing the things people couldn't change for decades.

Right, all this "change" yet lending still remains "severely depressed".

Only ignorance towards the failure of the Treasury Secretary to even instill some level of confidence that he can restore the viability of our financial system, would allow us to arrive at Politico's latest conclusion, " Timothy Geithner Gains New Strength".

The media can't detail anything that Geithner has actually done that could refute an assertion of failure up to this point, so they've retreated to style over substance -- the insignificance of his temperament and ideology. The "equanimity under fire" he has displayed would be celebrated if he were a relief pitcher for the Nationals, and his "life is about choices" mantra would suit a Hugh Prather calendar, but who cares?

Let us not forget that 60 Senators looked past a multitude of serious transgressions and confirmed Geithner because he was deemed "uniquely qualified" to handle the challenges of this recession attributable to the nation's deteriorating banking system. Despite the facts to the contrary, we're still subjected to the same nonsense. As a financial services industry spokesman told Politico:

Geithner's real ace in the hole [is] "He's one of a small, select group of people who could even be treasury secretary right now. If not him, who else?"

The initial problem was that we didn't look at all of the options. It was somehow pre-determined that it was Geithner or bust.

Rather than learn from that mistake, we are expected to further our obstinacy and ride him until his wheels fall off.

How could we believe in the delusion that an ineffective Geithner has miraculously managed to "hit his stride" or "gain strength" while the nation's struggling economy has been further weakened by pejorative measures?

Welcome to the new Orwellian America.

The media's inclination to celebrate the incongruence should remind us that they will go to any extreme to depict the glass that is the Obama Administration as forever half full and the principal figures will be praised even as they succeed in failing.

Forgotten is the fact that Geithner's failures imperil our future.

3) Column One: Israel and the Axis of Evil
By Caroline Glick

North Korea is half a world away from Israel. Yet the nuclear test it
conducted on Monday has the Israeli defense establishment up in arms and its
Iranian nemesis smiling like the Cheshire Cat. Understanding why this is the
case is key to understanding the danger posed by what someone once
impolitely referred to as the Axis of Evil.

Less than two years ago, on September 6, 2007, the IAF destroyed a North
Korean-built plutonium production facility at Kibar, Syria. The destroyed
installation was a virtual clone of North Korea's Yongbyon plutonium
production facility.

This past March the Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung reported that Iranian
defector Ali Reza Asghari, who before his March 2007 defection to the US
served as a general in Iran's Revolutionary Guards and as deputy defense
minister, divulged that Iran paid for the North Korean facility. Teheran
viewed the installation in Syria as an extension of its own nuclear program.
According to Israeli estimates, Teheran spent between $1 billion and $2b.
for the project.

It can be assumed that Iranian personnel were present in North Korea during
Monday's test. Over the past several years, Iranian nuclear officials have
been on hand for all of North Korea's major tests including its first
nuclear test and its intercontinental ballistic missile test in 2006.

Moreover, it wouldn't be far-fetched to think that North Korea conducted
some level of coordination with Iran regarding the timing of its nuclear
bomb and ballistic missile tests this week. It is hard to imagine that it is
mere coincidence that North Korea's actions came just a week after Iran
tested its solid fuel Sejil-2 missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers.

Aside from their chronological proximity, the main reason it makes sense to
assume that Iran and North Korea coordinated their tests is because North
Korea has played a central role in Iran's missile program. Although Western
observers claim that Iran's Sejil-2 is based on Chinese technology
transferred to Iran through Pakistan, the fact is that Iran owes much of its
ballistic missile capacity to North Korea. The Shihab-3 missile, for
instance, which forms the backbone of Iran's strategic arm threatening
Israel and its Arab neighbors, is simply an Iranian adaptation of North
Korea's Nodong missile technology. Since at least the early 1990s, North
Korea has been only too happy to proliferate that technology to whoever
wants it. Like Iran, Syria owes much of its own massive missile arsenal to
North Korean proliferation.

Responding Monday to North Korea's nuclear test, US President Barack Obama
said, "North Korea's behavior increases tensions and undermines stability in
Northeast Asia."

While true, North Korea's intimate ties with Iran and Syria show that North
Korea's nuclear program, with its warhead, missile and technological
components, is not a distant threat, limited in scope to faraway East Asia.
It is a multilateral program shared on various levels with Iran and Syria.
Consequently, it endangers not just the likes of Japan and South Korea, but
all nations whose territory and interests are within range of Iranian and
Syrian missiles.

Beyond its impact on Iran's technological and hardware capabilities, North
Korea's nuclear program has had a singular influence on Iran's political
strategy for advancing its nuclear program diplomatically. North Korea has
been a trailblazer in its utilization of a mix of diplomatic aggression and
seeming accommodation to alternately intimidate and persuade its enemies to
take no action against its nuclear program. Iran has followed Pyongyang's
model assiduously. Moreover, Iran has used the international - and
particularly the American - response to various North Korean provocations
over the years to determine how to position itself at any given moment in
order to advance its nuclear program.

For instance, when the US reacted to North Korea's 2006 nuclear and ICBM
tests by reinstating the six-party talks in the hopes of appeasing
Pyongyang, Iran learned that by exhibiting an interest in engaging the US on
its uranium enrichment program it could gain valuable time. Just as North
Korea was able to dissipate Washington's resolve to act against it while
buying time to advance its program still further through the six-party
talks, so Iran, by seemingly agreeing to a framework for discussing its
uranium enrichment program, has been able to keep the US and Europe at bay
for the past several years.

THE OBAMA administration's impotent response to Pyongyang's ICBM test last
month and its similarly stuttering reaction to North Korea's nuclear test on
Monday have shown Teheran that it no longer needs to even pretend to have an
interest in negotiating aspects of its nuclear program with Washington or
its European counterparts. Whereas appearing interested in reaching an
accommodation with Washington made sense during the Bush presidency, when
hawks and doves were competing for the president's ear, today, with the
Obama administration populated solely by doves, Iran, like North Korea,
believes it has nothing to gain by pretending to care about accommodating

This point was brought home clearly by both Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad's immediate verbal response to the North Korean nuclear test on
Monday and by Iran's provocative launch of warships in the Gulf of Aden the
same day. As Ahmadinejad said, as far the Iranian regime is concerned,
"Iran's nuclear issue is over."

There is no reason to talk anymore. Just as Obama made clear that he intends
to do nothing in response to North Korea's nuclear test, so Iran believes
that the president will do nothing to impede its nuclear program.

Of course it is not simply the administration's policy toward North Korea
that is signaling to Iran that it has no reason to be concerned that the US
will challenge its nuclear aspirations. The US's general Middle East policy,
which conditions US action against Iran's nuclear weapons program on the
prior implementation of an impossible-to-achieve Israel-Palestinian peace
agreement makes it obvious to Teheran that the US will take no action
whatsoever to prevent it from following in North Korea's footsteps and
becoming a nuclear power.

During his press briefing with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last
Monday, Obama said the US would reassess its commitment to appeasing Iran at
year's end. And early this week it was reported that Obama has instructed
the Defense Department to prepare plans for attacking Iran. Moreover, the
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, has made several
recent statements warning of the danger a nuclear-armed Iran will pose to
global security - and by extension, to US national security.

On the surface, all of this seems to indicate that the Obama administration
may be willing to actually do something to prevent Iran from becoming a
nuclear power. Unfortunately, though, due to the timeline Obama has set, it
is clear that before he will be ready to lift a finger against Iran, the
mullocracy will have already become a nuclear power.

Israel assesses that Iran will have a sufficient quantity of enriched
uranium to make a nuclear bomb by the end of the year. The US believes that
it could take until mid-2010. At his press briefing last week Obama said
that if the negotiations are deemed a failure, the next step for the US will
be to expand international sanctions against Iran. It can be assumed that
here, too, Obama will allow this policy to continue for at least six months
before he will be willing to reconsider it. By that point, in all
likelihood, Iran will already be in possession of a nuclear arsenal.

Beyond Obama's timeline, over the past week, two other developments made it
apparent that regardless of what Iran does, the Obama administration will
not revise its policy of placing its Middle East emphasis on weakening
Israel rather than on stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. First,
last Friday, Yediot Aharonot reported that at a recent lecture in
Washington, US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who is responsible for training
Palestinian military forces in Jordan, indicated that if Israel does not
surrender Judea and Samaria within two years, the Palestinian forces he and
his fellow American officers are now training at a cost of more than $300
million could begin killing Israelis.

Assuming the veracity of Yediot's report, even more unsettling than Dayton's
certainty that within a short period of time these US-trained forces could
commence murdering Israelis, is his seeming equanimity in the face of the
known consequences of his actions. The prospect of US-trained Palestinian
military forces slaughtering Jews does not cause Dayton to have a second
thought about the wisdom of the US's commitment to building and training a
Palestinian army.

Dayton's statement laid bare the disturbing fact that even though the
administration is fully aware of the costs of its approach to the
Palestinian conflict with Israel, it is still unwilling to reconsider it.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates just extended Dayton's tour of duty for an
additional two years and gave him the added responsibility of serving as
Obama's Middle East mediator George Mitchell's deputy.

FOUR DAYS after Dayton's remarks were published, senior American and Israeli
officials met in London. The reported purpose of the high-level meeting was
to discuss how Israel will abide by the administration's demand that it
prohibit all construction inside Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.

What was most notable about the meeting was its timing. By holding the
meeting the day after North Korea tested its bomb and after Iran's
announcement that it rejects the US's offer to negotiate about its nuclear
program, the administration demonstrated that regardless of what Iran does,
Washington's commitment to putting the screws on Israel is not subject to

All of this of course is music to the mullahs' ears. Between America's
impotence against their North Korean allies and its unshakable commitment to
keeping Israel on the hot seat, the Iranians know that they have no reason
to worry about Uncle Sam.

As for Israel, it is a good thing that the IDF has scheduled the largest
civil defense drill in the country's history for next week. Between North
Korea's nuclear test, Iran's brazen bellicosity and America's betrayal, it
is clear that the government can do nothing to impact Washington's policies
toward Iran. No destruction of Jewish communities will convince Obama to act
against Iran.

Today Israel stands alone against the mullahs and their bomb. And this, like
the US's decision to stand down against the Axis of Evil, is not subject to

3a) US wants tough response to North Kore

The Obama administration on Wednesday sought more international support for its tough stance on North Korea as US officials revealed plans for a presidential meeting with Russian leaders on the matter in July and pressed for a cohesive front later this week during a meeting of Far East defense ministers.

The White House national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, said Wednesday night that US President Barack Obama will discuss North Korea's recent atomic test and other belligerent actions during a summit in Moscow with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev.

"We will be in close consultation with our friends," Jones said during a speech delivered to the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based foreign policy group.

As Jones spoke, Defense Secretary Robert Gates took on the delicate task of reassuring Asian allies of US support without further provoking the communist government. Gates flew to Singapore on Wednesday for meetings with foreign ministers aimed at firming up a unified response to the North Korean atomic test.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used tough language that contrasted with statements from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs that dismissed North Korean "saber-rattling."

"North Korea has made a choice," Clinton said. "It has chosen to violate the specific language of the UN Security Council Resolution 1718. It has ignored the international community. It has abrogated the obligations it entered into through the six-party talks. And it continues to act in a provocative and belligerent manner toward its neighbors. There are consequences to such actions."

Jones, in his first speech as head of Obama's National Security Council, echoed those sentiments but added that North Korea's greatest threat comes from spreading its nuclear technology "to other countries and potentially to terror organizations and non-state actors."

The government in Pyongyang still has "a long way to go" to weaponize its nuclear material, Jones said.

"Nothing that the North Koreans did surprised us. We knew they were going to do this," he said. "The question is, what do you do to bring about a change in behavior in North Korea?"

A key to the answer, Jones said, will be US efforts to consult with Russia and China to develop a consensus on how best to deal with the issue so that it will send a signal to other nuclear-armed nations - such as Iran.

Along those lines, Gates plans similar discussions with defense ministers and military officials from South Korea, Japan and other Far East nations. The talks had already been planned, but US officials said North Korea's bomb and missile tests and heated rhetoric would now dominate the discussions.

Nicholas Szechenyi, a northeast Asia policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Gates would likely focus on the security agreement and other programs to stem nuclear proliferation while in Singapore. But Szechenyi said many steps by Washington to hobble Pyongyang likely would not be taken any time soon.

Szechenyi said joint US-South Korea maritime exercises would probably not happen immediately. "You want to respond to North Korea but not provoke them," he said.

South Korea had resisted joining the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative, a network of nations seeking to stop ships from transporting materials used in nuclear bombs. It joined the coalition after Monday's bomb test - a move that North Korea described Wednesday as akin to a declaration of war.

US military officials said Wednesday there are signs of activity at North Korea's partially disabled nuclear reactor complex that could indicate work to restart the facility and resume production of nuclear fuel.

One official said steam has been detected at the complex. Like other activity detected at the site, the steam alone is inconclusive, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the methods of collecting information about North Korean activity are sensitive.

Any move to restart the plant would be a major setback for international efforts to get North Korea to disarm. North Korea has about 8,000 spent fuel rods which, if reprocessed, could allow it to harvest 6-8 kilogramsof plutonium - enough to make at least one nuclear weapon, experts said.

North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium for at least a half-dozen weapons, but experts say it still has not mastered the miniaturization technology required to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

3b) Three Lessons from Pyongyang's Test
By Greg Sheridan

NORTH Korea's nuclear test and missile launchings offer sad and perhaps startling lessons. Lesson No.1: So far, the Barack Obama charm and kindness offensive has had no positive results in any conflict anywhere in the world.

Obama may believe he can change the world with a smile, a willingness to consult, extravagant official humility and a dose of undeniable charm. He is indeed not George W. Bush. Guess what? It makes not one tiny jot of difference to North Korea's Kim Jong-il or, indeed, to any of the world's dictators, terrorists, nuclear rogues or other bad guys.

Soft power is not going to solve North Korea.

Lesson No.2: China is overestimated as a geo-strategic partner and as a central player in any solution to the problems North Korea presents. China is the one nation in the world that could bring Kim's regime to an end without the use of force. China provides the food, fuel and consumer goods that keep North Korea, barely, functioning.

Beijing issued a mild rebuke to Pyongyang for its latest test, a rebuke notably milder in language than some it has issued in the past.

But China continues to keep North Korea going.

Why? Because the status quo suits China. There is no evidence Beijing is worried by the humanitarian plight of North Korea's half-starved population. When a big international conference on North Korean human rights was held in Melbourne recently, US, Japanese and South Korean diplomats attended. No Chinese diplomat was there.

If South and North Korea reunited on the model of East and West Germany the whole peninsula would become a democracy. And despite the bizarre fashion a few years ago for analysts at the Australian National University to pronounce the US-South Korean military alliance on its deathbed, a reunited Korea would almost certainly remain an ally of the US. Although China doesn't like the trickle of refugees it gets from North Korea now, it would hate sharing a 1400km border with a bold, prosperous, rich ally of the US. The refugee flow would then be the other way.

Far better to have a Stalinist buffer state, so long as it does not become so erratic as to directly endanger Chinese security.

Beijing has reaped many other benefits from North Korea. The long saga of the six-party talks has done nothing to dissuade North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons.

But the six-party talks have conferred splendid benefits on Beijing. They not only afforded Beijing great prestige from hosting them, they also offered Beijing a superb diplomatic lever with Washington. The US State Department bent over backwards not to annoy the Chinese in case it led to them going slow on the six-party talks. Now Kim's tests have shown us, whether the Chinese were acting in good faith or not, they have achieved absolutely nothing that we want on North Korea.

Lesson No.3: Nothing will deter the North Koreans from keeping and developing their nukes. Both hawks and doves should realise this.

Former CNN correspondent Mike Chinoy, representing the doves, in his book Meltdown presents the eight years of Bush as a long parade of missed opportunities when the North Koreans, who longed to give up their weapons, were insulted, rejected and frustrated by Washington.

In truth Bush alternately tried hard and soft policies with Pyongyang, but nothing worked for long. That the North Koreans used whatever Bush did as an excuse for going their ownway does not mean they would have gone any other way had he acted differently.

Former Bush official John Bolton argues a kind of mirror reverse of Chinoy's position: that if only Bush had been tougher he would have forced the North Koreans to crumble. But there is no evidence for this. Bolton is so hawkish in his calls for regime change in Pyongyang that he teeters on the brink of calling for military action against at least its nuclear facilities, but sensibly he always shies at this final hurdle.

Military action against North Korea would be utter folly.

Seoul, is barely 30km from the border. Across the border is a range of gentle hills. In those hills North Korea has nestled thousands of artillery pieces. The North could cause untold devastation in Seoul in the first hours of any conflict.

What, then, is to be done? The problem cannot be ignored. The North Koreans have an appalling record of nuclear and missile proliferation, specifically to Syria and Iran.

Nor can we be sure the North will never use its nukes. Part of the frustration the international community has with North Korea comes from a failure to understand its bizarre internal political culture.

Stalinist dictatorships are best considered as national equivalents of the narcissistic personality in psychology. They are completely self-obsessed. North Korea's interlocutors keep trying to devise a system of incentives and disincentives. But the North Koreans make entirely different calculations. Their paradigm is utterly foreign. This is a classic weakness of realism as an analytical tool in foreign policy. Realism holds that states act on the basis of their interests rather than their ideologies. This is wrong throughout history but especially wrong of regimes such as Kim's. Kim will act in his own interests, but his evaluation of his interests may bear no resemblance to our evaluation.

Nonetheless, some things can be done. One is to make maximum effort to prevent North Korea from proliferating nuclear material and technology. South Korea this week signed up to the Proliferation Security Initiative. Obama's enthusiastic embrace of the PSI is a good sign. The PSI allows member nations to intercept any North Korean cargo suspected of being related to nuclear proliferation. It was widely regarded as one of Bush's most assertive and bellicose actions, routinely deplored in the Third World.

That Obama pursues it shows there is little to separate him from Bush on Korean policy.

Investment in missile defence is another precaution dictated by North Korea's nuclear delinquency and here Obama foolishly is pulling back from Bush's position. Missile defence, ineffective against large numbers of missiles, does have a good chance of working against a couple of missiles launched by a rogue regime.

Broad trade and financial sanctions should be maintained against North Korea to retard its nuclear efforts. We should continue to reassure Pyongyang that no one plans any military action against it.

Korean culture, which the North has warped with its Stalinist cult of personality, is inherently very intense. I had the pleasure of meeting the previous president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun. He did strike me as an unlikely guy to be president, but certainly he was a rational actor. Last week he committed suicide.

4) Israel's Cuban Missile Crisis - All the Time
By Victor Davis Hanson

Why would the Iranian government spend billions of dollars on trying to develop a few first-generation nuclear bombs (as nearly everyone believes is the case) when the country is so poor that it has to ration gasoline?

A lot of reasons have been offered by various experts.

Upon developing a nuclear weapon, states win instant prestige and attention beyond what they otherwise might have earned. Take away its bomb and North Korea would be in the news about as much as Chad.

Nuclear weapons also can change the nature of conventional warfare.

Israel's Arab neighbors have not waged a full-scale traditional war against Israel since 1973 - in part because there is no longer a nuclear-patron Soviet Union around to threaten the use of nukes should Israel strike too strongly back against its aggressors.

But give Iran a bomb or two and it will be able to guarantee Hezbollah and Hamas - or a coalition of Muslim states - a secure fallback position if they attack Israel and lose.

Then there is inter-Islamic rivalry. If Iran gets a bomb, it will send a message that the Persian Shiites, not the Sunni Arabs, are the true effective defenders of the faith against the Zionist entity.

Tehran will also remind these monarchies and dictatorships that Iran is an ascending revolutionary power that appeals to the Muslim masses across geographical boundaries.

Some even insist that Iran is apocalyptic -- and that it seeks the bomb largely to stage a glorious mass suicide in a nuclear exchange with Israel in which millions go to their deaths, convinced they have at least earned a place in Paradise by killing half the world's Jews for Islam.

All these are the conventional explanations of why an energy-rich Iran is operating thousands of centrifuges.

Yet, the real reason may be otherwise.

More likely, Iran wishes to break Israel's will - not necessarily by a nuclear strike. Instead, periodic threats from a nuclear theocracy, it may recognize, would do well enough.

Once armed with the bomb, Iran will likely increase the frequency of its now-familiar denial of the Holocaust. In between such well-publicized lunacy, some Iranians like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will periodically threaten to wipe Israel off the map - or promise Armageddon if Israel retaliates against Hamas or Hezbollah.

The net effect would be for half the world's Jews to hear constantly two messages - there was no Holocaust, but there might well be one soon. It would be analogous to the American public reliving the threats of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 - every day.

A recent poll revealed that a fourth of Israel's population quite understandably might emigrate if Iran gets the bomb. And it seems likely that within a decade or two, a nuclear Iran could so demoralize the Israelis by such psychological intimidation that it could unravel Israel demographically without dropping a bomb.

Countries around the world would continue to sit idly by as they profit from lucrative trade with oil-rich Iran - now and then warning the Israelis not to be the preemptive aggressor and "start" a war.

Already, the Obama administration - through pro-Palestinian Middle East affairs nominations like Charles Freeman and Samantha Power, its pledge to help rebuild Gaza, its outreach to Syria and Iran, and its irritation with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu - seems to be telling Israel that it is increasingly on its own.

Given demographic realities in the Middle East, if a large minority of Israelis emigrates, then the end of the Jewish state becomes possible without Iran ever dropping the bomb that it now so eagerly wishes to acquire.

5) The Media, Islam & Political Correctness
By Cathy Young

Last week's arrest of four men in the Bronx, New York on charges of plotting to bomb two synagogues and shoot down a military aircraft with a missile has revived an ongoing debate about the connection between Islam and terrorism and the twin pitfalls of religious bigotry and willfully blind political correctness.

The New York Times has been assailed by conservative critics such as Dallas Morning News columnist and blogger Rod Dreher for downplaying a troubling aspect of the case: all the suspects are Muslims. (They had converted to Islam while in prison for drug offenses, theft and other crimes.) The first Times report on May 20 mentioned this fact only in passing - despite a statement by New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly's at a press conference that the four had talked frankly about wanting to "commit jihad."

The next day, the Times ran a story on the secret FBI recordings in which the men discussed their hatred of Jews and their intent to kill U.S. soldiers in retaliation for killings of "Muslim brothers and sisters in Muslim countries." The article's lead paragraph focused on the men's criminal backgrounds; not until the fourth paragraph was there a reference to their jihadist motivation (they shouted "Allah Akbar!" as they brought their newly acquired stash of weapons to their warehouse).

In a particularly odd passage, the article noted that "law enforcement officials initially said the four men were Muslims, but their religious backgrounds remained uncertain Thursday" and that three had previously identified as Christian in prison records. This, despite ample evidence in the same article that the plot, set in motion with the help of an FBI informant, was motivated by Islamic fanaticism.

By contrast, the opening line of the New York Post story on the arrests referred to "four homegrown Muslim terrorists on a mission from hell" - inflammatory, to be sure, but arguably far more accurate.

Is the suspects' religion relevant? Given that they were driven by religion-based extremism and hate, common sense certainly suggests that it is.

To some on the left, any mention of Islamic extremism is a bigoted right-wing scare tactic. On his blog, Nation magazine columnist Robert Dreyfuss dismisses the New York terror plot as "bogus" and asserts that every alleged plot by Muslim terrorists on U.S. soil after the World Trade Center attack has been "nonsense" cooked up by the FBI: "Since 9/11 not a single American has even been punched in the nose by an angry Muslim, as far as I can tell." (Tell that to the victims of Mohammed Taheri-azar, who plowed a Jeep into a crowd of students at the University of North Carolina in 2006 and later told authorities that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and "avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world.") And while most of the plots uncovered by the authorities seem to have been the work of inept losers, one does not have to be a genius to inflict a lot of damage. If the September 11 hijackers had been caught, how many people would have scoffed at the plot to fly hijacked planes into buildings as absurdly improbable?

Yet anti-Muslim hysteria on the right is no myth, either. In February 2007, when a teenager named Sulejmen Talovic went on a shooting rampage at a Salt Lake City, Utah shopping mall, killing five people, some right-wing websites excoriated the media for ignoring the "Muslim connection" - the shooter's background as a Bosnian Muslim immigrant. Never mind that there was nothing to suggest that Talovic was a Muslim zealot or that religion had anything to do with his actions. (Shooting sprees by troubled young men of other religious backgrounds are not exactly unknown.)

And in 2005, a posse of conservative bloggers led by columnist Michelle Malkin relentlessly flogged the notion that the suicide of a disturbed young man who blew himself up with a homemade bomb on the Oklahoma University campus was actually a botched terrorist act by a Muslim convert. Their "evidence" included the fact that he had a Pakistani roommate and lived close to a mosque.

The "Muslims under the bed" rhetoric promotes hatred and paranoia. The vast majority of American Muslims are not radicals. But, leaving aside debates about whether there is something in the Muslim religion that inherently and uniquely lends itself to a violent, extremist interpretation, the reality is that an extremist and violent strain is present in modern-day Islam to a far greater extent than in other major religions.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center two years ago found that about 13% of American Muslims - and a quarter of those under 30 - felt that suicide bombings in defense of Islam were justified in at least some cases. The poll also found that in some ways, native-born African-American Muslims are more radicalized than immigrants. Radical Islamism may be an attractive ideology for those who feel disenfranchised.

To ignore or downplay these alarming facts is myopic. If the mainstream media continue to do so out of misguided sensitivity, it will only undermine their credibility when it comes to battling real bigotry.

Cathy Young writes a weekly column for RealClearPolitics and is also a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

6) Stiffing GM's Creditors Will Backfire

The Law: Sure as the sun rises, the U.S. government's manhandling of GM and Chrysler bondholders will ripple outward, striking not only companies and their creditors but the very basis for U.S. power and prosperity.

Historians pinpoint the beginnings of U.S. power at 1811, with the liquidation of the First Bank of the United States, founded by Alexander Hamilton. Amid the winds of the War of 1812, First Bank ignored political pressure and insisted that even British bondholders, from the nation the U.S. was preparing to fight, be paid in full. The debt was paid because that was the law.

This single act reverberated for years. Word got back to Europe that the word of this fledgling country was good, even with enemies. As a result, European capital to finance the great steamships, railroads and other engines of American growth flowed.

"The return of their funds became an important chapter in American finance because it showed that the government was willing to do business on an impartial basis, and that would influence future British investments for decades to come," wrote Charles R. Geisst in his 1979 "Wall Street: A History."

Scroll to 2009. What's good for General Motors is no longer what's good for America. GM and Chrysler faced restructuring in a last-ditch bid to avoid bankruptcy. But unlike 1811's British lenders, their bondholders have been treated like enemies.

In setting terms of the restructuring as a result of its $30 billion bailout, the U.S. government saw to it that the United Auto Workers got more than their share, shredding the claims of bondholders who normally have first priority.

Chrysler bondholders got 29 cents on the dollar and were pilloried as "vultures" by the very government sworn to uphold the law. And for their $27 billion investment, GM's 1,200 bondholders, many of them small stakeholders, got an equity stake of just 9%.

By contrast, the UAW, whose only claim is the $20 billion the automaker owes in gold-plated employee benefits, got 20%, with the government ending up with the rest.

"They cut into line," said Kenton Boettcher of California-based Main Street Bondholders, 90% of whose members rejected the restructuring offer Wednesday. "I lose completely. I can't even write it off as an investment loss. It was a predetermined, prestructured bankruptcy," he told IBD.

"If 'secured creditor' no longer has meaning, who's going to make an investment by buying a corporate bond?" asked Richard Mourdock, Indiana state treasurer, who's suing Chrysler on behalf of Indiana's state pension holders.

Already fewer investors want to lend money to companies with exposure to unions or government bailouts. A new Garman Research study titled "Priority Lost" determined that corporate bonds already are losing value based on the bondholder slap-around.

"Creditors to major U.S. automakers are discovering that absolute priority may, or may not, apply to their holdings," the study said. If the slighting of bondholders is not an aberration, "this could mark a new period of uncertainty."

"This is much bigger than Chrysler," added Mourdock. "If the words 'secured creditor' have no meaning, investors are going to ask if the words 'good faith and credit' of the U.S. still have meaning.

"Americans depend on bonds purchased by people outside the U.S. right now. If the Chinese investors buying our debt see American bondholders treated this way, is it a long stretch to imagine foreign creditors won't be either?"

Word is spreading. "I think the punishment for mugging bondholders will be a reduced trust of foreigners in the U.S. legal system and an increase of the interest that foreigners will request for investing in U.S. instruments," said Ottavio Lavaggi, an Italian bondholder who sued deadbeat Argentina over its $100 billion sovereign bond default in 2001. "There is no free lunch, and robbing bondholders . . . will have consequences."

If so, this could be a turning point. In "A History of Credit and Power in the Western World," Scott B. MacDonald and Albert L. Gastmann warned of a direct correlation between credit and power. "The combination of new muscle in industrial manufacturing . . . and finance clearly elevated the military and economic power of the United States, pushing it to the apex of the global credit system," they wrote.

Is succoring the UAW worth throwing all that away?

7) New reason Burris must quit

Back in February, when snow covered Chicago, we urged Sen. Roland Burris to resign.

He should not have accepted the Senate appointment from soon-to-be-impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich, we wrote, and the way in which he fudged the facts of his negotiations with the Blagojevich camp -- failing to come clean about whole conversations and any mention of money -- stripped him of credibility.

Now it's May, but only the weather has changed. The release this week of a recorded phone conversation last fall between Burris and Blagojevich's brother, Robert, only reinforces our view: Burris really should step down.

Not that he will, obviously, which leaves Illinois with a senator and a half.

The covert recording by federal agents leaves the clear impression that Burris was willing to make or arrange for campaign contributions to Blagojevich in return for continued consideration for the Senate seat. He worried how that might look. Maybe, he suggested, he could get his law partner, Tim Wright, to do the fund-raiser and cover himself that way.

On Wednesday, Burris tried to explain away our suspicions, saying he hung up the phone after talking with Robert Blagojevich and realized, "I can't even do that."

But the substance of the conversation is less important than the fact that Burris in the past has been less than candid about it. It looks to us like yet another omission from the ever-changing story he told the state Senate under oath about how he got the U.S. Senate job.

Here it is the end of May, and we fear another snow job.

8) Banking on Biography
By Jennifer Rubin

Jan Greenburg Crawford writes about the White House’s decision-making process:

As the first Hispanic nominee, with a compelling life story and rich judicial experience, Sotomayor would be hardest for Republicans to oppose, they argued, and therefore easiest for Obama to get confirmed.

Indeed, some Republican senators, while publicly vowing a fight, privately conceded the difficulties they will face in opposing the first Hispanic nominee.

Those calculations could have given her the edge over Wood, who would be more of a fight, political advisers warned, in light of her paper trail of speeches and appeals court opinions.

Obama’s advisers also were aware of a political reality on the Left, sources said. Sotomayor has the added bonus of placating his base, which has grown increasingly angry over some of Obama’s recent positions on terrorism.

[. . .]

With Sotomayor’s experience and personal story, one top adviser said, “there was no question where the arrow pointed.”

Jonathan Turley comes right out and says it: she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

These observations from non-conservatives are noteworthy for a few reasons. First, Sotomayor — who has made identity politics her life’s work — has now reached the top of her profession, as an identity politics champion and a bone tossed to leftist interest groups. How nice! Well, except if you agree with Turley that legal smarts should be the primary consideration for the Court.

Second, for a constitutional “scholar,” the president seems notably unmoved by legal scholarship. Biography and politics triumph over all. We have hit a new low in Supreme Court selection when a pick’s Nancy Drew reading is worthy of mention in the presidential announcement. (Really, who cares?) The announcement statement is remarkable and, in some sense, shocking in its reliance on long passages entitled ”An American Story” and “Commitment to Community.” (Compare this to the announcement of John Roberts’s nomination, which discretely and briefly mentions some personal data points.) These details shouldn’t matter, but to the president they are virtually all that matters.

Dana Milbank put it bluntly:

In selecting Sotomayor, Obama opted for biography over brain. As a legal mind, Sotomayor is described in portraits as competent, but no Louis Brandeis. Nor is Sotomayor, often described as an abrasive jurist, likely to be the next Earl Warren. But her bio is quite a hit. In Spanish, her surname can be translated as “big thicket” — and that’s just where Republicans could find themselves if they oppose this up-from-poverty Latina.

He’s right, of course. And it is — or should be — breathtaking.

Third, because the president prizes politics and biography above all else he assumes conservatives do as well and therefore his nominee will have an easy time. But is this right? Are conservatives less inclined to vigorously contest someone who is offered up as an exemplar of identity politics and who doubts her own impartiality? Are they not excited about opposing a judge whose commitment to affirmative action goes so far as to engage in legal gamesmanship that results in denying firefighter Frank Ricci an appeal on the merits of his claim? Well, as they say, perhaps the president was misinformed.

Whatever this is, it sure isn’t post-racial politics. And I suspect it won’t be an easy confirmation.

8a) OPENING ARGUMENT:Identity Politics And Sotomayor
The judge's thinking is representative of the Democratic Party's powerful identity-politics wing.
By Stuart Taylor

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life." -- Judge Sonia Sotomayor, in her Judge Mario G. Olmos Law and Cultural Diversity Lecture at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law in 2001

The above assertion and the rest of a remarkable speech to a Hispanic group by Sotomayor -- widely touted as a possible Obama nominee to the Supreme Court -- has drawn very little attention in the mainstream media since it was quoted deep inside The New York Times on May 15.

It deserves more scrutiny, because apart from Sotomayor's Supreme Court prospects, her thinking is representative of the Democratic Party's powerful identity-politics wing.

Sotomayor also referred to the cardinal duty of judges to be impartial as a mere "aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others." And she suggested that "inherent physiological or cultural differences" may help explain why "our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging."

So accustomed have we become to identity politics that it barely causes a ripple when a highly touted Supreme Court candidate, who sits on the federal Appeals Court in New York, has seriously suggested that Latina women like her make better judges than white males.

Indeed, unless Sotomayor believes that Latina women also make better judges than Latino men, and also better than African-American men and women, her basic proposition seems to be that white males (with some exceptions, she noted) are inferior to all other groups in the qualities that make for a good jurist.

Any prominent white male would be instantly and properly banished from polite society as a racist and a sexist for making an analogous claim of ethnic and gender superiority or inferiority.

Imagine the reaction if someone had unearthed in 2005 a speech in which then-Judge Samuel Alito had asserted, for example: "I would hope that a white male with the richness of his traditional American values would reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn't lived that life" -- and had proceeded to speak of "inherent physiological or cultural differences."

I have been hoping that despite our deep divisions, President Obama would coax his party, and the country, to think of Americans more as united by allegiance to democratic ideals and the rule of law and less as competing ethnic and racial groups driven by grievances that are rooted more in our troubled history than in today's reality.

I also hope that Obama will use this Supreme Court appointment to re-inforce the message of his 2004 Democratic convention speech: "There's not a black America, and white America, and Latino America, and Asian America; there's the United States of America."

But in this regard, the president's emphasis on selective "empathy" for preferred racial and other groups as "the criteria by which I'll be selecting my judges" is not encouraging, as I explained in a May 15 post on National Journal's The Ninth Justice blog.

As for Sotomayor's speech, fragmentary quotations admittedly cannot capture every qualification and nuance. She also stressed that although "men lawyers... need to work on" their "attitudes," many have already reached "great moments of enlightenment." She noted that she tries to be impartial. And she did not overtly suggest that judges should play identity politics.

I place the earlier quotations in more-detailed context here so that readers can assess Sotomayor's meaning for themselves.

"Judge [Miriam] Cedarbaum [of the federal District Court in New York]... believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum's aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society. Whatever the reasons... we may have different perspectives, either as some theorists suggest because of our cultural experiences or as others postulate because we have basic differences in logic and reasoning....

"Our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that -- it's an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others....

"Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases.... I am... not so sure that I agree with the statement. First... there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

The full text of the speech, as published in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal in 2002, is available on The New York Times website. (It says that the speech was in 2002; I've read elsewhere that it was October 2001.)

To some extent, Sotomayor's point was an unexceptionable description of the fact that no matter how judges try to be impartial, their decisions are shaped in part by their personal backgrounds and values, especially when the law is unclear. As she detailed, for example, some studies suggest that female judges tend to have different voting patterns than males on issues including sex discrimination.

I also share Sotomayor's view that presidents should seek more ethnic and gender diversity on the bench, so that members of historically excluded groups can see people like themselves in important positions and because collegial bodies tend to act more wisely when informed by a diversity of experiences.

Do we want a new justice who comes close to stereotyping white males as (on average) inferior beings?

It follows that the Supreme Court might well be a wiser body -- other things being equal -- if the next justice is a Hispanic woman of outstanding judgment and capability. But do we want a new justice who comes close to stereotyping white males as (on average) inferior beings? And who seems to speak with more passion about her ethnicity and gender than about the ideal of impartiality?

Compare Sotomayor's celebration of "how wonderful and magical it is to have a Latina soul" and reflections "on being a Latina voice on the bench" with Judge Learned Hand's eulogy for Justice Benjamin Cardozo in 1938.

"The wise man is the detached man," Hand wrote. "Our convictions, our outlook, the whole makeup of our thinking, which we cannot help bringing to the decision of every question, is the creature of our past; and into our past have been woven all sorts of frustrated ambitions with their envies, and of hopes of preferment with their corruptions, which, long since forgotten, determine our conclusions. A wise man is one exempt from the handicap of such a past; he is a runner stripped for the race; he can weigh the conflicting factors of his problem without always finding himself in one scale or the other."

Some see such talk as tiresome dead-white-male stuff, from a time when almost all judges were white males -- although, in Cardozo's case, descended from Portuguese Jews. I see it as the essence of what judges should strive to be.

I do not claim that the very different worldview displayed in Sotomayor's speech infuses her hundreds of judicial opinions and votes rendered over more than a decade on the Appeals Court. But only a few of her cases have involved the kind of politically incendiary issues that make the Supreme Court a storm center.

In one of her few explosive cases, Sotomayor voted (without writing an opinion) to join two colleagues in upholding what I see as raw racial discrimination by New Haven, Conn. The city denied promotions to the firefighters who did best on a test of job-related skills because none was black. (See my column, "New Haven's Injustice Shouldn't Disappear.")

The Supreme Court is widely expected to reverse that decision in June. And even if a devotee of identity politics fills retiring Justice David Souter's seat, she will not have enough votes to encourage greater use of such racial preferences. Not yet.

Israeli West Bank Settlements The Next Obama Penata?

Stratfor on N Korea. (See 1 below.)

Sent to me by a friend and fellow memo reader: Recently, a friend and colleague of mine – Cliff May, President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who I work with weekly at PJTV – made an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, who called Harry Truman a war criminal then later retracted his comment.

The debate over waterboarding has taken on a life of itself and provides fodder for those who believe we have no right to defend ourselves if it means putting enemies under stress. The press and media have taken up the cause as well. I appreciate where those who feel this way are coming from and understand they would never believe Quantanamo is probably one of the best jail facilities in all the world and that extreme deference has been paid to those imprisoned there in terms of respecting their religion and person. Far more than they and their co-fantical Islamists have demonstrated they care about human life and the being of innnocents.

And now possibly Japan, S Korea and maybe even Israel are facing enemies with little if any concern fro the destruction and human misery they can cause and I am sure Jon Stewart believes we should appease them as well. (See 2 below.)

Abbas and the Palestinians to play second fiddle to Syria in Obama's orchestra? (See 3 below.)

Revealing poll regarding most popular Arab leader. Will it shape Obama's speech next week to the Arab/Muslim world? Apparently it might. (See 4 below.)

Obama and natural settlement growth. Is he going to use this as an excuse to pick a fight?
Do settlents become his next penata replacing GW and Cheney?

Netanyahu has begun dismantling illegal settlements but believes natural growth is something about which he might be willing to go to the mat. (See 5 below.)

George Will makes a few telling points regarding identity justice. (See 6 below.)

Hezballah tied to Hariri assassination? (See 7 below.)

Andy Karp believes 'Tarp' is the greatest swindle ever perpetrated by our government. (See 8below.)

NSA Advisor, Ret. Marine Gen. Jones, rebuts Cheney charges and asserts we are safer under Obama, though he acknowledges no Administration is perfect.

I doubt in five months anything Obama has done has made us safer. My hope is that we are no less safe.

Jones cannot ignore events pertaining to Iran and N Korea and if he has then he is simply licking his bosses' boots and I doubt Jones is a boot licker. (See 9 below.)


1) The North Korean Nuclear Test and Geopolitical Reality
By Nathan Hughes

North Korea tested a nuclear device for the second time in two and a half years May 25. Although North Korea’s nuclear weapons program continues to be a work in progress, the event is inherently significant. North Korea has carried out the only two nuclear detonations the world has seen in the 21st century. (The most recent tests prior to that were the spate of tests by India and Pakistan in 1998.)

Details continue to emerge through the analysis of seismographic and other data, and speculation about the precise nature of the atomic device that Pyongyang may now posses carries on, making this a good moment to examine the underlying reality of nuclear weapons. Examining their history, and the lessons that can be drawn from that history, will help us understand what it will really mean if North Korea does indeed join the nuclear club.

Nuclear Weapons in the 20th Century
Even before an atomic bomb was first detonated on July 16, 1945, both the scientists and engineers of the Manhattan Project and the U.S. military struggled with the implications of the science that they pursued. But ultimately, they were driven by a profound sense of urgency to complete the program in time to affect the outcome of the war, meaning understanding the implications of the atomic bomb was largely a luxury that would have to wait. Even after World War II ended, the frantic pace of the Cold War kept pushing weapons development forward at a break-neck pace. This meant that in their early days, atomic weapons were probably more advanced than the understanding of their moral and practical utility.

But the promise of nuclear weapons was immense. If appropriate delivery systems could be designed and built, and armed with more powerful nuclear warheads, a nation could continually threaten another country’s very means of existence: its people, industry, military installations and governmental institutions. Battlefield or tactical nuclear weapons would make the massing of military formations suicidal — or so military planners once thought. What seemed clear early on was that nuclear weapons had fundamentally changed everything. War was thought to have been made obsolete, simply too dangerous and too destructive to contemplate. Some of the most brilliant minds of the Manhattan Project talked of how atomic weapons made world government necessary.

But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the advent of the nuclear age is how little actually changed. Great power competition continued apace (despite a new, bilateral dynamic). The Soviets blockaded Berlin for nearly a year starting in 1948, in defiance of what was then the world’s sole nuclear power: the United States. Likewise, the United States refused to use nuclear weapons in the Korean War (despite the pleas of Gen. Douglas MacArthur) even as Chinese divisions surged across the Yalu River, overwhelming U.S., South Korean and allied forces and driving them back south, reversing the rapid gains of late 1950.

Again and again, the situations nuclear weapons were supposed to deter occurred. The military realities they would supposedly shift simply persisted. Thus, the United States lost in Vietnam. The Syrians and the Egyptians invaded Israel in 1973 (despite knowing that the Israelis had acquired nuclear weapons by that point). The Soviet Union lost in Afghanistan. India and Pakistan went to war in 1999 — and nearly went to war twice after that. In none of these cases was it judged appropriate to risk employing nuclear weapons — nor was it clear what utility they might have.

Enduring Geopolitical Stability
Wars of immense risk are born of desperation. In World War II, both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan took immense geostrategic gambles — and lost — but knowingly took the risk because of untenable geopolitical circumstances. By comparison, the postwar United States and Soviet Union were geopolitically secure. Washington had come into its own as a global power secured by the buffer of two oceans, while Moscow enjoyed the greatest strategic depth it had ever known.

The U.S.-Soviet competition was, of course, intense, from the nuclear arms race to the space race to countless proxy wars. Yet underlying it was a fear that the other side would engage in a war that was on its face irrational. Western Europe promised the Soviet Union immense material wealth but would likely have been impossible to subdue. (Why should a Soviet leader expect to succeed where Napoleon and Hitler had failed?) Even without nuclear weapons in the calculus, the cost to the Soviets was too great, and fears of the Soviet invasion of Europe along the North European Plain were overblown. The desperation that caused Germany to seek control over Europe twice in the first half of the 20th century simply did not characterize either the Soviet or U.S. geopolitical position even without nuclear weapons in play. It was within this context that the concept of mutually assured destruction emerged — the idea that each side would possess sufficient retaliatory capability to inflict a devastating “second strike” in the event of even a surprise nuclear attack.

Through it all, the metrics of nuclear warfare became more intricate. Throw weights and penetration rates were calculated and recalculated. Targets were assigned and reassigned. A single city would begin to have multiple target points, each with multiple strategic warheads allocated to its destruction. Theorists and strategists would talk of successful scenarios for first strikes. But only in the Cuban Missile Crisis did the two sides really threaten one another’s fundamental national interests. There were certainly other moments when the world inched toward the nuclear brink. But each time, the global system found its balance, and there was little cause or incentive for political leaders on either side of the Iron Curtain to so fundamentally alter the status quo as to risk direct military confrontation — much less nuclear war.

So through it all, the world carried on, its fundamental dynamics unchanged by the ever-present threat of nuclear war. Indeed, history has shown that once a country has acquired nuclear weapons, the weapons fail to have any real impact on the country’s regional standing or pursuit of power in the international system.

Thus, not only were nuclear weapons never used in even desperate combat situations, their acquisition failed to entail any meaningful shift in geopolitical position. Even as the United Kingdom acquired nuclear weapons in the 1950s, its colonial empire crumbled. The Soviet Union was behaving aggressively all along its periphery before it acquired nuclear weapons. And the Soviet Union had the largest nuclear arsenal in the world when it collapsed — not only despite its arsenal, but in part because the economic burden of creating and maintaining it was unsustainable. Today, nuclear-armed France and non-nuclear armed Germany vie for dominance on the Continent with no regard for France’s small nuclear arsenal.

The Intersection of Weapons, Strategy and Politics
This August will mark 64 years since any nation used a nuclear weapon in combat. What was supposed to be the ultimate weapon has proved too risky and too inappropriate as a weapon ever to see the light of day again. Though nuclear weapons certainly played a role in the strategic calculus of the Cold War, they had no relation to a military strategy that anyone could seriously contemplate. Militaries, of course, had war plans and scenarios and target sets. But outside this world of role-play Armageddon, neither side was about to precipitate a global nuclear war.

Clausewitz long ago detailed the inescapable connection between national political objectives and military force and strategy. Under this thinking, if nuclear weapons had no relation to practical military strategy, then they were necessarily disconnected (at least in the Clausewitzian sense) from — and could not be integrated with — national and political objectives in a coherent fashion. True to the theory, despite ebbs and flows in the nuclear arms race, for 64 years, no one has found a good reason to detonate a nuclear bomb.

By this line of reasoning, STRATFOR is not suggesting that complete nuclear disarmament — or “getting to zero” — is either possible or likely. The nuclear genie can never be put back in the bottle. The idea that the world could ever remain nuclear-free is untenable. The potential for clandestine and crash nuclear programs will remain a reality of the international system, and the world’s nuclear powers are unlikely ever to trust the rest of the system enough to completely surrender their own strategic deterrents.

Legacy, Peer and Bargaining Programs
The countries in the world today with nuclear weapons programs can be divided into three main categories.

Legacy Programs: This category comprises countries like the United Kingdom and France that maintain small arsenals even after the end of the threat they acquired them for; in this case, to stave off a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. In the last few years, both London and Paris have decided to sustain their small arsenals in some form for the foreseeable future. This category is also important for highlighting the unlikelihood that a country will surrender its weapons after it has acquired them (the only exceptions being South Africa and several Soviet Republics that repatriated their weapons back to Russia after the Soviet collapse).
Peer Programs: The original peer program belonged to the Soviet Union, which aggressively and ruthlessly pursued a nuclear weapons capacity following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 because its peer competitor, the United States, had them. The Pakistani and Indian nuclear programs also can be understood as peer programs.
Bargaining Programs: These programs are about the threat of developing nuclear weapons, a strategy that involves quite a bit of tightrope walking to make the threat of acquiring nuclear weapons appear real and credible while at the same time not making it appear so urgent as to require military intervention. Pyongyang pioneered this strategy, and has wielded it deftly over the years. As North Korea continues to progress with its efforts, however, it will shift from a bargaining chip to an actual program — one it will be unlikely to surrender once it acquires weapons, like London and Paris. Iran also falls into this category, though it could also progress to a more substantial program if it gets far enough along. Though parts of its program are indeed clandestine, other parts are actually highly publicized and celebrated as milestones, both to continue to highlight progress internationally and for purposes of domestic consumption. Indeed, manipulating the international community with a nuclear weapon — or even a civilian nuclear program — has proved to be a rare instance of the utility of nuclear weapons beyond simple deterrence.
The Challenges of a Nuclear Weapons Program
Pursuing a nuclear weapons program is not without its risks. Another important distinction is that between a crude nuclear device and an actual weapon. The former requires only that a country demonstrate the capability to initiate an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction, creating a rather large hole in the ground. That device may be crude, fragile or otherwise temperamental. But this does not automatically imply the capability to mount a rugged and reliable nuclear warhead on a delivery vehicle and send it flying to the other side of the earth. In other words, it does not immediately translate into a meaningful deterrent.

For that, a ruggedized, reliable nuclear weapon must be mated with some manner of reliable delivery vehicle to have real military meaning. After the end of World War II, the B-29’s limited range and the few nuclear weapons the United States had on hand meant that its vaunted nuclear arsenal was initially extremely difficult to bring to bear against the Soviet heartland. The United States would spend untold resources to overcome this obstacle in the decade that followed.

The modern nuclear weapon is not just a product of physics, but of decades of design work and full-scale nuclear testing. It combines expertise not just in nuclear physics, but materials science, rocketry, missile guidance and the like. A nuclear device does not come easy. A nuclear weapon is one of the most advanced syntheses of complex technologies ever achieved by man.

Many dangers exist for an aspiring nuclear power. Many of the facilities associated with a clandestine nuclear weapons program are large, fixed and complex. They are vulnerable to airstrikes — as Syria found in 2007. (And though history shows that nuclear weapons are unlikely to be employed, it is still in the interests of other powers to deny that capability to a potential adversary.)

The history of proliferation shows that few countries actually ever decide to pursue nuclear weapons. Obtaining them requires immense investment (and the more clandestine the attempt, the more costly the program becomes), and the ability to focus and coordinate a major national undertaking over time. It is not something a leader like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez could decide to pursue on a whim. A national government must have cohesion over the long span of time necessary to go from the foundations of a weapons program to a meaningful deterrent capability.

The Exceptions
In addition to this sustained commitment must be the willingness to be suspected by the international community and endure pariah status and isolation — in and of themselves significant risks for even moderately integrated economies. One must also have reasonable means of deterring a pre-emptive strike by a competing power. A Venezuelan weapons program is therefore unlikely because the United States would act decisively the moment one was discovered, and there is little Venezuela could do to deter such action.

North Korea, on the other hand, has held downtown Seoul (just across the demilitarized zone) at risk for generations with one of the highest concentrations of deployed artillery, artillery rockets and short-range ballistic missiles on the planet. From the outside, Pyongyang is perceived as unpredictable enough that any potential pre-emptive strike on its nuclear facilities is too risky not because of some newfound nuclear capability, but because of Pyongyang’s capability to turn the South Korean capital city into a proverbial “sea of fire” via conventional means. A nuclear North Korea, the world has now seen, is not sufficient alone to risk renewed war on the Korean Peninsula.

Iran is similarly defended. It can threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, to launch a barrage of medium-range ballistic missiles at Israel, and to use its proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere to respond with a new campaign of artillery rocket fire, guerrilla warfare and terrorism. But the biggest deterrent to a strike on Iran is Tehran’s ability to seriously interfere in ongoing U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan — efforts already tenuous enough without direct Iranian opposition.

In other words, some other deterrent (be it conventional or unconventional) against attack is a prerequisite for a nuclear program, since powerful potential adversaries can otherwise move to halt such efforts. North Korea and Iran have such deterrents. Most other countries widely considered major proliferation dangers — Iraq before 2003, Syria or Venezuela, for example — do not. And that fundamental deterrent remains in place after the country acquires nuclear weapons.

In short, no one was going to invade North Korea — or even launch limited military strikes against it — before its first nuclear test in 2006. And no one will do so now, nor will they do so after its next test. So North Korea – with or without nuclear weapons – remains secure from invasion. With or without nuclear weapons, North Korea remains a pariah state, isolated from the international community. And with or without them, the world will go on.

The Global Nuclear Dynamic
Despite how frantic the pace of nuclear proliferation may seem at the moment, the true pace of the global nuclear dynamic is slowing profoundly. With the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty already effectively in place (though it has not been ratified), the pace of nuclear weapons development has already slowed and stabilized dramatically. The world’s current nuclear powers are reliant to some degree on the generation of weapons that were validated and certified before testing was banned. They are currently working toward weapons and force structures that will provide them with a stable, sustainable deterrent for the foreseeable future rooted largely in this pre-existing weapons architecture.

New additions to the nuclear club are always cause for concern. But though North Korea’s nuclear program continues apace, it hardly threatens to shift underlying geopolitical realities. It may encourage the United States to retain a slightly larger arsenal to reassure Japan and South Korea about the credibility of its nuclear umbrella. It also could encourage Tokyo and Seoul to pursue their own weapons. But none of these shifts, though significant, is likely to alter the defining military, economic and political dynamics of the region fundamentally.

Nuclear arms are better understood as an insurance policy, one that no potential aggressor has any intention of steering afoul of. Without practical military or political use, they remain held in reserve — where in all likelihood they will remain for the foreseeable future.

2)(This is the script of an Afterburner video that ran on May 1st, 2009. Some very minor changes have been made in the print version.)

Cliff and Mr. Stewart were having a heated argument on the subject of what constitutes torture and what is merely coercion. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

Cliff May: Do you think that in World War Two we did not inflict pain and suffering on suspects in Europe and Japan–.

Jon Stewart: –I would hope we didn’t waterboard people. I would hope we–.

Cliff May: –We did do Hiroshima. Do you think Truman is a war criminal for that?

Jon Stewart: (pause) Yeah.

Cliff May: You do?

Jon Stewart: Yeah.

This view, expressed by Jon Stewart* and shared by millions, is becoming ever more widely held the farther from the event we become. Stewart and others maintain that the atomic bombings were criminal acts, claiming that the targeted cities received no warning, that they were of no military value, that Japanese resistance was crumbling and their use was unnecessary, and that Japan was trying to surrender at the time of the bombings which were therefore nothing but an unjustified and brutal signal sent merely to show the Soviets who’s boss.

None of these positions or assertions stand up to facts.

Let’s come back to the moral issue in a moment. But let’s begin with the historical facts.

Here’s what Stewart himself says about warnings:

Jon Stewart: Here’s what I think on the atom bombs. If you dropped an atom bomb fifteen miles offshore, and you said the next one is coming to hit you, then I would think it’s okay. To drop one on a city, and kill a hundred thousand people…

Cliff May: …You think that would–.

Jon Stewart: I think that’s criminal.

So Jon Stewart’s main point is that if the Japanese had been warned, quote, “then I would think it’s okay.” But the Japanese were warned. After 6 six minutes of grueling research, I was able to discover a leaflet and photograph of the front side of Office of War Information notice #2106, dubbed the “LeMay bombing leaflet.” Over 1 million of these were dropped over Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and 33 other Japanese cities on 1 August 1945 – five days before the Hiroshima bombing. The Japanese text on the reverse side of the leaflet carried the following warning:

“Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately”

Now that’s certainly more warning than our sailors got on the morning of December 7th, 1941. But was that enough? Jon Stewart suggests that the appropriate thing to do would have been to drop the first bomb out at sea as a demonstration. Well, let’s follow Mr. Stewart’s line of reasoning.

The effort to develop the atomic bomb was code named the Manhattan Project. It was spectacularly expensive. To give you some idea of the scale of it, the small town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee – where the fissionable materials were produced – consumed one-sixth of all of the electricity generated in the entire United States! The Manhattan Project – alone – likely used more electricity than the entire nation of Japan.

After many years this mighty effort produced four bombs. The world’s first nuclear weapon – a plutonium device code-named “Gadget” — was detonated over the United States of America, just before 5:30 am on July 16th, 1945 at White Sands, New Mexico, in a test firing called “Trinity.”

The Trinity bomb was extremely delicate and its reliability very much in question. It used an exquisitely timed series of conventional explosives to implode a plutonium core and reach criticality. Bomb #3 – Fat Man – was of exactly this type, as I believe was the unnamed and unused Bomb 4. So the Manhattan Project scientists essentially wasted 25% of the total arsenal – the Gadget bomb, in the Trinity test – to be certain that bombs #3 and 4 would actually work. The second bomb – called Little Boy – was a Uranium bullet-type bomb: less efficient, but judged reliable enough so that it would not need testing.

So let’s pick up Jon Stewarts suggestion. We’ve bet the entire farm – all of our best scientists, almost 30 billion in today’s dollars for the bombs and almost that much for the B-29’s to carry them – and we’ve already detonated 25% of the results on a test. We dropped millions of warning leaflets in the days before the attacks. But Jon Stewart says he would only be satisfied if we had demonstrated the weapon. Such a demonstration would have reduced the results of the Manhattan Project by half: four bombs built, two used as demonstrations.

Presumably, following Mr. Stewart’s suggestion, we would send a message to the Imperial High command that says, essentially, “Hey guys, how’s it going? Listen, we’ve got this super-weapon we’ve been working on for two years, and even though you’ve killed hundreds of thousands of our sons and fathers ever since you sneak attacked us without warning back at Pearl Habor, we wanted to show you what it can do. So next Sunday morning, set up some lawn chairs looking out of the ocean – we’ll tell you exactly where – and then right at noon precisely we’ll send one of these bombers out there to drop one of these wonder weapons… but no fair trying to shoot it down, just because you know exactly where and when and what to look for! Because when you see the kind of splash this thing makes, well, you’ll either give up on the spot or you’ll somehow suddenly deserve what’s coming to you when you wouldn’t have deserved it if we hadn’t dropped one in the bay. If this is a little morally confusing, don’t worry: some snarky narcissistic comedian will explain how that works sixty-four years from now.”

But the whole point is moot, and Jon Stewart knows it’s moot. We know for a fact that dropping an atomic bomb 15 miles out at sea would not have caused the Japanese to surrender in order to avoid that fate. How do we know? Because we dropped one on an actual city, and they still did not surrender.

Nor were they about to, contrary to what many would have you believe. As the U.S. Navy and Marines approached the Japanese mainland, resistance and casualties increased, not decreased. In six grinding months, from August of ’42 to February of ’43, the Allies lost about 1,500 killed at Guadalcanal. The first battle on Japanese soil – an uninhabited speck called Iwo Jima – killed 7,000 not in six months but in five brutal weeks. Four days after the official end to the carnage on Iwo, Americans went ashore at Okinawa – even closer to the sacred soil. In 82 days almost 13,000 allied soldiers were killed. The US Navy lost 34 ships – many of them to the new kamikaze attacks, which caused the United States Navy to lose more men in that one engagement than in all of America’s previous wars combined. Japanese resistance was not fading. It was becoming ever more fanatical.

After Okinawa, and before the Atomic Bombings, the father of the Kamikaze attacks, Admiral Takijiro Onishi declared: “If we are prepared to sacrifice 20 million lives in kamikaze effort, victory will be ours!” 20 million people is one hundred times the number killed in the Atomic attacks.

This isn’t an assertion and this isn’t speculation. These are the words directly from the military clique that ruled Imperial Japan. Their battle plan was called Ketsu-Go – it translates roughly as “decisive operation.” On June 8th, 1945 – a little less than one month before the first atomic bomb was dropped, Emperor Hirohito declared Ketsu-Go would be, quote, “The fundamental policy to be followed henceforth in the conduct of the war.” It proclaimed that “Japan must fight to the finish and choose extinction rather than surrender.” Again, we’re not talking about the assertions of a comedy show host, but official policy statements from the God-Emperor of Japan. Special attack weapons were sanctioned, including additional kamikaze air and submarine attacks. Children were being trained to carry backpacks of explosives and throw themselves under American tanks. Admiral Onishi went on to say that 32 million civilians were being trained in the use of “primitive weapons” – that would be bamboo spears – in order to make a heroic last stand.

Opposing Ketsu-Go was the American plan for the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands: Operation Downfall. Phase one – Operation Olympic – would be an amphibious assault on the southern island of Kyushu with over 767,000 American troops: more than four times as many as were used in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in Europe. The core of the Japanese defense against Operation Olympic would come from the Imperial Army troops stationed in position to defend Kyushu. That army of 43,000 men was crowded in with various military installations, manufacturing facilities, and 280,000 civilians at the army headquarters, located in the heart of a modest city named Hiroshima. The bomb detonated directly over that army’s parade grounds. Hiroshima was not, as some will tell you, a purely civilian target. Like all Japanese manufacturing centers, the munitions factories, weapons depots, troop barracks and other military targets were dispersed among the civilian population.

At 8:16 am on the morning of August 6th, 1945, a B-29 named Enola Gay dropped bomb number two – Little Boy – which exploded with the force of about 15 thousand tons of TNT. We’ve grown up under the shadow of hydrogen weapons – H-Bombs – but these are thousands of times more powerful than the fission bomb dropped on Hiroshima. If you detonated the Little Boy Hiroshima bomb in the center of Los Angeles Airport, the fatal blast radius remains inside the airport property.

But it produced horrific damage to these wood and rice paper structures. 70,000 were killed almost immediately, and perhaps another seventy thousand would later succumb to burns, injuries and radiation.

The Japanese did not surrender. August 7th passed with no word from the Imperial High Command, as did August 8th. American B-29s continued their firebombing of Japanese targets.

Then on the morning of August 9th, another B-29, Bock’s Car, took off with Fat Man, bomb #3 –a higher-yield, less-reliable plutonium bomb like Gadget. The Japanese city of Kokura was the primary target, but clouds obscured that city so Bock’s Car diverted to the secondary, Nagasaki. It too was overcast, but a brief hole in the cloud cover was enough to give the bombardier an aim point. Fat Man exploded with a force equal to about 22 thousand tons of TNT – about half again that of Little Boy – detonating precisely halfway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works, a munitions plant, and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works, which manufactured torpedoes for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Total deaths a Nagasaki were lower, but about 80,000 people would die from either immediate or long-term effects.

Still the Japanese did not surrender, and still the conventional bombings continued. August 9th passed. August 10th. August 11th. The fourth bomb was being readied, and it started to appear that the air force would have to begin conserving atomic bombs for use during the invasion. You see, even after the second bomb was dropped, Emperor Hirohito was hearing from his advisors that Japan still had 32 million people prepared to give their lives for their emperor.

“With luck, we will repel the invaders before they land,” said General Yoshijiro Umezu, with the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still smoldering.

Japan would have eventually surrendered without the atomic bombs. It might have taken an invasion, with perhaps a million American soldiers killed or wounded, and three, or five, or seven, or twenty million Japanese civilians as well. A post-war American bombing survey concluded that Japan probably would have capitulated by November or December, prior to an invasion – but that was only because the firebombings would have continued for another three months, or four, or six. Before the atomic bombings, 40% of the much, much larger city of Tokyo had been flattened as effectively as ground zero at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Kobe, the size of Baltimore, had been 55% scoured – wiped clean off the map – by conventional bombs. Osaka, with a population about equal to Chicago, had been 35% destroyed; almost sixty percent of Yokohama – about the size of Cleveland – had gone up in flames in conventional bombing raids… None of this devastation had brought Japan to its knees. But the Atomic Bombs did.

And the idea that had we not dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, their populations would have been spared is also fallacious. Had they not been victims of the atomic attacks, those populations would have been subjected to firebombings as had the above named cities and scores of other industrial centers. The death toll from conventional bombing may have been somewhat higher, or somewhat lower, but there is no believable scenario that does not result in the deaths of tens of thousands in these cities, even had the atomic bombs been withheld.

On August 12th, three days after Nagasaki, Hirohito was asked by a relative if the war should continue if surrender meant the loss of the Imperial family and their social structure. He replied, “Of course.” August 13th passed. Then, on August 14th, the Emperor relented. As he was traveling to the radio station to announce the surrender of his empire, he narrowly escaped by kidnapped by Imperial Japanese officers determined not to let even the God-King end the war.

But he did end it. And when he finally ended it, he said why he ended it:

“The enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization… This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.”

Japanese pilot Mitsuo Fuchida led the air attack against Pearl Harbor. After the war, he told Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, quote: “you did the right thing. You know the Japanese attitude of that time, how fanatic they were. They’d die for the Emperor. Every man, woman and child would have resisted the invasion with sticks and stones if necessary. “

The use of the atomic bombs saved – at minimum — hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives from continued conventional bombing. If the invasion had been necessary – and no one at the time had any reason to think it would not be necessary, given the pattern of resistance – then millions more Japanese would die holding bamboo spears and wearing explosive backpacks. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers would have been killed. Perhaps including this one:

I got to know this man over the course of my life. He was just a regular Army 2nd Lieutenant who got to Germany just as the war there was ending. He and all of his friends knew where they were headed next, and having watched the Marines fight and die for every inch of sand they took, they frankly did not think they were going to come home.

When the word came of the Japanese surrender, they were stunned. The Marines were stunned. Navy pilots – tough, battle-hardened men who had seen horror Jon Stewart and I will never be able to imagine, thanks to them – those men burst into tears at the news. They were going to live. They were going to go home, because of the decision that Harry Truman made that day.

This man would go home and marry and four children, and some of those children would have children.

The oldest one would play some little league baseball, then go to high school, then make movies, and finally that little boy would write this essay, because Harry Truman gave his father a chance to come home.

Jon Stewart wants to call Harry Truman a war criminal? If Harry Truman is a war criminal for the atomic bombings, then Roosevelt is one for the fire bombings of Tokyo and Dresden. And if Roosevelt is a war criminal for causing the fiery deaths of civilians, then Abraham Lincoln – whose Union armies burned Atlanta and Columbia to the ground in order to end that war – well he must be one too.

And if, by the snowy standards of these liberal’s Olympian intellect and morality… if Harry Truman is essentially the same creature as Adolph Hitler – war criminals – then these people, the actual victims of real war criminals become a little less to worry about. Don’t they?

Mr. Stewart, you do no exist on some superior intellectual plane – and most certainly not on a moral one. You can slander the men who have given you a life where the toughest decision you have to make is what to have your assistant get you for lunch. But those people who came home as a result of Harry Truman’s courage deserve a hell of a lot better than to be told that their lives are worth less than your moral discomfort. And the de facto “voice of a generation” should be someone not quite as self-centered as you.

*Shortly after he called Harry Truman a “war criminal,” Mr. Stewart apologized for the comment.

(A great deal of the background material of this essay was found in a remarkable book called Flyboys, written by Flags of our Fathers author James Bradley. While it deals primarily with the capture and brutal execution of American Naval Aviators on Chi Chi Jima, it is exhaustively researched and examines both the conventional and atomic bombings of Japan in great detail. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, although I will say the details of the Japanese treatment of Amrrican POW’s and Chinese civilians is not for the weak stomached. )

3)Abbas will find Obama puts Syrian peace track ahead of the Palestinians

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas will find US president Barack Obama hard to pin down when they meet at the White House Thursday, May 28. Abbas will produce a thick sheaf of pre-conditions for talks with Israel, primarily heavy US pressure to force the Netanyahu government to stop all construction activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem and remove 200 West Bank roadblocks. But for now, Washington sources report, the administration is more interested in advancing the Syrian than the Palestinian peace track.

According to alestinian sources, Abbas badly needs a demonstration of Obama's sympathy to quell the near-rebellion in the ranks of his own Fatah against the government he installed this week in Ramallah under prime minister Salam Fayyad.

To prepare for his talks with the Palestinian leader, the US president was handed two working papers:

One was to have been drawn up at a meeting in London this week between US officials and Netanyahu's top aides, cabinet minister Dan Meridor, national security adviser Uzi Arad and personal adviser Yitzhak Molcho.

The Israel team was supposed to present a list of concessions with regard to the illegal outposts to be evacuated and roadblocks to be removed on the West Bank.

This list could be stretched if the going was really tough.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton stated Wednesday that Obama had informed the Israeli prime minister he is against any type of settlement construction, whether new, expansions to accommodate natural growth or any other purpose.

Netanyahu commented this week that Israel and the US have differences on this issue as between friends.

The second paper, prepared by presidential Middle East envoy George Mitchell, gave Israeli-Palestinian peace talks no chance of a breakthrough given the internal strife in the Palestinian camp.

This view was endorsed by his two deputies, David Hale and Mara Rudman, and Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton who is in charge of training a Palestinian security force.

Mitchell believes focusing on the Palestinian issue at present would be a waste of time and therefore advised the president to give precedence to the Syrian track. He and his aides are planning an early visit to Damascus to clarify the prospects of resumed peace talks.

Middle East sources add that Tuesday, May 26, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu was in the Syrian capital to offer Ankara's services as Damascus' representative in dealings with Washington. President Bashar Assad sent the Turkish visitor away with a polite refusal. "We have direct relations with the Americans and do not require a third party," he said.

4)Democracy, anyone?

American poll on popularity of Arab leaders results in grim findings
Smadar Peri

Who’s the most popular ruler across the Arab world? It isn’t Mubarak, who enjoys skyrocketing sympathy that is erasing hatreds and clashes at this time, in the wake of the tragic death of his eldest grandson. It also isn’t Lebanon’s president, with everyone tense in the face of the large-scale terror attack feared ahead of the Lebanese parliamentary elections. It is certainly not Gaddafi either, the most veteran ruler, who enjoys cheers that are orchestrated from above through threats and bribes.

The answer is both surprising and disappointing: Bashar Assad, Syria’s president, reached the top spot in a poll whose findings stunned even those who carried it out - researchers at the Brookings Institute.

After 10 years of a regime characterized by violence and hesitance, the dictator from Damascus heads the parade. In third spot, unsurprisingly, we find the hero of the swamps and back alleys, Hizbullah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. The second spot was taken by a grey figure, almost unknown around here: Sheikh Mohammad al-Nayan, the ruler of Abu-Dhabi, the Gulf’s prosperous heaven.

The survey was undertaken in six states: Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. Two of the rulers of these states, Mubarak and the Saudi King, publically declared they are no friends of Assad because of the Iranian bear hug and because of his involvement in smuggling terrorists and stimulating terror attacks against them. Also, we shouldn’t forget the big mouth Assad has shown at their expense every time he faces a microphone or cameras.

More than anything else, the stars of this popularity parade blatantly attest to the bankruptcy of the vision of democracy and human rights born at the White House. Does anyone truly believe that if they flew the poll respondents far away from Syria, they would elect a ruler who clings to power only via threats, scare-mongering, and jails for political prisoners?

Heroes of fear
Nasrallah, the master of media spins (no longer around here at least, thank God,) also attests to the victory of exaggerated passion at the expense of the citizens: Thousands lost their homes and belongings, hundreds became disabled, and hundreds of others lost their lives three years ago. Nasrallah paid (using millions of dollars sent from Tehran,) and rushed to express his regret: Had I known, he smiled to himself, I would not have abducted the Israeli soldiers; had I guessed what was in store, I would not bring disaster and destruction. Nasrallah, just like Assad, is a hero of fear.

What are the conclusions of this poll? A ruler (Mubarak, for example, or Jordan’s King Abdullah, and also the Saudi king) who insists on democracy may lose his job. The Islamic organizations are just waiting for an opportunity to provoke street riots and fan the flames at mosques. You hold democratic elections in the territories and you get Hamas; open the polling stations in Egypt, and the Islamic Brotherhood will replace you; the same is true for Jordan.

Assad, on the other hand, sleeps well at night on the mattress of dictatorship. Nobody dares complain, there is no malicious opposition like the one emerging in Egypt, there are no protests outside parliament as is the case in Amman, or one million signatures of miserable women in Saudi Arabia.

The findings of this popularity survey were placed on the desk of President Obama. Next week, we won’t be shocked to hear the American president, in his speech to the Muslim nation, talking about peace and its economic advantages, while forgetting, and not by accident, to mention the bothersome issue of democracy and human rights.

5) Analysis: Is Obama looking for a fight over 'natural growth'?
By Herb Keinon

"A 'settlement freeze' would not help Palestinians face today's problems or prepare for tomorrow's challenges," Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser under former US president George Bush, wrote in April in The Washington Post.

"The demand for a freeze would have only one quick effect: to create immediate tension between the United States and Israel's new government," he wrote. "That may be precisely why some propose it, but it is also why the Obama administration should reject it."

Abrams proved prophetic: the issue has indeed created immediate tension with the US, not over illegal outposts - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made it clear he will remove them - but over "natural growth" in the settlements.

The question is why the US is looking for this fight, and why Obama has not heeded Abrams's advice and rejected those pushing him in a confrontation over the matter.

Truth be told, comments by Obama himself on the subject have not pointed to a looming battle. After his meeting with Netanyahu in the White House last week, Obama spoke - much as Bush spoke before him - in rather general terms about a need for Israel to stop settlement construction.

"There is a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements, that settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward," he said, using language heard often in the past.

The indication that a fight was brewing came when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an Al-Jazeera interview - an interview whose transcript was circulated last Wednesday by the State Department - that a freeze is just that: a complete and total freeze, even for "natural growth."

That position, as was made abundantly clear at Sunday's cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, is not acceptable to the current Netanyahu government. Even Defense Minister Ehud Barak, representing the left flank of the government, said it was illogical to accept a principle whereby a family could not add on to their 45-meter house to accommodate more children, or whereby veterans of IDF units couldn't return - with their wives - to the settlements of their birth to live near their parents.

So a clash is in the making, though coming to some kind of agreement on this issue was one of the main objectives that Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor, National Security Advisor Uzi Arad and Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu's envoy on the Palestinian issue, took with them to London this week for their meeting with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

Israel's position, or its hope, is that this issue can be finessed, just as it was finessed under the previous government. Or, as Netanyahu told a visiting Congressional delegation on Wednesday, there is a need to find a way with the US administration to enable "normal life" in the settlements to continue. If Obama says no settlements, but doesn't mention natural growth, leaving Clinton to do that, does that mean there is wiggle room? Nobody knows yet.

Not too long ago, Clinton's predecessor Condoleezza Rice caused consternation in Jerusalem when she began referring to Israeli neighborhoods in east Jerusalem as settlements.

But then Jerusalem was able to say, "Hey, that's only Rice. Bush doesn't feel that way." The problem is that no one quite knows the dynamics yet on these issues inside the Obama administration.

Israeli officials are confident - perhaps overly confident - that if they "line up" with the US administration on the "right side of the fence" on most settlement issues, they could find a formula to work regarding natural growth.

This means that if, as the Olmert government declared, the Netanyahu government says it will uproot illegal outposts, not set up new settlements, not give incentives to move to the settlements, and not expropriate any additional Palestinian lands, then the conventional wisdom in the current government is that the US would permit - as it has in the past - natural growth construction as long as it does not go beyond the existing construction lines.

But what if Obama, as some maintain, is actually looking for a public fight with Israel on this issue in order to win credit with the Arab world, and legitimacy among the Europeans as a leader who is willing to take Israel on when necessary?

That could be a tricky tactic, because if the US president picks a fight with Israel over the natural growth issue at a time when Israel has declared it won't build new settlements, expropriate land or give incentives to move there, then it could be perceived among some Obama supporters in Congress as being unfairly tough on Israel, especially since various verbal understandings were made over the years that Israel interpreted as a green light for natural growth.

Indeed, what is lacking is clarity, not about where Israel stands on the issue at this point, but where Obama stands, and how far he will push. Clinton's position is clear - but is she also speaking for the president?

As Abrams wrote in April, "for the past five years, Israel's government has largely adhered to guidelines that were discussed with the United States but never formally adopted: that there would be no new settlements, no financial incentives for Israelis to move to settlements and no new construction except in already built-up areas. The clear purpose of the guidelines? To allow for settlement growth in ways that minimized the impact on Palestinians."

The new Netanyahu government has made clear it will abide by those guidelines, and even go further, by taking down illegal outposts. What remains to be seen, what has to be clarified, is whether the Obama administration feels bound by these same guidelines.

If it doesn't, then a clash over the issue is all but inevitable.•

6) Identity Justice
By George Will

Responding to early 19th-century rumors that they drank excessively, the Supreme Court justices decided to drink nothing on conference days -- unless it was raining. At the next conference, Chief Justice John Marshall asked Joseph Story to scan the sky for signs of rain. When Story said he saw none, Marshall said: "Our jurisdiction extends over so large a territory that the doctrine of chances makes it certain that it must be raining somewhere -- let us refresh ourselves."

Americans have argued about the court's jurisdiction forever. They should not stop, especially now that the president has nominated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

The 1987 fight over President Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork interred the tradition that the Senate, in evaluating judicial nominees, would not delve deeply into the nominee's jurisprudential thinking. Bork's defeat was unjust, but the new approach to confirmations was overdue, given the court's increasingly central role in American governance.

Before Sotomayor's confirmation hearings begin, the Supreme Court probably will overturn a ruling she supported on the 2nd Circuit -- the propriety of New Haven, Conn., canceling fire department promotions because there were no African-Americans (although there was a Hispanic) among the 18 firemen the selection test made eligible for promotion. A three-judge panel of 2nd Circuit judges, including Sotomayor, affirmed a district court's dismissal of the firemen's complaint, doing so in a perfunctory and unpublished order that acknowledged none of the large constitutional questions involved.

Stuart Taylor of the National Journal calls this "a process so peculiar as to fan suspicions that some or all of the judges were embarrassed by the ugliness of the actions that they were blessing and were trying to sweep the case quietly under the rug, perhaps to avoid Supreme Court review or public criticism, or both." Taylor says that when "the circuit's more conservative judges got wind of the case," they sought to have it reheard by the full 2nd Circuit. They failed but successfully argued that the Supreme Court should take the case.

Taylor has also noted this from a Sotomayor speech to a Hispanic group: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion (as a judge) than a white male who hasn't lived that life." Says Taylor, "Imagine the reaction if someone had unearthed in 2005 a speech in which then-Judge Samuel Alito had asserted, for example: 'I would hope that a white male with the richness of his traditional American values would reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn't lived that life' -- and had proceeded to speak of 'inherent physiological or cultural differences.'"

Her ethnicity aside, Sotomayor is a conventional choice. The court will remain composed entirely of former appellate court judges. And like conventional liberals, she embraces identity politics, including the idea of categorical representation: A person is what his or her race, ethnicity, gender or sexual preference is, and members of a particular category can be represented -- understood, empathized with -- only by persons of the same identity.

Democrats compounded confusion by thinking of the court as a representative institution. Such personalization of the judicial function subverts the rule of law.

In the 1978 Bakke case involving racial preferences in admissions to a California medical school, the opinion written by Justice Lewis Powell said race can be a "plus" factor for certain government-preferred minorities. But according to Powell's biographer (John Jeffries of the University of Virginia Law School), when the justices conferred on the case and Thurgood Marshall said such preferences would be needed for another century, Powell was "speechless." In 2003, affirming the constitutionality of racial preferences in university admissions, Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the majority, said such preferences would be unnecessary in 25 years -- 19 years from now. How long does Sotomayor think they will be necessary? What are her criteria of necessity?

Perhaps Sotomayor subscribes to the Thurgood Marshall doctrine: "You do what you think is right and let the law catch up" (quoted in the Stanford Law Review, summer 1992). Does she think the figure of Justice should lift her blindfold, an emblem of impartiality, and be partial to certain categories of persons? A better jurisprudential doctrine was expressed by a certain Illinois state legislator in a 2001 radio interview: "The Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. ... It says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf."

7) Did Hezbollah Kill Hariri?
BYMichael J. Totten

The German magazine Der Spiegel dropped one heck of a political bomb on Lebanon a few days ago when it reported that United Nations investigators are now fingering Hezbollah, rather than Syria, for the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination with a car bomb in downtown Beirut on Valentine’s Day in 2005.

The story is based on information from anonymous sources “close to the tribunal” and documents of unknown authenticity. We don’t know yet if the lead is accurate. Intriguingly, though, the UN’s spokesperson for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon neither confirms nor denies Der Spiegel's report. If a potentially explosive accusation like this one were false, I’d expect the UN to deny it emphatically.

Someone in Lebanon's anti-Hezbollah “March 14” coalition may be hoping to use disinformation in Der Spiegel as a political weapon. These things happen. I’ve been lied to in Lebanon by people I trusted. It’s also possible that someone inside the UN thinks the people of Lebanon have a right to know what Hezbollah has done before they go to the polls next month and place assassins in the saddle in Beirut.

One of my own well-connected sources in Lebanon had this to say over email: "A rumor that the tribunal is going to end up issuing its indictments against Hezbollah, not Syria, has been floating around Beirut for the past month or so, and among highly credible sources. The impression I've gotten is that it would be largely a political move, a way to nail Hezbollah – and by association Iran – while largely letting Syria off the hook in the interests of promoting this fantasy-world 'rapprochement' with Damascus. Everyone I've heard discussing this still believes Syria did it. It's a no brainer [sic] even if Hezbollah did play a role in carrying out the assassination."

It is strange that, according to the Der Spiegel report, the evidence no longer points toward Syrian President Bashar Assad. That doesn’t quite pass the smell test. It’s possible, I suppose, that the UN may want to whitewash or downplay Assad’s involvement for diplomatic reasons, to promote “rapprochement” with Damascus, as some Lebanese seem to think. What is far less likely – and, in my opinion, almost impossible – is a UN plot to indict Hezbollah on false pretenses. Either Der Spiegel’s sources are taking the magazine for a ride, or the evidence against Hezbollah is authentic.

Hariri’s son and Future Movement party leader Saad Hariri is being extraordinarily careful. “We will not comment on any press leaks that do not directly come from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” he said. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, Hezbollah’s fiercest critic since Syria's ousting in 2005, is cautious too. “We cannot allow what the Der Spiegel magazine released on Saturday to become another Ain el-Remmaneh incident,” he said, referring to the Lebanese civil war’s trigger in 1975.

Leaders of the “March 14” bloc could hardly ask for a more effective political weapon against Hezbollah during the run-up to the election next month, but they also couldn’t ask for one that’s more dangerous. Jumblatt is right to invoke the incident that ignited the worst war in his country’s history. Accusing Hezbollah of assassinating Hariri – and, by implication, of assassinating a number of journalists and members of parliament in the meantime – could easily do to Lebanon what Al Qaeda’s Samarra mosque bombing in 2006 did to Iraq.

“[I]f (the majority) uses the report against Hezbollah,” said former Carnegie Endowment scholar and Hezbollah expert Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, “then of course we're going to see instability in Lebanon, and that's putting it mildly.” “One word,” said Fadia Kiwan at Saint Joseph University, “could set the streets on fire.” “If the Special Tribunal for Lebanon comes out and confirms the report,” Carnegie Middle East Center Director Paul Salem said, “we could be facing an all-out civil war.” “If these rumors are true,” my own source in Lebanon added, “expect some extremely dark times ahead in Lebanon. After all, the Sunni street hates Hezbollah enough to begin with. Once Hezbollah is officially accused of assassinating Hariri, all bets are off.”

All this raises the question: if Lebanon could plunge into war should “March 14” cite an unsourced report prematurely, what might happen if the UN officially indicts Hezbollah later?

A furious revolution drove out Syrian occupation soldiers when Assad was the suspected culprit. It was possible, though, to revolt against Syria without using violence. Assad’s army was foreign and could be pressured to go home. Hezbollah lives in Lebanon. Hezbollah is already home. Hezbollah cannot withdraw. Hezbollah can only be disarmed or destroyed. And undefeated armies rarely, if ever, surrender their weapons.

Lebanese are good at compromise. “No victor, no vanquished” is the formula used to break deadlocks. The system breaks down, of course, when one faction tries to vanquish another. If Hezbollah is indicted for murdering Hariri and others, the country will be thrown into crisis. For it is neither possible nor desirable to compromise with, or compete in democratic elections with, a terrorist army that “votes” by murdering its political opponents with car bombs.

8) The Greatest Swindle Ever Sold
By Andy Kroll

On October 3, as the spreading economic meltdown threatened to topple financial behemoths like American International Group (AIG) and Bank of America and plunged global markets into freefall, the US government responded with the largest bailout in American history. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, better known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), authorized the use of $700 billion to stabilize the nation's failing financial systems and restore the flow of credit in the economy.

The legislation's guidelines for crafting the rescue plan were clear: the TARP should protect home values and consumer savings, help citizens keep their homes and create jobs. Above all, with the government poised to invest hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in various financial institutions, the legislation urged the bailout's architects to maximize returns to the American people.

That $700 billion bailout has since grown into a more than $12 trillion commitment by the US government and the Federal Reserve. About $1.1 trillion of that is taxpayer money--the TARP money and an additional $400 billion rescue of mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The TARP now includes twelve separate programs, and recipients range from megabanks like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase to automakers Chrysler and General Motors.

Seven months in, the bailout's impact is unclear. The Treasury Department has used the recent "stress test" results it applied to ninteen of the nation's largest banks to suggest that the worst might be over; yet the International Monetary Fund, as well as economists like New York University professor and economist Nouriel Roubini and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman predict greater losses in US markets, rising unemployment and generally tougher economic times ahead.

What cannot be disputed, however, is the financial bailout's biggest loser: the American taxpayer. The US government, led by the Treasury Department, has done little, if anything, to maximize returns on its trillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded investment. So far, the bailout has favored rescued financial institutions by subsidizing their losses to the tune of $356 billion, shying away from much-needed management changes and--with the exception of the automakers--letting companies take taxpayer money without a coherent plan for how they might return to viability.

The bailout's perks have been no less favorable for private investors who are now picking over the economy's still-smoking rubble at the taxpayers' expense. The newer bailout programs rolled out by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner give private equity firms, hedge funds and other private investors significant leverage to buy "toxic" or distressed assets, while leaving taxpayers stuck with the lion's share of the risk and potential losses.

Given the lack of transparency and accountability, don't expect taxpayers to be able to object too much. After all, remarkably little is known about how TARP recipients have used the government aid received. Nonetheless, recent government reports, Congressional testimony and commentaries offer those patient enough to pore over hundreds of pages of material glimpses of just how Wall Street friendly the bailout actually is. Here, then, based on the most definitive data and analyses available, are six of the most blatant and alarming ways taxpayers have been scammed by the government's $1.1-trillion, publicly funded bailout.

1. By overpaying for its TARP investments, the Treasury Department provided bailout recipients with generous subsidies at the taxpayer's expense.

When the Treasury Department ditched its initial plan to buy up "toxic" assets and instead invest directly in financial institutions, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. assured Americans that they'd get a fair deal. "This is an investment, not an expenditure, and there is no reason to expect this program will cost taxpayers anything," he said in October 2008.

Yet the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP), a five-person group tasked with ensuring that the Treasury Department acts in the public's best interest, concluded in its monthly report for February that the department had significantly overpaid by tens of billions of dollars for its investments. For the ten largest TARP investments made in 2008, totaling $184.2 billion, Treasury received on average only $66 worth of assets for every $100 invested. Based on that shortfall, the panel calculated that Treasury had received only $176 billion in assets for its $254 billion investment, leaving a $78 billion hole in taxpayer pockets.

Not all investors subsidized the struggling banks so heavily while investing in them. The COP report notes that private investors received much closer to fair market value in investments made at the time of the early TARP transactions. When, for instance, Berkshire Hathaway invested $5 billion in Goldman Sachs in September, the Omaha-based company received securities worth $110 for each $100 invested. And when Mitsubishi invested in Morgan Stanley that same month, it received securities worth $91 for every $100 invested.

As of May 15, according to the Ethisphere TARP Index, which tracks the government's bailout investments, its various investments had depreciated in value by almost $147.7 billion. In other words, TARP's losses come out to almost $1,300 per American taxpaying household.

2. As the government has no real oversight over bailout funds, taxpayers remain in the dark about how their money has been used and if it has made any difference.

While the Treasury Department can make TARP recipients report on just how they spend their government bailout funds, it has chosen not to do so. As a result, it's unclear whether institutions receiving such funds are using that money to increase lending--which would, in turn, boost the economy--or merely to fill in holes in their balance sheets.

Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general for TARP, summed the situation up this way in his office's April quarterly report to Congress: "The American people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being used, particularly as billions of dollars are going to institutions for which banking is certainly not part of the institution's core business and may be little more than a way to gain access to the low-cost capital provided under TARP."

This lack of transparency makes the bailout process highly susceptible to fraud and corruption. Barofsky's report stated that twenty separate criminal investigations were already underway involving corporate fraud, insider trading and public corruption. He also told the Financial Times that his office was investigating whether banks manipulated their books to secure bailout funds. "I hope we don't find a single bank that's cooked its books to try to get money, but I don't think that's going to be the case."

Economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, suggested to TomDispatch in an interview that the opaque and complicated nature of the bailout may not be entirely unintentional, given the difficulties it raises for anyone wanting to follow the trail of taxpayer dollars from the government to the banks. "[Government officials] see this all as a Three Card Monte, moving everything around really quickly so the public won't understand that this really is an elaborate way to subsidize the banks," Baker says, adding that the public "won't realize we gave money away to some of the richest people."

3. The bailout's newer programs heavily favor the private sector, giving investors an opportunity to earn lucrative profits and leaving taxpayers with most of the risk.

Under Treasury Secretary Geithner, the Treasury Department has greatly expanded the financial bailout to troubling new programs like the Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP) and the Term Asset-Backed-Securities Loan Facility (TALF). The PPIP, for example, encourages private investors to buy "toxic" or risky assets on the books of struggling banks. Doing so, we're told, will get banks lending again because the burdensome assets won't weigh them down. Unfortunately, the incentives the Treasury Department is offering to get private investors to participate are so generous that the government--and, by extension, American taxpayers--are left with all the downside.

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-prize winning economist, described the PPIP program in a New York Times op-ed this way:

Consider an asset that has a 50-50 chance of being worth either zero or $200 in a year's time. The average "value" of the asset is $100. Ignoring interest, this is what the asset would sell for in a competitive market. It is what the asset is 'worth.' Under the plan by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the government would provide about 92 percent of the money to buy the asset but would stand to receive only 50 percent of any gains, and would absorb almost all of the losses. Some partnership!

Assume that one of the public-private partnerships the Treasury has promised to create is willing to pay $150 for the asset. That's 50 percent more than its true value, and the bank is more than happy to sell. So the private partner puts up $12, and the government supplies the rest--$12 in "equity" plus $126 in the form of a guaranteed loan.

If, in a year's time, it turns out that the true value of the asset is zero, the private partner loses the $12, and the government loses $138. If the true value is $200, the government and the private partner split the $74 that's left over after paying back the $126 loan. In that rosy scenario, the private partner more than triples his $12 investment. But the taxpayer, having risked $138, gains a mere $37."

Worse still, the PPIP can be easily manipulated for private gain. As economist Jeffrey Sachs has described it, a bank with worthless toxic assets on its books could actually set up its own public-private fund to bid on those assets. Since no true bidder would pay for a worthless asset, the bank's public-private fund would win the bid, essentially using government money for the purchase. All the public-private fund would then have to do is quietly declare bankruptcy and disappear, leaving the bank to make off with the government money it received. With the PPIP deals set to begin in the coming months, time will tell whether private investors actually take advantage of the program's flaws in this fashion.

The Treasury Department's TALF program offers equally enticing possibilities for potential bailout profiteers, providing investors with a chance to double, triple or even quadruple their investments. And like the PPIP, if the deal goes bad, taxpayers absorb most of the losses. "It beats any financing that the private sector could ever come up with," a Wall Street trader commented in a recent Fortune magazine story. "I almost want to say it is irresponsible."

4. The government has no coherent plan for returning failing financial institutions to profitability and maximizing returns on taxpayers' investments.

Compare the treatment of the auto industry and the financial sector, and a troubling double standard emerges. As a condition for taking bailout aid, the government required Chrysler and General Motors to present detailed plans on how the companies would return to profitability. Yet the Treasury Department attached minimal conditions to the billions injected into the largest bailed-out financial institutions. Moreover, neither Geithner nor Lawrence Summers, one of President Barack Obama's top economic advisors, nor the president himself has articulated any substantive plan or vision for how the bailout will help these institutions recover and, hopefully, maximize taxpayers' investment returns.

The Congressional Oversight Panel highlighted the absence of such a comprehensive plan in its January report. Three months into the bailout, the Treasury Department "has not yet explained its strategy," the report stated. "Treasury has identified its goals and announced its programs, but it has not yet explained how the programs chosen constitute a coherent plan to achieve those goals."

Today, the department's endgame for the bailout still remains vague. Thomas Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, wrote in the Financial Times in May that the government's response to the financial meltdown has been "ad hoc, resulting in inequitable outcomes among firms, creditors, and investors." Rather than perpetually prop up banks with endless taxpayer funds, Hoenig suggests, the government should allow banks to fail. Only then, he believes, can crippled financial institutions and systems be fixed. "Because we still have far to go in this crisis, there remains time to define a clear process for resolving large institutional failure. Without one, the consequences will involve a series of short-term events and far more uncertainty for the global economy in the long run."

The healthier and more profitable bailout recipients are once financial markets rebound, the more taxpayers will earn on their investments. Without a plan, however, banks may limp back to viability while taxpayers lose their investments or even absorb further losses.

5. The bailout's focus on Wall Street mega-banks ignores smaller banks serving millions of American taxpayers that face an equally uncertain future.

The government may not have a long-term strategy for its trillion-dollar bailout, but its guiding principle, however misguided, is clear: what's good for Wall Street will be best for the rest of the country.

On the day the mega-bank stress tests were officially released, another set of stress-test results came out to much less fanfare. In its quarterly report on the health of individual banks and the banking industry as a whole, Institutional Risk Analytics (IRA), a respected financial services organization, found that the stress levels among more than 7,500 FDIC-reporting banks nationwide had risen dramatically. For 1,575 of the banks, net incomes had turned negative due to decreased lending and less risk-taking.

The conclusion IRA drew was telling: "Our overall observation is that US policy makers may very well have been distracted by focusing on 19 large stress test banks designed to save Wall Street and the world's central bank bondholders, this while a trend is emerging of a going concern viability crash taking shape under the radar." The report concluded with a question: "Has the time come to shift the policy focus away from the things that we love, namely big zombie banks, to tackle things that are truly hurting us?"

6. The bailout encourages the very behaviors that created the economic crisis in the first place instead of overhauling our broken financial system and helping the individuals most affected by the crisis.

As Joseph Stiglitz explained in the New York Times, one major cause of the economic crisis was bank overleveraging. "Using relatively little capital of their own," he wrote, banks "borrowed heavily to buy extremely risky real estate assets. In the process, they used overly complex instruments like collateralized debt obligations." Financial institutions engaged in overleveraging in pursuit of the lucrative profits such deals promised--even if those profits came with staggering levels of risk.

Sound familiar? It should, because in the PPIP and TALF bailout programs the Treasury Department has essentially replicated the very over-leveraged, risky, complex system that got us into this mess in the first place: in other words, the government hopes to repair our financial system by using the flawed practices that caused this crisis.

Then there are the institutions deemed "too big to fail." These financial giants--among them AIG, Citigroup and Bank of America-- have been kept afloat by billions of dollars in bottomless bailout aid. Yet reinforcing the notion that any institution is "too big to fail" is dangerous to the economy. When a company like AIG grows so large that it becomes "too big to fail," the risk it carries is systemic, meaning failure could drag down the entire economy. The government should force "too big to fail" institutions to slim down to a safer, more modest size; instead, the Treasury Department continues to subsidize these financial giants, reinforcing their place in our economy.

Of even greater concern is the message the bailout sends to banks and lenders--namely, that the risky investments that crippled the economy are fair game in the future. After all, if banks fail and teeter at the edge of collapse, the government promises to be there with a taxpayer-funded, potentially profitable safety net.

The handling of the bailout makes at least one thing clear, however. It's not your health that the government is focused on, it's theirs-- the very banks and lenders whose convoluted financial systems provided the underpinnings for staggering salaries and bonuses, while bringing our economy to the brink of another Great Depression.

Andy Kroll is a summer intern at The Nation. His writing has appeared at Campus Progress,, and The Progressive Review.

9) National security adviser: US safer under Obama

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's national security adviser laid out a sweeping rebuttal Wednesday to former Vice President Dick Cheney's charge that America is less safe under the new administration.

Pointing to increases in defense spending, efforts to get out of Iraq and revamp the strategy for Afghanistan, and a broad campaign to repair the U.S. reputation abroad, retired Marine Gen. James Jones said the nation is safer today than it has been. But, he added, no administration is perfect.

"I think that the former vice president knows full well that perfection is an impossible standard," said Jones, adding that the U.S. can only do everything it can "to keep threats at bay and as far away from our shores as possible."

In recent speeches, Cheney has condemned Obama for ordering the shutdown of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and banning certain harsh interrogation methods for suspected terrorists. Overturning those Bush administration programs, he said, has made the country less safe.

Jones, speaking to an Atlantic Council forum, countered that, "I firmly believe that the United States is not only safe, but will be more secure, and the American people are increasingly safer because of the president's leadership that he has displayed consistently over the last four months both at home and abroad."

Jones said that Guantanamo has served as a recruitment tool for insurgents, and as a result has probably created more terrorists than it detained.

Asked about the administration's new strategy for the Afghanistan war, Jones acknowledged that "the jury is still out" on whether the U.S. and its allies will be able to meet all their goals to improve the country's security, economy and governance. While he said the infusion of 21,000 more troops, combined with efforts to beef up the Afghan army and police, will improve security, he was less certain about the more elusive improvements to the economy and governance.

"We should know within a year if this strategy is going to be successful," said Jones, a former commandant of the Marine Corps and head of U.S. European Command.