Long article but worth reading on Iran. Author's interview with Ahmadinejad. (See 1 below.)
The Economist book reviewer gives a questionable review of the biography about the intellectual leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood because he remains silent regarding his rabid Anti-Semitism writings and ravings. (See 2 below.)
Tom Sowell takes a youth to task for childish remarks and writes about his school which: "... may produce "self-esteem" but promoting presumptuousness is unlikely to benefit either the student or society."
Even in so-called elite schools students often prove how stupid they can be and how little they learned or were taught.
(See 3 below.)
Nothing to do with education and taking food from the poor. It was all about laundering money to teacher unions for the November campaign, buying votes and the food cut gimmick will be restored.
This is your Chicago president at his best - corrupt and morally disingenuous.
Even Grant's presidency was not as blatant. (see 4 below.)
Like the worm he is, Abbas inches forward. Article by my friend Toameh. (See 5 below.)
The king is wearing no clothes and we are bankrupt but no one is willing to admit it.
Thank you progressives you accomplished your mission but one cannot exclude conservative politicians who, fearing defeat at the polls, walked away from their principles and became 'progressives light.' Meanwhile, Obama, the shooting star, has frayed at the edges as his light has faded.
(See 6 and 6a below.)
The caliber of legislative leadership in this country sinks with the passing of each day. Reid and Pelosi have set new low standards and are the most divisive and morally corrupt politicians in recent history. She cannot drain a self-proclaimed swamp and he cannot control his tongue.
How did we get into this situation? Do their actions reflect the decline in our nation's collective character? I fear they do.
Winning at any cost and the playing racial cards has become commonplace and acceptable. You decide. (See 7 below.)
1)After the Crackdown
Talking to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—and the opposition—about Iran today.
By Jon Lee Anderson
In a rare interview with a Western reporter in Iran, the President denied repressing the opposition. “Everyone is free,” he said.
Early this summer, while walking in the Alborz Mountains outside Tehran, I came across three members of Iran’s reformist Green Movement. It was a parching-hot afternoon, and they had taken shelter from the heat in a cherry orchard next to a stream, where fruit hung glistening from the branches. The Alborz Mountains have long provided refuge, clean air, and exercise for the residents of north Tehran. The northern districts are more prosperous than the rest of the city, and their residents are generally more educated and aware of foreign ideas and trends. North Tehran was not the only locus of the Green Movement, but support there was particularly intense last summer after the conservative hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed victory in the disputed Presidential elections.
One of the most popular hiking trails begins just outside the walls of Evin Prison, where in recent decades thousands of dissidents have been tortured, killed, and buried in secrecy. A few hundred feet away, just across a wooden bridge over a narrow river canyon, the last paved streets of the city end. Along the river’s banks are open-air teahouses, where nostalgic music is played and people drink fresh cherry juice and smoke narghile waterpipes. Such places offer a respite from the restrictions of life in the Islamic Republic, away from the roving units of religious police and the paramilitary Basij, the plainclothes zealots who attacked Green Movement supporters in last year’s protests.
Since the government crackdown, street demonstrations have been rare, and so, too, have foreign journalists in Iran. I had been given a visa to come interview Ahmadinejad, and during my stay was watched closely by the government. Even a hike in the mountains did not insure privacy; as I climbed, I saw, among the other hikers, several pairs of men who wore the scraggly beards, nondescript clothing, and tamped-down looks of Basijis. At one point, I passed a unit of soldiers. They were out hiking with everyone else, but it was apparent that they were there to make their presence felt. The women on the trail were flushed and sweating in their chadors and manteaus, the black tunics that Iranian women are obligated to wear over their clothes.
In the orchard, though, women had taken off their head scarves and were laughing and talking animatedly. People greeted me politely, obviously recognizing me as a Westerner, a rare sight in Tehran these days. One man struck up a conversation; in excellent English, he made it clear that he was a reformist. Three other men who were sitting together nearby looked over appraisingly, then raised their voices enough to be overheard. Quoting the late Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou, one of them recited:
They smell your breath,
lest you might have said I love you.
They smell your heart.
These are strange times, my darling.
The butchers are stationed at each
crossroads with bloody clubs and cleavers.
Gesturing toward Tehran in the distance, he said, “There are the new butchers. They sniff out everything, not only in public but in private life, too.” His friends nodded. One of them said, “The people’s frustrations will find an outlet once the cracks in the monolith begin to appear.”
The man I was speaking with told me that he recognized two of the others, professionals in their fifties, from the protests in June, 2009. They were, he said, followers of the reformist Presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. The protests, which had started over election fraud, had grown into huge demonstrations against the Islamic regime, the largest in Iran since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah, in 1979. But in the weeks that followed, Iran’s ultimate political authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, endorsed Ahmadinejad’s victory and condemned the protests; riot police and Basij, armed with knives and guns, were sent into the streets to attack the protesters. Between forty and eighty people were killed, Mousavi’s nephew among them, and thousands were arrested.
In show trials held in August, more than a hundred detainees were paraded in court, many of them thin and pale and clearly terrified; according to Amnesty International, many detainees had been beaten, tortured, and raped by guards and interrogators, often at secret detention centers. Several “confessed” to an improbable range of political crimes, including treason. Since then, most have been released on bail, including the Iranian-Canadian Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari, who fled the country. But hundreds of others have been sentenced to harsh prison terms, and at least five sentenced to death. Two have already been hanged for the crime of moharebeh—warring against God.
The Green Movement continued to hold intermittent demonstrations through the end of last year and, in diminishing numbers, into the spring. But the movement has been constrained. Days before a rally planned for June 12th, the anniversary of the election, Mousavi and Karroubi called it off, explaining that they were doing so for the “safety of the people.”
During the campaign, Mousavi spoke out brazenly for women’s rights and for normalizing relations with the United States, and denounced Ahmadinejad’s statements questioning the reality of the Holocaust. Now he rarely leaves his home in north Tehran, appearing only in pictures and statements on his own Web site. He and the other reformist leaders have been living under an informal house arrest, subjected to heckling and assaults by pro-regime mobs whenever they venture out.
At mourning ceremonies held on June 6th, the twenty-first anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, his reformist grandson Hassan Khomeini was jeered by hard-liners, who forced him to leave the stage. (Afterward, he reportedly walked up to Iran’s interior minister and punched him in the face, breaking his nose.)
Mehdi Karroubi, who was also present, was accosted by a mob of men yelling “Death to hypocrites.” A week later, Karroubi visited the reformist cleric Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei at his home in the holy city of Qom; while he was there his vehicle was attacked by an organized mob of men chanting “Dirty,” “Corrupt,” and “American stooges.” Under such sustained pressures, the Green Movement has effectively ceased to exist as a visible political force. Karroubi is the only prominent reformist leader who still regularly appears in public.
In the cherry orchard, the Green Movement men were joined by their wives. One of the women spoke about Spinoza, whose writings had helped lead to the Enlightenment in Europe and the separation of what she called “mosque and state.” “We need a Spinoza in Iran,” she said. In the meantime, she believed, social-networking sites were “the best way forward for the people to be able to communicate and be ready when the rifts in the power structure emerge to provide an opportunity for change.” Otherwise, there was little the Green Movement could do. There could be no more street demonstrations, she said, because it would “cost lives,” and “violence only begets more violence.”
One of the men disagreed with her. “This revolution came in by violence, and the only way it is going to go is through violence,” he said. “Change will only come when you take it, and make it happen.” The woman said, sadly, “But I must live with some hope. Can’t I?”
Along the path back to the city, there were stone walls and boulders on which protesters had spray-painted slogans; since the summer, the government had painted them over. The only one left untouched was a stone the size of a goose egg on which someone had scrawled in green crayon, “Death to the dictator.”
This was a very different Tehran from the one I had last visited in December, 2008, six months before the contested elections. Most of the politicians, journalists, and academics I saw then were no longer free to talk. Among them were the well-known reformists Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former Vice-President under President Khatami and an influential blogger, and Mohammad Atrianfar, a publisher and adviser to ex-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The two of them—both robust, outspoken men who had been frankly critical of the faults in Iran’s political system—had been arrested in the post-election crackdown. When they reappeared, weeks later, in the show trials, they were broken figures who humiliated themselves by confessing to a series of outlandish crimes, naming friends and colleagues as their co-conspirators. Abtahi said that he had been guilty of “provoking people, causing tension, and creating media chaos.” Atrianfar praised his “polite interrogators,” said he was proud of his own “defeat,” and spoke of the paramount importance of “preserving the system” in Iran.
In private, supporters of the movement spend a lot of time thinking over the events of last year. They are often dispirited, even rueful. “People miscalculated,” one of my Iranian friends said. “They thought everyone in the country was like themselves, and that the rest of the country was like Tehran.” The demonstrations, in his view, had as much to do with social class as they did with politics. Mousavi’s and Karroubi’s voters in the Green Movement were largely middle or upper class. The soldiers and the Basij who attacked them were for the most part Ahmadinejad voters, drawn, like the President himself, from the less privileged majority of the city’s population, based predominately in the south of the city. The Green Movement’s ability to put significant numbers of protesters—estimates range from hundreds of thousands to three million—onto Tehran’s streets sometimes created the impression that they represented a majority in the country. “They were wrong,” my friend said. “And their leaders misunderestimated—to paraphrase your former President Bush—just how savage the regime could be.” Adopting a mocking tone of voice, he added, “ ‘What, you thought that with your vote you’d get change? That you actually had a choice?’ ” A friend of his had been detained and released after agreeing to sign a statement of repentance. “His interrogator told him, ‘This time you have no choice. You either submit or I’ll ram this stick up your ass. That’s your choice.’ ”
Not long after arriving in Tehran, I attended a press conference held by Ahmadinejad—at which I was the only Westerner present—and not a single reporter mentioned the Green Movement. When I asked an Iranian journalist about the omission, he raised his eyebrows and asked, “Why ask about something that doesn’t exist?” Instead, Ahmadinejad took questions about the latest clerical demands for stricter dress codes. This is an important issue for many younger Iranians—in north Tehran, the streets are full of dyed-blond hair, spray tans, and Amy Winehouse-style beehive hairdos—and Ahmadinejad had angered conservative clerics by opposing their demands. A few days later, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance published official guidelines for appropriate hair styles for Iranian men: pompadours were permitted, but not gelled, spiked, or overlong hair.
Most of the other questions had to do with the controversy around Iran’s nuclear program. On June 9th, new sanctions had been approved by the U.N. Security Council—with the notable assent of China and Russia—and soon after a separate measure was announced by the U.S. and several other Western governments. Among other things, the American sanctions demanded that foreign firms doing business with Iran, particularly in the oil and gas sectors, give up their interests or risk being banned from the U.S. financial markets. Ahmadinejad retaliated by announcing that Iran would suspend all nuclear talks with the West until late August. Before they could be resumed, he said, Iran must know the position of its negotiating partners in the P5-plus-1 group—the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany—toward the “Zionist regime” and its nuclear weapons. Listening to Ahmadinejad, it was hard not to feel that a confrontation was looming.
Throughout the press conference, he seemed calm and confident, almost cocky. The uneasy manner that characterized his public appearances a few years ago was gone. Since winning reëlection, he had neutralized the main reformist politicians, and was now pursuing his rivals in Iran’s conservative establishment. In recent weeks, he had resumed his ongoing fight with ex-President Rafsanjani—a wealthy ayatollah who is regarded as the ultimate patron of Iran’s reform movement—by mounting a campaign to gain control of one of his most lucrative power bases, the Islamic Azad University. With three hundred and fifty-seven campuses across Iran and some 1.4 million students and faculty members, the university is among Iran’s wealthiest institutions. Ahmadinejad had accused Azad of providing support to the reformists and proposed a bill that would allow a government takeover. Parliament voted against the measure; then, after Ahmadinejad’s loyalists angrily protested and threatened violence, it reversed its decision. (The battle for control has since moved to the courts.) At the press conference, when the President was asked about Rafsanjani he merely glanced away and said, airily, “Next question?”
A few days later, I was summoned to meet Ahmadinejad at the White Building, part of the Presidential complex in downtown Tehran. The building, which was a Prime Minister’s office in the days of the Shah, is set in walled gardens, and its interior rooms have elegant panelled walls and polished wood floors covered with Persian carpets. Over the wall, in an adjacent compound, lives the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who rarely appears in public but is by constitutional writ the decisive power in Iran.
Ahmadinejad customarily wears a beige windbreaker, the unofficial uniform of the Basij, but when he received me he had on a gray suit and white shirt without a tie, in the unprepossessing style that is widespread among functionaries of the Islamic Republic. His face was covered in pancake makeup, and the cavernous salon where our meeting was to take place had been set with klieg lights, film parasols, and microphones. The interview, evidently, was going to be filmed for Iranian state television. A bevy of producers, translators, technicians, and bodyguards were gathered, staring. The President and I sat facing each other in the middle of the room. As technicians adjusted my earphone, the President’s press officer, an earnest man in his thirties, approached me to ask solicitously if I would refrain from asking about the likelihood of war between Iran and the United States, and ask instead about the possibilities for “peace.” He also suggested that the President would be pleased to talk about his concern about the global financial crisis and about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for which, he said, Ahmadinejad had offered “Iran’s help.”
Ahmadinejad is expected to attend the U.N. General Assembly when it convenes in New York at the end of the summer, and this interview was clearly a form of Presidential messaging. During my time in Iran, officials repeatedly echoed the theme that, in spite of the new sanctions, they were dealing from a strengthened position, and that they would like to resume nuclear talks, if the conditions were right. One Iran expert I spoke to, who asked not to be identified, told me that Iran wanted “what every country that has gone this route before them—like Pakistan and India—wants: nuclear legitimacy. They want a deal with the U.S. that will accept them as a nuclear power.”
In the Iranian imagination, a nuclear weapon is essential if the country is to assume its rightful place among the world’s leading nations. Iran once controlled a vast empire that included both Georgia and Tajikistan, and Iranians are proud nationalists, extremely sensitive about what they see as their country’s historic humiliations by Great Britain, the United States, and Russia. At the same time, they hold deep-seated feelings of cultural superiority over their neighbors. This has made for a prevailing world view that is at times both alarmingly naïve and toxically presumptuous.
The previous afternoon, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, Ahmadinejad’s senior media adviser and the director of IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, had called me to his office and politely suggested that I could be “more than just the President’s interviewer, but an instrument of peace.” I had it in my power, he said, to relay Iran’s “honest and good intentions to the United States.” When I raised the topic of Israel, he affected a mournful look. “Israel is unfortunately doomed,” he said. “I say this without any animosity but as a statement of fact. The rest of the world demands it, and the United States should separate itself, because it can gain nothing from this relationship except more trouble.” He smiled and added, “It is like a mother with a spoiled child, a child that is disobedient and which the mother does not discipline, but also a child which bothers the neighbors.”
When I suggested that a military confrontation might be a likelier prospect than peace, Javanfekr looked astonished. “You actually think that the United States, after everything—the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—can still attack Iran?” he said. “They don’t even know what’s going on inside their military command in Kabul”—an allusion to the scandal in which General Stanley McChrystal was removed from his command—“so how can they hope to know what’s happening here?”
As I left Javanfekr’s office, he gave me a letter to forward to Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary. In it, he mentioned my interview with President Ahmadinejad and suggested that the White House should “positively reciprocate” by granting an interview with Obama, the first with a U.S. President by an Iranian reporter.
Ahmadinejad is an engineer by training, with a Ph.D. in traffic management, but he seems to think of himself as a sort of moral philosopher. As is his custom, he began our interview with an unprompted soliloquy about “the universality of humanity, love, friendship, and respect,” then grinned good-naturedly when I asked him if he understood why some were made nervous by his repeated calls for the destruction of Israel and his insistence on Iran’s right to nuclear energy. He replied, “The Iranian nuclear-energy program and the issue of Palestine are two separate issues. They have no connection to one another.” He went on, “Iran has accepted the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we have signed it, and officials of the I.A.E.A. are present in our country; they have cameras that have all of our activities under surveillance. Has the American government accepted the Non-Proliferation Treaty? Hasn’t it used the bomb? Hasn’t it stockpiled them? Who should be concerned about nuclear weapons; should they be concerned or should we?”
Even leaving aside the fact that the U.S. did ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in 1970, Ahmadinejad’s arguments seemed diversionary. A consensus has grown in the West that Iran is indeed seeking the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, said in June that intelligence suggested Iran could have enough enriched material for a bomb in the next one to three years. A former senior U.S. civilian official who is privy to the Obama Administration’s Iran policy told me, “Information I have seen suggests that Iran has gone beyond its argument that it does not seek a nuclear weapon.” The Iranians have argued that their aims are limited to a civilian nuclear program, but, the official said, “on the basis of the available evidence, it seems that the Iranians would like to be able to be in the position to make a bomb without actually making one.”
This possibility has distressed American strategists, who feel that there is little difference between having a weapon and being ready to make one. But some analysts think the idea of the bomb could be as useful to Iran as the bomb itself. The Iran expert told me, “The danger posed by Iran is in the eye of the beholder. I do believe that Iran wants a nuclear-weapons capability, but first and foremost for its defense, in order to have a deterrent capability.” He pointed out that Iran’s nuclear program went back to the nineteen-seventies, when the Shah was in power, and intensified in response to Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons. In recent years, with “two to three hundred thousand American troops on either side in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a nuclear-armed Israel,” the desire for a deterrent had “accelerated” in Iran.
This view is complicated by Iran’s position in regional politics. The United States and Israel have long argued that Iran maintains a program of covert support for terrorism in the Middle East, through Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and Hamas, in Gaza. Last January, it was reported that the U.S. Navy intercepted an Iranian freighter loaded with military supplies as it headed for Syria, and in November Israel’s Navy stopped another ship carrying war matériel; the cargoes were believed to be bound for Hamas and Hezbollah. In March, after several days of meetings with Arab and Israeli leaders in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that she had heard many complaints about Iran’s meddling in the region. “It is clear Iran intends to interfere with the internal affairs of all of these people and try to continue their efforts to fund terrorism, whether it is Hezbollah or Hamas or other proxies,” she said.
When I raised these concerns, Ahmadinejad responded dismissively. “Look, these questions brought up by the Zionists belong to the same order of things that should be eliminated,” he said. “We have never hidden our support for the people of Lebanon, Palestine, or Iraq. . . . We do it with pride, as an act of humanity. The people of Palestine are in their own home. So are the people of Lebanon and Iraq, and in Afghanistan, too. We are not in the home of the Americans. These people who are now governing as Zionists, where were they eighty years ago?”
Arguments like this are now familiar, and, along with Ahmadinejad’s routine denials of the Holocaust, have led to widespread public outrage in the West and embarrassment in some circles in Iran. Whether he is genuinely or willfully ignorant of twentieth-century history, he certainly understands the provocation he causes with his outrageous language. He looked delighted when I asked if he believed in an international Zionist conspiracy to control the world. (He intimated that he did.) As a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he suggested, as he has before, that a referendum be held on Israel and the Occupied Territories. “We believe that the people of Palestine, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or Jew, should be allowed to choose their own fate. Those who came from elsewhere, if they are interested in staying, should live under the government of the people, and that government will decide what they should do. If they want to return to their own lands, they can do so.”
When the interview turned to internal politics, Ahmadinejad denied the numerous reports about his government’s repression of reformists, journalists, and human-rights activists. “One of the problems of the leaders of the West is their lack of information about the issues of the world,” he said. “Show me a country in the West where eighty-five per cent of the people participate in Presidential elections! There aren’t any! Iran is the record-holder in democracy. . . . Today you can see that all my rivals and the so-called ‘opposition’ are free.” He compared the violence against the Green Movement’s demonstrators with the unrest at the recent G-20 summit. “If someone sets fire to a car or a building in America, what will they do to him?” He said he had been “shocked” by TV images showing riot police beating demonstrators, “all because they were against the failure of the West’s economic policies.” He told me, with an earnest look, “Iran would never behave in that way toward people.”
Ahmadinejad’s claim is contradicted by the accounts of many witnesses. Karroubi later e-mailed me, “Since the very early days after the election, the regime aimed at confining me and controlling my links with my entourage and the members of my party. The state’s first step toward this confinement was to shut down my newspaper, my party’s office, and my personal office.” Karroubi also confirmed the reports of attacks against him, describing the mobs of hard-liners as “mercenaries.” “In my meetings with clerics and other officials, as well as during public ceremonies and events, some mercenaries would attack me. They even went as far as attempting to assassinate me and shooting at my car.” In Qom, he said, they also attacked the houses of Ayatollah Saanei and the late Ayatollah Montazeri after his visits there, breaking their windows. “All these actions have been carried out in order to confine me and to terrify those willing to stay in contact with me.”
Still, Ahmadinejad insisted that in Iran there was freedom to say and do as one liked. “Look here, you are comfortably speaking to me with no apprehension,” he said. “No American President has ever had the courage to allow an Iranian reporter to do the same, to freely ask him questions. Is this a freedom or a dictatorship?”
When I asked Ahmadinejad if he would allow me to interview Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami, he said, “Is it up to me to authorize someone to interview someone else? Everyone is free. Of course, some people may have some limitations within the judicial system; that is up to the judge; it has nothing to do with the government. There is freedom here. They all have Web sites, news channels, and newspapers, and they say whatever they want about me. No one disturbs them.”
But the closing of Karroubi’s newspaper was part of a wide-ranging censorship drive, in which numerous other publications, including political, economic, and cultural journals, were suspended or banned for such transgressions as provoking “unrest and chaos” and fostering a “creeping coup.” Official firewalls have been erected to block Western and Iranian opposition news sites; many Western satellite TV channels, such as the BBC’s highly regarded Farsi-language service, have also been blocked intermittently.
Ahmadinejad affirmed that relations between Iran and the U.S. had become increasingly confrontational: “I am not happy with this situation. Iranians are not happy with it.” He recalled that after Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 he had sent the new President a congratulatory open letter and soon after proposed bilateral talks, “in front of the media.” As a result, he had endured a great deal of criticism at home and abroad, he said, but Obama had not reciprocated. Instead, there had been only threats from him since he became President.
In fact, within weeks of taking office, Obama released a video message to Iran, on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in which he offered his commitment to a policy of “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect” and “to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us.” Ayatollah Khamenei, who ordinarily does not involve himself in public politics, challenged Obama’s message, saying that Iran wanted more than “changes in words” from the United States.
Since then, Obama’s team has pursued opportunities for dialogue, while remaining insistent that Iran not develop a nuclear weapon. (In this year’s Nowruz message, Obama lamented that, “faced with an extended hand, Iran’s leaders have shown only a clenched fist.”) During the post-election unrest, Obama awkwardly refrained from embracing the Green Movement protests, apparently on the assumption that any statements of support might undermine the chances for nuclear talks.
In May, Ahmadinejad signed a deal with the leaders of Brazil and Turkey, in which Iran promised to hand over approximately half of its stock of low-enriched uranium in exchange for a smaller quantity of more highly enriched uranium—sufficient for Iran’s medical needs and research purposes. Although the Obama Administration had previously encouraged Brazil and Turkey to intercede, it rejected this deal, on the ground that it did not address concerns over Iran’s nuclear intentions, and immediately sought the new sanctions package at the U.N. Security Council. Ahmadinejad shook his head. “What was the response? A sanctions resolution,” he said. In America’s government, “the personalities have changed, but the policies have not changed. They still think they need to hold up a bludgeon in order to get concessions from us,” he said. “Remember that this method has already failed. It has been tried before, and has no future. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is on the road to failure.”
As the interview ended, Ahmadinejad and I got up from our seats, and technicians removed our earphones and microphones. One of the President’s aides said to him, “It seems like the Americans want to sort out all their problems with the Muslim world at once!” Ahmadinejad, evidently concerned that the remark was being picked up by a microphone, said curtly, “Be careful what you say!”
Despite Ahmadinejad’s assurances that I was free to interview whomever I liked, a senior government official told me that I should avoid behaving “sneakily” during my stay, illustrating his point with a serpentine movement of his hand. In the end, I was authorized to interview only one other person: Hossein Shariatmadari, an adviser to Khamenei, and the editor-in-chief of Kayhan, the daily newspaper that speaks for Iran’s clerical establishment. Shariatmadari was imprisoned in his twenties for his activities as a militant follower of Ayatollah Khomeini, and was serving a life sentence when the Shah fled Iran, in 1979. When Khomeini took power, he was freed, but the Shah’s torturers left him without any of his original teeth. Though he is sixty-one, his mouth is sunken like a very old man’s.
Shariatmadari is a frank speaker, and his pronouncements are a generally reliable barometer for the opinions of Iran’s Supreme Leader. Six months before the June, 2009, election, he had predicted to me that Ahmadinejad would win, and afterward he had repeatedly called for the arrest of Iran’s reformist leaders, whom he refers to as “Fifth Columnists” for the West.
“The circumstances today are certainly very sensitive” between the U.S. and Iran, he said carefully. “But it can’t be called a crisis.” Indeed, from the perspective of Iran’s government the situation today seemed advantageous. Shariatmadari said, “In his reaction to the unrest in Iran, Obama threw away all the political capital the U.S. had built up here. Although it turned out to be a catastrophe for Obama and his Israeli allies, it was a good opportunity for us.” He explained, “Over the past two decades, the West had mobilized some groups and trends and hatched some plots for their planned subversive D Day against the Islamic Republic. Mr. Obama saw the election time in Iran as his opportunity and used those people the West had saved up for the purpose. And he put all his eggs in one basket.”
If anything, Obama has been criticized for showing scant support for the Green Movement, and yet Shariatmadari suggested that reformists were something like sleeper agents for the West, and that the unrest had helped the Islamic Republic by exposing their identities. “Obama gave us an opportunity to see who the subversives were. So, in that sense, we have actually taken a step forward.” He went on, “Some people have protested to us and asked, ‘Why didn’t you arrest Khatami, Mousavi, and Karroubi during the unrest, when their involvement was revealed?’ But it was very clever not to arrest them, because it finally showed their true faces.”
The Green Movement, he said, was part of a grand conspiracy—conceived by, among others, Michael Ledeen (a veteran foreign-policy hawk), Richard Haass (the president of the Council on Foreign Relations), Gene Sharp (an authority on nonviolent resistance), and George Soros (the financier and philanthropist)—with the aim of overthrowing Iran’s government. The protests were not against Ahmadinejad, he explained, but “against the whole system.” Fortunately, “the people” had been mobilized and had stopped the conspiracy in its tracks.
The officially encouraged mobs of hecklers, the attacks on the clerics Saanei and Karroubi, and the embarrassing incident with Khomeini’s grandson indicated that Ahmadinejad’s victory over the Green Movement had come at a cost; the religious establishment and Iranian society at large seemed far less unified than Shariatmadari claimed. He acknowledged that there were differences, but denied that the Islamic Revolution was tearing itself apart. “Please note carefully,” Shariatmadari said. “The Islamic Revolution is not devouring its children but purging its delinquent children.” Speaking of the reformist leaders, he went on, “Ultimately, they will be arrested because they have committed crimes, and they will definitely be tried for treason and imprisoned, but not right now.”
The United States’ decision to ignore the nuclear-swap deal and push through a new sanctions package was also “positive for us,” he maintained. “First, because it shows that the Americans are not interested in positive engagement, and prefer force, and, secondly, because if the sanctions are implemented it may hurt us, but it won’t seriously harm us, because many other countries will complain that their interests are hurt by such sanctions. Any country with seventy billion dollars of buying capacity cannot really be hurt by sanctions.”
Furthermore, he said, “if they think they are going to inspect our ships,” as stipulated in the sanctions, “they should remember that the Straits of Hormuz are under our control, and that if anyone inspects our ships we will retaliate. A British ship may inspect one of ours, let’s say, but when they enter the Straits it will be our turn.” (Two weeks later, Iran’s conservative-led parliament passed a resolution demanding “retaliation” by Iran’s government in the event of any coercive inspections of Iranian ships by foreign navies.)
Despite Shariatmadari’s dismissals, Iran’s economy is troubled. For decades, the government has diverted roughly a hundred billion dollars a year of the country’s oil wealth into a system of price subsidies, which the sanctions have made increasingly unsustainable. Ahmadinejad has attempted in recent months to pass a bill that would cut those subsidies by forty per cent, a politically risky move; the measure would cause the price of gas to quadruple, by some estimates, and would vastly increase the cost of basic goods, which could seriously damage his standing among poorer Iranians. Ahmadinejad has wavered on implementation dates. In an effort to shore up the government’s revenues, the bill also calls for increasing taxes on merchants by seventy per cent. In mid-July, the influential merchants of the Grand Bazaar in Tehran shut down their shops in protest. The strike was effective: the government backed down, promising to raise taxes by only fifteen per cent.
But sanctions alone may not cause enough distress to bring Iranians back out onto the streets. For most Iranians, life will probably become tougher, but not insurmountably so. And if they believe that their country’s economic woes have been caused largely by Western sanctions, as Ahmadinejad has insisted, they may be just as likely to rally around the government as to protest against it, especially if tensions with the United States and Israel continue. “Keep in mind, too, that public opinion in the world is on our side now,” Shariatmadari added. “In the Middle East people are just waiting to see who will defy the West.”
Shariatmadari seemed to preclude the possibility of a military assault by American forces. “They are in a blind alley in their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have failed. What have they achieved in either country? It’s very difficult now for them to prepare public opinion for another attack.” He dismissed the idea that an attack would likely come in the form of air strikes, aimed at devastating the country’s nuclear installations as well as its military capabilities. “There is no possibility for a limited attack against us. Any attack on us means all-out war. We won’t let them go. Yes, they may limit the war, but the end of the war is not in their hands,” he said. “In whatever combination they attack us, the Americans with Israel or without, we will hit Israel. They have nukes, yes, but their entire territory will be under the barrage of our missiles.”
Shariatmadari ended our interview with a prediction: “Five years from now, Iran and the U.S. will still not have any diplomatic relations. The U.S. will ultimately accept a nuclear Iran, and will find another pretext in order to confront it. I see a very low probability of war, because the U.S. is not in a position to attack us. Of course, some politicians in America may make a stupid mistake, but let’s hope there are some wise men among them.”
American officials find the regime’s brash talk worrisome. “The view there that the United States is militarily incapable, that’s a dangerous view,” Lee Hamilton, the former congressman and co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, told me. “It’s not a question of capability. If we have the will to do it, I think we can.” He believes that Ahmadinejad might have misread the West’s intentions. “They are very isolated in Iran and they don’t know the United States nearly as well as they think they do.”
Nonetheless, in the past few weeks the Iranian government has seemed newly open to negotiating. On July 26th, the European Union and Canada announced yet another round of sanctions; the same day, Iran’s government sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency that, an Iranian official said, offered its willingness to resume talks on the Brazil-Turkey deal “without any conditions.” The former senior civilian U.S. official said he believed the sanctions had the desired effect. “In my experience, the things that have the most influence on Iran are those which find ways to block what they want to do, and one of those things is to be a big regional player. They can’t do that very well under sanctions. They respond to adversity.”
Meanwhile, Obama has kept up the pressure on Iran to make a more comprehensive deal. In recent weeks, the Administration publicly raised both the prospect of negotiations and the possibility of war. Hamilton said that officials were still debating the best approach to take with Iran, but many felt that the time for diplomacy had begun to run out. “Since about three months ago, there is a discernible mood for military action,” he said. “The Administration has said that a nuclear weapon in Iran is unacceptable, which implies that containment is off the agenda.” (He noted, though, that the U.S. had ruled out containment in the past, only to embrace it later, as with North Korea.)
On August 1st, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, confirmed on “Meet the Press” that the United States had made contingency plans for a strike against Iran. “Military actions have been on the table and remain on the table,” he said. “I hope we don’t get to that, but it’s an important option, and it’s one that’s well understood.” Mullen added that he worried that an attack could have “unintended consequences that are difficult to predict in what is an incredibly unstable part of the world.”
Three days later, Obama told reporters that he remained open to negotiations with the Iranians, if they offer “confidence-building measures.” He said, “It is very important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons,” and added, “They should know what they can say ‘yes’ to.”
If Obama is to bring Iran to talks, he will have to overcome a good deal of resistance in Washington. “You saw the sanctions vote. What was it, four hundred and eight to eight in Congress?” Hamilton said. “Obama is confronted with a very strong, very committed, very heartfelt opposition to Iran in Congress.” This difficulty is compounded by frustration over the inability to find a diplomatic solution. Because America’s engagement with Iran has focussed on the single, intractable issue of nuclear arms, it has become difficult for the Administration to make perceptible progress. Obama has been more successful than Bush in orchestrating an international sanctions effort. But, after sanctions, what else can he do?
Hamilton advocated a patient course of continued diplomacy. “There won’t be a parting of the skies overnight. The Iranians seem to feel the United States must go first, and make a dramatic gesture, but such a gesture by Obama is very difficult right now. . . . My feeling is that the talks must be conducted secretly, whoever does them or wherever they take place.”
With its constant tension and endless delays, Hamilton said, the American-Iranian impasse reminded him of Cold War-era relations with the Soviet Union. “Year after year, we met and read out speeches to each other and then raised toasts to our grandchildren with each other, but nothing ever happened. Then, finally, we got down to talks, and things moved. I hope this doesn’t take forty years.”
Reformist groups in Iran have tended to wax and wane—the movement that deposed the Shah took nearly twenty years to gather its full strength—but the Green Movement as it stands seems to present little threat to Iran’s government. Mousavi, on his Web site, recently criticized Ahmadinejad for his handling of nuclear negotiations, saying that his efforts have made sanctions worse and prevented Iran from developing “peaceful nuclear technology.” Some analysts interpret this as part of Mousavi’s continuing attempt to present himself as an unflinching nationalist, in the hope of retaining influence in the reformist movement. But the Iran expert told me that, in the absence of strong leadership, the movement was splintering. He explained, “The Green Movement was made up of different kinds of people: those who hated the regime, those who were offended by the election fraud, and those who joined because they were offended by the treatment of the prisoners. Eventually, they began to separate out.”
One Iranian, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern for his safety, described the movement’s status. “Despotism works,” he said. “That’s what this situation shows. The reformist movement is over. The middle classes aren’t willing to die en masse, and the regime knows this. It has killed and punished just enough people to send the message of what it is capable of doing. The reformist leaders and the regime have a kind of unspoken pact: ‘Don’t organize any more demonstrations or say anything and we’ll leave you alone. Do anything and we’ll arrest you.’ It’s over.”
But the members of the movement I spoke to have not changed their sympathies. In Tehran, I was invited to watch a televised soccer match in the home of an Iranian family. During a break in the action, someone mentioned that I had interviewed President Ahmadinejad that week. One of my hosts, a professional woman in her thirties, immediately put two fingers into her mouth and bent over in a pantomime of gagging. “Oh, how I hate him,” she said. “He makes my skin crawl. He is the worst kind of Iranian; he offends our dignity and our sense of ethics, and the worst thing is he thinks he is so clever.” The mere mention of his name, she said, made her feel depressed. In the crackdown that has followed last year’s unrest, she added, many of her friends and acquaintances—mostly other educated young professionals, of the sort that overwhelmingly supported the Green Movement—had fled the country, or were planning to. She did not plan to emigrate, but she understood the urge to do so. “The frustration is almost too great to bear. People feel so robbed, and their dignity and hopes are so offended. Every day, it is so painful. It hurts. This feeling will not just go away. The Green Movement represents this feeling, and it can’t just disappear. Somehow, maybe in another shape, it has to reëmerge.” ♦
By Richard Cohen
I always read The Economist magazine. I like many things about it, but I particularly cherish its book reviews. They are cogent and snappily written, and often deal with books that I don't find reviewed elsewhere. An example is a forthcoming biography of one of contemporary Islam's most important thinkers, Sayyid Qutb. The book gets a good review. It's more than I can say for The Economist itself.
Qutb was hanged in 1966 by the Egyptian government of Gamal Abdel Nasser after the customary torture. He had been the intellectual leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and a man of copious literary output. One of his efforts was called "Our Struggle with the Jews." It is a work of unabashed, breathtakingly stupid anti-Semitism, one of the reasons The New York Review of Books recently characterized Qutb's views "as extreme as Hitler's." About all this, The Economist is oddly, ominously and unforgivably silent.
This is both puzzling and troublesome. After all, it's not as if Qutb was some minor figure. He is, as the sub-head on The Economist review says, "the father of Islamic fundamentalism," and it is impossible to read anything about him that does not attest to his immense contemporary importance. Nor was Qutb's anti-Semitism some sort of juvenile madness, expressed in the hormonal certainty of youth and later recanted as both certainty and hairline receded. It was, instead, the creation of his middle age and was published in the early 1950s. In other words, his essay is a post-Holocaust work, written in full knowledge of what anti-Semitism had just accomplished. The mass murder of Europe's Jews didn't give him the slightest pause. Qutb was undaunted.
But so, apparently, are some others who write about him. In his recent and well-received book, "The Arabs," Eugene Rogan of Oxford University gives Qutb his due "as one of the most influential Islamic reformers of the (20th) century" but does not mention his anti-Semitism or, for that matter, his raging hatred of America. Like the 9/11 terrorists, Qutb spent some time in America -- Greeley, Colo., Washington, D.C., and Palo Alto, Calif. -- learning to loathe Americans. He was particularly revolted by its overly sexualized women. Imagine if he had been to New York!
The Economist's review is stunning in its omission. Can it be that a mere 65 years after the fires of Auschwitz were banked, anti-Semitism has been relegated to a trivial, personal matter, like a preference for blondes -- something not worth mentioning? Yet, Qutb is not like Richard Wagner, whose anti-Semitism was repellent but did not in the least affect his music. Qutb's Jew-hatred is not incidental to his work. While not quite central, it has nevertheless proved important, having been adopted along with his other ideas by Hamas. Qutb blames Jews for almost everything: "atheistic materialism," "animalistic sexuality," "the destruction of the family" and, of course, an incessant war against Islam itself.
Obviously, this is no minor matter. Critics of Israel frequently accuse it of racism in its treatment of Palestinians. Sometimes, the charge is apt. But there is nothing in the Israeli media or popular culture that even approaches what is openly, and with official sanction, said in the Arab world about Jews. The message is an echo of Nazi racism, and the prescription, stated or merely implied, is the same.
The Economist and Rogan are insufficient in themselves to comprise a movement. Yet I cannot quite suppress the feeling that the need to demonize Israel is so great that the immense moral failings of some of its enemies have to be swept under the carpet. As Jacob Weisberg pointed out recently in Slate, the "boycott Israel" movement is oddly unbalanced -- so much fury directed at Israel, so little at countries like China or Venezuela. Can it be that the French philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch was prescient when he suggested years ago that anti-Zionism "gives us the permission and even the right and even the duty to be anti-Semitic in the name of democracy"? The line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, a demarcation I have always acknowledged, is becoming increasingly blurred.
Because The Economist's book reviews are unsigned, it's impossible to know -- and The Economist would not say -- who's at fault here. So the magazine itself is accountable not just for bad taste or unfathomable ignorance, but for disregarding its own vow, published on its first page, "to take part in 'a severe contest between intelligence ... and an unworthy timid ignorance obstructing our progress.'" During the week of July 15, it didn't just lose the contest -- it never even showed up for it.
By Thomas Sowell
A graduating senior at Hunter College High School in New York gave a speech that brought a standing ovation from his teachers and got his picture in the New York Times. I hope it doesn't go to his head, because what he said was so illogical that it was an indictment of the mush that is being taught at even our elite educational institutions.
Young Justin Hudson, described as "black and Hispanic," opened by saying how much he appreciated reaching his graduation day at this very select public high school. Then he said, "I don't deserve any of this. And neither do you." The reason? He and his classmates were there because of "luck and circumstances."
Since Hunter College High School selects its applicants from the whole city on the basis of their test scores, "luck" seems a strange way to characterize why some students are admitted and many others are not. If you can't tell the difference between luck and performance, what has your education given you, except the rhetoric to conceal your confusion from others and perhaps from yourself?
Young Mr. Hudson's concern, apparently, is about what he referred to as the "demographics" of the school-- 41 percent white and 47 percent Asian, with blacks, Hispanics and others obviously far behind. "I refuse to accept" that "the distribution of intelligence in this city" varies by neighborhood, he said.
Native intelligence may indeed not vary by neighborhood but actual performance-- whether in schools, on the job or elsewhere-- involves far more than native intelligence. Wasted intelligence does nothing for an individual or society.
The reason a surgeon can operate on your heart, while someone of equal intelligence who is not a surgeon cannot, is because of what different people actually did with their intelligence. That has always varied, not only from individual to individual but from group to group-- and not only in this country, but in countries around the world and across the centuries of human history.
One of the biggest fallacies of our time is the notion that, if all groups are not proportionally represented in institutions, professions or income levels, that shows something wrong with society. The very possibility that people make their own choices, and that those choices have consequences-- for themselves and for others-- is ignored. Society is the universal scapegoat.
If "luck" is involved, it is the luck to be born into families and communities whose values and choices turn out to be productive for themselves and for others who benefit from the skills they acquire. Observers who blame tests or other criteria for the demographic imbalances which are the rule-- not the exception-- around the world, are blaming whatever conveys differences for creating those differences.
They blame the messenger who brings bad news.
If test scores are not the same for people from different backgrounds, that is no proof that there is something wrong with the tests. Tests do not exist to show what your potential was when you entered the world but to measure what you have actually accomplished since then, as a guide to what you are likely to continue to do in the future. Tests convey a difference that tests did not create. But the messenger gets blamed for the bad news.
Similarly, if prices are higher in high-crime neighborhoods, that is often blamed on those who charge those prices, rather than on those who create the higher costs of higher rates of shoplifting, robbery, vandalism and riots, which are passed on to those who shop in those neighborhoods. The prices convey a reality that the prices did not create. If these prices represent simply "greed" for higher profits, then why do most profit-seeking businesses avoid high-crime neighborhoods like the plague?
It is painful that people with lower incomes often have to pay higher prices, even though most people are not criminals, even in a high-crime neighborhood. But misconstruing the reasons is not going to help anybody, except race hustlers and politicians.
One of the many disservices done to young people by our schools and colleges is giving them the puffed up notion that they are in a position to pass sweeping judgments on a world that they have barely begun to experience. A standing ovation for childish remarks may produce "self-esteem" but promoting presumptuousness is unlikely to benefit either this student or society.
4)WASHINGTON – Summoned back from summer break, the House on Tuesday pushed through an emergency $26 billion jobs bill that Democrats said would save 300,000 teachers, police and others from election-year layoffs. President Barack Obama immediately signed it into law.
Lawmakers streamed back to Washington for a one-day session as Democrats declared a need to act before children return to classrooms minus teachers laid off because of budgetary crises in states that have been hard-hit by the recession.
Republicans saw it differently, calling the bill a giveaway to teachers' unions and an example of wasteful Washington spending that voters will punish the Democrats for in this fall's elections. The legislation was approved mainly along party lines by a vote of 247-161.
The aid for the states is to be paid for mostly by closing a tax loophole used by multinational corporations and by reducing food stamp benefits for the poor.
Obama, joined by teachers at a Rose Garden ceremony earlier in the day, said, "We can't stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe."
The Senate narrowly passed the measure last Thursday, after the House had begun its August break.
The legislation provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or to ensure that more teachers won't be let go before the new school year begins. The Education Department estimates that could save 160,000 jobs.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said his department would streamline the application process to get the money to local school districts quickly. He said three-fourths of the nation's districts have said they would be opening the school year with fewer teachers and "we wanted to avert a crisis for this year."
An additional $16 billion would extend for six months increased Medicaid payments to the states. That would free money for states to meet other budget priorities, including keeping more than 150,000 police officers and other public workers on the payroll.
Some three-fifths of states have already factored in the federal money in drawing up their budgets for the current fiscal year. The National Governors Association, in a letter to congressional leaders, said the states' estimated budget shortfall for the 2010-12 period is $116 billion, and the extended Medicaid payments are "the best way to help states bridge the gap between their worst fiscal year and the beginning of recovery."
Not all governors were on board. Mississippi Republican Haley Barbour said his state would have to rewrite its budget and would have to spend $50 million to $100 million to get its additional $98 million in education grants.
The $26 billion package is small compared to previous efforts to right the flailing economy through federal spending. But with the election approaching, the political stakes were high.
"Teachers, nurses and cops should not be used as pawns in a cynical political game" resulting from "the Democratic majority's failure to govern responsibly," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif.
"Where do the bailouts end?" asked Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. "Are we going to bail out states next year and the year after that, too? At some point we've got to say, 'Enough is enough.'"
But Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee said his state of Washington would get funds to keep 3,000 teachers. Republicans, he said, "think those billions of dollars for those corporate loopholes is simply more important than almost 3,000 teachers and classrooms in the state of Washington."
Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said Republicans ignore the fact that the law would not add to the federal deficit. "They want to do everything in their power to make certain that President Obama can't get this country going again. I think in November they are going to find it was a dumb policy."
The means of paying for the bill, a result of difficult negotiations in the Senate, were contentious.
Republicans objected to raising some $10 billion by raising taxes on some U.S.-based multinational companies. Advocates for the poor protested a provision to accelerate the phasing out of an increase in food stamp payments implemented in last year's economic recovery bill. Under the measure, payments would return to pre-stimulus rates in 2014, saving almost $12 billion.
5)US: Direct talks ‘getting closer’
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH AND HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and US envoy George Mitchell on Tuesday failed to reach agreement on the issue of direct talks between the PA and Israel.
The two men met in Ramallah to discuss the latest developments surrounding the peace process and US efforts to launch direct talks between the two parties.
Abbas reiterated during the three-hour meeting his readiness to move to direct talks with Israel if a number of conditions were met, including Israeli recognition of the pre- 1967 lines as the future borders of a Palestinian state, chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
Still, the US envoy came out of the meeting indicating that progress had been made ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
He called the encounter with Abbas “serious and positive,” according to US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
“They’re getting closer,” Crowley said, “but we have not yet reached home plate.”
Mitchell referred to a “defined timeline” and “agenda” for talks, according to Crowley, which is something else the Palestinians are seeking as a condition of direct negotiations.
Crowley also indicated that there might be movement on another Palestinian demand, that the Quartet re-issue its statement calling on Israel to halt settlements, noting that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been consulting with her counterparts on the international body comprising the US, EU, UN and Russia.
“If a Quartet statement can be helpful in encouraging the parties to move forward, obviously I think that’s something the United States supports,” Crowley said.
Abbas has repeatedly called for a complete cessation of settlement construction and a timetable for the implementation of any agreement that is reached between the two sides, Erekat said.
“We’re not against direct talks,” Erekat stressed after the meeting with Mitchell. “In fact, we want direct talks, but with a clear agenda, framework and timeline. We also want a cessation of settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”
Crowley, asked about the Palestinian desire for a framework for the talks, said that it was clear.
“The ingredients of a final solution are well known to everyone – Jerusalem, refugees, borders and security, so we do know the parameters,” he said.
He added that direct talks were the necessary venue to address those issues, one that continued the US involvement of the proximity- talk process.
According to Erekat, the “key to launching direct talks is in the hands of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.”
Erekat also said that direct negotiations would begin when Netanyahu halts settlement construction and accepts the pre-1967 lines as the future borders of a Palestinian state.
“These are not Palestinian conditions, but obligations that the Israeli government is required to fulfill in accordance with signed agreements,” Erekat said.
He described the Abbas-Mitchell talks as thorough and positive, but went on to say that no agreement had been reached yet regarding the proposed direct negotiations.
On the eve of his meeting with the US emissary, Abbas complained that he was facing “immense and unprecedented” pressure to negotiate directly with Israel.
“We’ve never been under such pressure,” Abbas told a group of Palestinian journalists in his office.
“We have so far resisted the pressure.
Every phone call I receive is pressure. Everyone tells me that they salute me for my bravery and keenness to achieve peace, but they also ask me to enter direct negotiations.”
Abbas said that the pressure he was facing these days was “intolerable.”
“No human being could tolerate the kind of pressure we are under,” he said.
6)U.S. Is Bankrupt and We Don't Even Know: Laurence Kotlikoff
By Laurence Kotlikoff - Aug 10, 2010 9:00 PM ET
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Let’s get real. The U.S. is bankrupt. Neither spending more nor taxing less will help the country pay its bills.
What it can and must do is radically simplify its tax, health-care, retirement and financial systems, each of which is a complete mess. But this is the good news. It means they can each be redesigned to achieve their legitimate purposes at much lower cost and, in the process, revitalize the economy.
Last month, the International Monetary Fund released its annual review of U.S. economic policy. Its summary contained these bland words about U.S. fiscal policy: “Directors welcomed the authorities’ commitment to fiscal stabilization, but noted that a larger than budgeted adjustment would be required to stabilize debt-to-GDP.”
But delve deeper, and you will find that the IMF has effectively pronounced the U.S. bankrupt. Section 6 of the July 2010 Selected Issues Paper says: “The U.S. fiscal gap associated with today’s federal fiscal policy is huge for plausible discount rates.” It adds that “closing the fiscal gap requires a permanent annual fiscal adjustment equal to about 14 percent of U.S. GDP.”
The fiscal gap is the value today (the present value) of the difference between projected spending (including servicing official debt) and projected revenue in all future years.
Double Our Taxes
To put 14 percent of gross domestic product in perspective, current federal revenue totals 14.9 percent of GDP. So the IMF is saying that closing the U.S. fiscal gap, from the revenue side, requires, roughly speaking, an immediate and permanent doubling of our personal-income, corporate and federal taxes as well as the payroll levy set down in the Federal Insurance Contribution Act.
Such a tax hike would leave the U.S. running a surplus equal to 5 percent of GDP this year, rather than a 9 percent deficit. So the IMF is really saying the U.S. needs to run a huge surplus now and for many years to come to pay for the spending that is scheduled. It’s also saying the longer the country waits to make tough fiscal adjustments, the more painful they will be.
Is the IMF bonkers?
No. It has done its homework. So has the Congressional Budget Office whose Long-Term Budget Outlook, released in June, shows an even larger problem.
Based on the CBO’s data, I calculate a fiscal gap of $202 trillion, which is more than 15 times the official debt. This gargantuan discrepancy between our “official” debt and our actual net indebtedness isn’t surprising. It reflects what economists call the labeling problem. Congress has been very careful over the years to label most of its liabilities “unofficial” to keep them off the books and far in the future.
For example, our Social Security FICA contributions are called taxes and our future Social Security benefits are called transfer payments. The government could equally well have labeled our contributions “loans” and called our future benefits “repayment of these loans less an old age tax,” with the old age tax making up for any difference between the benefits promised and principal plus interest on the contributions.
The fiscal gap isn’t affected by fiscal labeling. It’s the only theoretically correct measure of our long-run fiscal condition because it considers all spending, no matter how labeled, and incorporates long-term and short-term policy.
$4 Trillion Bill
How can the fiscal gap be so enormous?
Simple. We have 78 million baby boomers who, when fully retired, will collect benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that, on average, exceed per-capita GDP. The annual costs of these entitlements will total about $4 trillion in today’s dollars. Yes, our economy will be bigger in 20 years, but not big enough to handle this size load year after year.
This is what happens when you run a massive Ponzi scheme for six decades straight, taking ever larger resources from the young and giving them to the old while promising the young their eventual turn at passing the generational buck.
Herb Stein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under U.S. President Richard Nixon, coined an oft-repeated phrase: “Something that can’t go on, will stop.” True enough. Uncle Sam’s Ponzi scheme will stop. But it will stop too late.
And it will stop in a very nasty manner. The first possibility is massive benefit cuts visited on the baby boomers in retirement. The second is astronomical tax increases that leave the young with little incentive to work and save. And the third is the government simply printing vast quantities of money to cover its bills.
Worse Than Greece
Most likely we will see a combination of all three responses with dramatic increases in poverty, tax, interest rates and consumer prices. This is an awful, downhill road to follow, but it’s the one we are on. And bond traders will kick us miles down our road once they wake up and realize the U.S. is in worse fiscal shape than Greece.
Some doctrinaire Keynesian economists would say any stimulus over the next few years won’t affect our ability to deal with deficits in the long run.
This is wrong as a simple matter of arithmetic. The fiscal gap is the government’s credit-card bill and each year’s 14 percent of GDP is the interest on that bill. If it doesn’t pay this year’s interest, it will be added to the balance.
Demand-siders say forgoing this year’s 14 percent fiscal tightening, and spending even more, will pay for itself, in present value, by expanding the economy and tax revenue.
My reaction? Get real, or go hang out with equally deluded supply-siders. Our country is broke and can no longer afford no- pain, all-gain “solutions.”
(Laurence J. Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University and author of “Jimmy Stewart Is Dead: Ending the World’s Ongoing Financial Plague with Limited Purpose Banking.”
6a)The Obsolescence of Barack Obama
The magic of 2008 can't be recreated, and good riddance to it.
By FOUAD AJAMI
Not long ago Barack Obama, for those who were spellbound by him, had the stylishness of JFK and the historic mission of FDR riding to the nation's rescue. Now it is to Lyndon B. Johnson's unhappy presidency that Democratic strategist Robert Shrum compares the stewardship of Mr. Obama. Johnson, wrote Mr. Shrum in the Week magazine last month, never "sustained an emotional link with the American people" and chose to escalate a war that "forced his abdication as president."
A broken link with the public, and a war in Afghanistan he neither embraces and sells to his party nor abandons—this is a time of puzzlement for President Obama. His fall from political grace has been as swift as his rise a handful of years ago. He had been hot political property in 2006 and, of course, in 2008. But now he will campaign for his party's 2010 candidates from afar, holding fund raisers but not hitting the campaign trail in most of the contested races. Those mass rallies of Obama frenzy are surely of the past.
The vaunted Obama economic stimulus, at $862 billion, has failed. The "progressives" want to double down, and were they to have their way, would have pushed for a bigger stimulus still. But the American people are in open rebellion against an economic strategy of public debt, higher taxes and unending deficits. We're not all Keynesians, it turns out. The panic that propelled Mr. Obama to the presidency has waned. There is deep concern, to be sure. But the Obama strategy has lost the consent of the governed.
Mr. Obama could protest that his swift and sudden fall from grace is no fault of his. He had been a blank slate, and the devotees had projected onto him their hopes and dreams. His victory had not been the triumph of policies he had enunciated in great detail. He had never run anything in his entire life. He had a scant public record, but oddly this worked to his advantage. If he was going to begin the world anew, it was better that he knew little about the machinery of government.
He pronounced on the American condition with stark, unalloyed confidence. He had little if any regard for precedents. He could be forgiven the thought that America's faith in economic freedom had given way and that he had the popular writ to move the nation toward a super-regulated command economy. An "economic emergency" was upon us, and this would be the New New Deal.
There was no hesitation in the monumental changes Mr. Obama had in mind. The logic was Jacobin, the authority deriving from a perceived mandate to recast time-honored practices. It was veritably rule by emergency decrees. If public opinion displayed no enthusiasm for the overhaul of the nation's health-care system, the administration would push on. The public would adjust in due time.
The nation may be ill at ease with an immigration reform bill that would provide some 12 million illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship, but the administration would still insist on the primacy of its own judgment. It would take Arizona to court, even though the public let it be known that it understood Arizona's immigration law as an expression of that state's frustration with the federal government's abdication of its responsibility over border security.
It was clear as daylight that there was a built-in contradiction between opening the citizenship rolls to a vast flood of new petitioners and a political economy of redistribution favored by the Obama administration. The choice was stark: You could either "spread the wealth around" or open the gates for legalizing millions of immigrants of lower skills. You could not do both.
It was canonical to this administration and its functionaries that they were handed a broken nation, that it was theirs to repair, that it was theirs to tax and reshape to their preferences. Yet there was, in 1980, after another landmark election, a leader who had stepped forth in a time of "malaise" at home and weakness abroad: Ronald Reagan. His program was different from Mr. Obama's. His faith in the country was boundless. What he sought was to restore the nation's faith in itself, in its political and economic vitality.
Big as Reagan's mandate was, in two elections, the man was never bigger than his county. There was never narcissism or a bloated sense of personal destiny in him. He gloried in the country, and drew sustenance from its heroic deeds and its capacity for recovery. No political class rode with him to power anxious to lay its hands on the nation's treasure, eager to supplant the forces of the market with its own economic preferences.
To be sure, Reagan faltered midway through his second term—the arms-for-hostages trade, the Iran-Contra affair, nearly wrecked his presidency. But he recovered, the nation rallied around him and carried him across the finish line, his bond with the electorate deep and true. He had two years left of his stewardship, and his political recovery was so miraculous that he, and his first mate, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, would seal the nation's victory in the Cold War.
There is little evidence that the Obama presidency could yet find new vindication, another lease on life. Mr. Obama will mark time, but henceforth he will not define the national agenda. He will not be the repository of its hopes and sentiments. The ambition that his would be a "transformational" presidency—he rightly described Reagan's stewardship in these terms—is for naught.
There remains the fact of his biography, a man's journey. Personality is doubtless an obstacle to his recovery. The detachment of Mr. Obama need not be dwelled upon at great length, so obvious it is now even to the pundits who had a "tingling sensation" when they beheld him during his astonishing run for office. Nor does Mr. Obama have the suppleness of Bill Clinton, who rose out of the debris of his first two years in the presidency, dusted himself off, walked away from his spouse's radical attempt to remake the country's health-delivery system, and moved to the political center.
It is in the nature of charisma that it rises out of thin air, out of need and distress, and then dissipates when the magic fails. The country has had its fill with a scapegoating that knows no end from a president who had vowed to break with recriminations and partisanship. The magic of 2008 can't be recreated, and good riddance to it. Slowly, the nation has recovered its poise. There is a widespread sense of unstated embarrassment that a political majority, if only for a moment, fell for the promise of an untested redeemer—a belief alien to the temperament of this so practical and sober a nation.
Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
7)Harry Reid: "I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican."
BY John McCormack
While campaigning in Nevada Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told an audience of mostly Hispanic voters: "I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, okay. Do I need to say more?"
Reid's racially-charged comments come as the Nevada Democrat is trying to boost Hispanic turnout in his bid for reelection this November. Polls show, however, that Reid's positions on immigration are very unpopular with Nevada voters in general. Reid supports the Obama administration's lawsuit against Arizona over its immigration law, but 63 percent of Nevada voters oppose the lawsuit, according to a Rasmussen poll.
Reid voted against a measure to complete a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border in May, but 68 percent of voters nationally support building a border fence, according to Rasmussen.
The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Reid leading Republican Sharron Angle by 2 percentage points. The Angle campaign has not yet officially responded to Reid's remark, but an Angle staffer wrote on Twitter that Reid made an "idiotic" statement.
Update (11:35 p.m.): A statement from Sharron Angle's deputy campaign manager Jordan Gehrke:
"Reid has said he'll do more if re-elected--apparently that means more insensitive racial comments, more gaffes, more lame attempts to distract from what he has done to destroy the Nevada economy. With that said, I suppose Nevadans should just be glad he didn't say anything racist about Hispanic people's skin tone or 'dialect' this time."
The last line is a reference to Reid's comment that Barack Obama does not have a "negro dialect." Reid apologized to Obama when his remark was published in a book in January of this year.
Update (12:32 a.m.): Karl reminds us that Harry Reid voted for a "poison pill" amendment that killed that the 2007 immigration bill:
Hispanic voters — and everyone else — ought to note that Harry Reid was a key vote in killing “comprehensive immigration reform” in 2007. So the answer to Reid’s question is “yes” — he does need to say a bit more, if only to explain why he put the interest of Big Labor ahead of “comprehensive immigration reform.”