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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Soros Unhappy With Bailouts

Soros Unhappy With Bailouts
from US Business
Billionaire investor George Soros, who helped Barack Obama raise money for his presidential campaign in 2008, said he wasn't happy with Mr. Obama's handling of the financial crisis.

Our Educational System's Primary Failure

Our Educational System's Primary Failure
from The Market Ticker by (Karl Denninger)

Al Qaeda bomber called for Jordan jihad

Al Qaeda bomber called for Jordan jihad
from The Washington Times stories: News by Paul Schemm ASSOCIATED PRESS
CAIRO -- An al Qaeda double agent who killed seven CIA operatives and a Jordanian spy called for jihad in Jordan and attacks on its intelligence agency in a posthumous video message posted on extremist Web sites Sunday. Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi also described Sunday in the 43-minute video his recruitment by Jordanian intelligence and how he double-crossed them after they sent him to Afghanistan to spy on al-Qaida. The video apparently was filmed shortly before the 32-year-old al-Balawi blew himself up at a CIA facility on Dec. 30 in Afghanistan's eastern province of Khost, where he'd been invited ...

Al-Qaida is Defeated, but Our Work Has Just Begun



Al-Qaida is Defeated, but Our Work Has Just Begun

Jon B. Alterman

As much as a military effort, the war against al-Qaida has been a battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. At one time, many Muslims admired al-Qaida for its brazen opposition to Western domination, and many Westerners feared that the organization might draw Muslim communities into a civilizational war with the West. Immediately after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, it was not always clear how that battle for Muslim hearts and minds would end up.

But with the passage of time, we now have a good idea. Al-Qaida has lost. And as a result, in an important way, al-Qaida itself has been defeated.

It is, perhaps, strange to proclaim al-Qaida's defeat so soon after an al-Qaida operative sought to bring down an international jetliner last Christmas day, and at a time when al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Qaida Central in the hills of Pakistan all continue to operate. It is true that al-Qaida continues to threaten Western interests, and the organization and its affiliates are likely to do so for some time.

But the task of containing the damage from perhaps a few thousand fighters is more achievable than that of defeating more than a billion people. We feared that we would have to fight the larger battle, but the battle we are fighting -- and which we will continue to commit billions of dollars to fight -- is the one against a few thousand.

Yet the ongoing smaller battle should not prevent us from seeing that al-Qaida has lost the larger one. After almost two decades of trying, al-Qaida's thirst for anarchic violence has failed to inspire the multitudes. Instead, authoritative clerics have picked apart al-Qaida's theology and removed the cloak of divine approval that the organization had appropriated. Even some leading jihadi clerics, such as Dr. Fadl (also known as Sayyid Imam al-Sharif) have repudiated al-Qaida's views. To be sure, there are still clerics who support al-Qaida, but they are a shrinking and increasingly isolated minority.

Jihad, of course, is not dead. It remains a prominent theme in Islamic thought, a topic that has occupied Muslim theologians for centuries. Yet, strict rules govern jihad, many of which narrow the bases on which it can be waged. Jihad developed as a way to rally the masses behind the political leadership. The idea that some would use jihad to rally the masses against the political leadership was an innovation of the last half-century.

The anti-establishment ethos of this new form of jihadism was one of the most important factors that doomed the movement. Over centuries, Muslim clerics had sought to maintain a difficult balance, acting as a check on government excess without threatening the government itself. Al-Qaida challenged that balance, and by consequence it questioned the legitimacy of legions of clerics who had maintained it. Those clerics fought back, with the support of their governments. Al-Qaida tried to overcome its lack of clerical support with the zealousness of its lay leadership, but it was no match. Over almost a decade, the clerics reasserted their traditional role and prevented their societies' slide toward radicalism.

The jihadists' performance in Iraq was another contributing factor to their failure. Not only were the bulk of their victims fellow Muslims, but they alienated the very Sunni tribes that were giving them refuge. The organization in Iraq revealed itself to be more a criminal gang than a millennialist movement, and its defeat at the hands of the U.S. military added little to its luster.

Finally, intelligence and law enforcement have taken a tremendous toll on al-Qaida. With so many governments seeing the group as an existential threat, the resources poured into disrupting the organization and its communications have had the desired effect. Operational communications have diminished considerably, and suspicion pervades the online chat rooms that previously provided such a robust avenue for jihadi communication. As one U.S. government contractor observed privately, "You never know if the guy you're carrying on a discussion with is a bad guy or just another contractor in the next cubicle." If that's true for the counterterrorists, it can only be worse for the terrorists.

Still, it would be a mistake to see al-Qaida's defeat wholly as a victory for the West. Religious conservatives in the Muslim world waged and won the bulk of the ideological battle against al-Qaida, and they did so with little interest in boosting the forces of secular liberalism. While tolerance and individual rights are cherished principles at the core of the Western liberal tradition, many conservative forces see them as the harbingers of atheism, amorality and social decay. Further, the conservative forces that are rising in the Muslim world tend to be strongly nationalist, scarcely more favorably disposed toward Western governments' policies than al-Qaida is. In Palestine, in Iraq and beyond, they see an unalloyed record of

Muslim suffering and a Western world that is either wholly indifferent to Muslims' plight, or is actively abetting their persecution.

These conservative forces have risen as al-Qaida has fallen, dealing a blow to the hopes many in the West had for the future of Muslim communities after al-Qaida's demise. Secularists are in retreat, and much of the creativity in these societies is contained in religious communities that seek to embrace modernity on their own terms. Religious television, for example, is far more popular than the news in the Arab world, and its most solid viewing audience is among women -- the very people whom many Western observers would seek to liberate from the patriarchy of Islamic tradition.

Even so, al-Qaida's failure is good news, for while rapprochement between the West and Muslim communities has become no less important than it appeared to be in years past, it has become less urgent. That rapprochement needs to be pursued with patience and creativity, and realistic goals. We do not need to conquer one another, but we do need to live together. On that basis, a great deal can be achieved.

Behind Brand Israel: Israel’s recent propaganda efforts

Behind Brand Israel: Israel’s recent propaganda efforts

“The Delegitimization Challenge” report from the influential Israeli think tank the Reut Institute has put the spotlight on efforts by Israel and the Zionist lobby to counter the growing movement for justice in Palestine, and specifically, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. The work done by Reut has rightly attracted attention, but it is only one (particularly prominent) example of a wider trend, as the Israeli government and global Zionist groups mobilize to fight the threat to the apartheid system.

It was an issue discussed when Israeli policymakers convened for the recent Herzilya Conference where there was a session called “Winning the Battle of the Narrative: Strategic Communication for Israel.” There was also an associated working paper, prepared by a team that included Ido Aharoni from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), along with senior officials from the prime minister’s office, public relations firms and two key lobby groups — The Israel Project in the US, and Bicom from the UK (”Winning the Battle of the Narrative” (PDF)).

An additional working paper produced for the Herzliya conference was called “The ‘Soft Warfare’ against Israel: Motives and Solution Levers,” produced by a mix of academics and representatives from the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), the Institute for Policy and Strategy, NGO Monitor and Israel’s MFA (”The ‘Soft Warfare’ against Israel: Motives and Solution Levers” (PDF)).

At the end of last year, another significant conference was convened by Israel’s MFA in Jerusalem, called the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism. Convened by far-right Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Likud Minister of Knesset and settler Yuli Edelstein, included in the program was a working group called Delegitimization of Israel: “Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions.” The aim was to “come up with imaginative, effective and successful solutions to counter this evil [of BDS],” forging strategies of “defense” and “offense.”

Co-chaired by Mitchell Bard and Professor Gil Troy, director of the Jewish Virtual Library and McGill University professor, respectively, the anti-BDS group included figures like Canadian lawmaker Irwin Cotler, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, and right-wing pressure group NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg. From North America, there were representatives of the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism. UK-based participants in the anti-BDS group included members of the Jewish Leadership Council, the Fair Play Campaign Group, the Union of Jewish Students, and the President of the National Union of Students, Wes Streeting.

The participation by key lobby groups outside of Israel is indicative of a growing concern. At the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in November last year, there was a special “forum” on “The International Campaign to Delegitimize Israel,” specifically focusing on BDS. As described on its website, the forum sought to “explore effective strategies that can be utilized by the North American Jewish community, including through the Jewish Federations/JCPA Israel Advocacy Initiative” in response. Speakers at the meeting included senior figures from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA).

Delegates at the assembly passed a motion entitled “Resolution Against Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement.” The resolution declared that “that the BDS movement be regarded with the utmost urgency,” and emphasized “the importance of solid relationships with decision leaders.” It also called for “an effective response and [to] devise a proactive strategy to the BDS movement through appropriate vehicles within the system, especially the Israel Advocacy Initiative, a joint project of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and The Jewish Federations of North America.” AIPAC’s “Policy Conference” to be held in Washington, DC in March is also going to host sessions on the “delegitimization campaigns” and the pro-Israel student lobby.

There are further, smaller organizations and groupings that have been set up in large part to counter BDS. These include Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Fair Play (UK) and Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP). The names of these groups are themselves indicative of a realization that being seen to purely promote Israeli interests is no longer viable — rather, in the words of the UK’s Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI), the key is to stress “co-operation” and “links” in contrast to the “the counter-productive and damaging ‘boycott Israel’ calls.”

The main tactics

In October 2005, the Forward reported that directors from the Israeli foreign ministry, prime minister’s office and finance ministry met to work out “a new plan to improve the country’s image abroad — by downplaying religion and avoiding any discussion of the conflict with the Palestinians.” Although the “Brand Israel” initiative was launched in 2006, its origins can be dated to 2001 when Boaz Mourad, the founder of the Insight Research Group, and Ido Aharoni of the Israeli Foreign Service, “pulled together a branding team for Israel” (including a partner from public relations heavyweight Burson-Marsteller).

During her term as foreign minister, Tzipi Livni appointed Aharoni as head of the “Brand Israel” project, as well as assigning $4 million for the first two years (which is additional to the annual $3 million budget for “hasbara” or propaganda). When it was launched in October 2006, the Israeli MFA promised that Brand Israel would “advance several objectives” including trade, tourism and strengthening “Israel’s positive image” for political reasons.

On 16 March 2008, The Jerusalem Post reported that Brand Israel identified cities like Toronto, Tokyo, London, Boston and New York as locations for “pilot” programs, which could include “organizing film festivals, or food and wine festivals featuring Israel-made products.” Accordingly, by the end of that year billboard advertisements appeared in Toronto promoting Israel as a leader in technological innovation. At the time, Aharoni voiced his expectation that the plan would be rolled out in 2009.

The use of public relations agencies has continued to grow. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, in October 2008, it was the turn of British firm Acanchi, hired by the foreign minister “to craft the new image” (”Foreign Ministry, PR firm rebrand Israel as land of achievements,” 6 October 2008). The firm’s founder toured Israel as part of the mission “to create a brand disconnected from the Arab-Israeli conflict that focuses instead on Israel’s scientific and cultural achievements.” At last month’s Herzliya conference, another leading public relations professional, Martin Kace of Empax, was on stage alongside Aharoni discussing “delegitimization.”

In that session, the Israeli government announced that its central Brand Israel message would be “Creative Energy.” Aharoni presented the concept, described in the “Winning the Battle of the Narrative” paper as repositioning “Israel away from an image of a country in a state of war and conflict to a brand which represents positive values and ideals like ‘building the future,’ ‘vibrant diversity’ and ‘entrepreneurial zeal.’” The idea is to shift the weight “from what Israel wants to say to what audiences abroad are interested in consuming.”

A 21 January 2005 article in The Jewish Week explained that the “Brand Israel” campaign then is all about “fewer stories explaining the rationale for the security fence” and “more attention to scientists doing stem-cell research on the cutting edge or the young computer experts who gave the world Instant Messaging” (”Marketing A New Image, 21 January 2005). Another important group is “Israel21c.” According to its website, Israel21c’s “mission is to focus media and public attention on the 21st century Israel that exists beyond the conflict.” The rationale being that by “promoting positive images of Israel and Israelis, people will come to view Israelis as more like themselves and understand the relevance of Israel to their own lives.” According to a 14 October 2005 article in the Forward, Israel21c was working with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) “on a plan to generate collaborative content” for the lobby group (”Israel Aims To Improve Its Public Image”).

Delegitimizing the delegitimizers

There is also an “offensive” element to Israel’s strategy, one that is currently less developed than Brand Israel tactics, yet likely to come increasingly to the fore. In a 14 December 2009 Jerusalem Post article, Shimon Samuels, the director of international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, suggested that “propagators of deliberate slurs targeting Israel and, by association, world Jewry, must realize that they may incur a price.” He urged that “a consortium of the best Jewish and pro-Israel legal brains should be on call,” and ready, among other things, “to use the courts in ad hominem defamation.”

A key strategy discussed at the Herzilya conference and the MFA’s Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism is “delegitimizing the delegitimizers.” In addition, the “soft warfare” working paper presented at Herzliya included the recommendation that “research to identify all the key players that initiate and generate hate (as compared to those that disseminate it), with a breakdown by country, religion and ethnicity, in order to analyze their motivations and objectives, estimate the threat and consider possible ways of handling each” (”Delegitimization of Israel: ‘Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions’” (Word document)). One of the purposes of this kind of “systematic, ongoing research, of all anti-Israeli publications, including media analyses, reports, boycotts and on campus activities” is to facilitate the “identification and exposure of and levying pressure on the sponsors of the inciters.” The paper also endorsed legal action “by the Israeli government and by independent entities in Israel and abroad, against media networks, publications, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and individuals that make defamatory reports.”

This aggressive dimension was also included in the Global Forum’s BDS Working Group document, which included in its vision for a five year plan the proposals to “name and shame” nongovernmental organizations, and meeting “lawfare” with “lawfare.” (In that regard, see “The Lawfare Project” and its upcoming conference in March, where neocon and right-wing Zionist lobbyists, academics, and diplomats, will discuss how to shield Israel from the “abuse” of human rights law: There is also the idea to form “groups of Jewish/pro-Israel professionals within various national and international professional association/organizations/unions,” in order to pass “anti-discrimination bylaws within the organization that are general in nature, and that do not mention Israel per se, but rather oppose discrimination on the basis of race, religion, nationality, etc.”

Students on campus

Unsurprisingly, given the increasing strength of the Palestine solidarity movement amongst students, campuses are a target of the anti-BDS battle plan. One element of this is the role played by Zionist “ambassadors” like the Jewish Agency’s emissaries (or “shlichim“) scheme. In a 16 December 2009 Jerusalem Post article, Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency, expressed his desire to increase “the number of young Israelis sent to communities in the US and especially the more than 100 shlichim based at universities there.” He also raised the possibility of the likes of Irwin Cotler and US lawyer and Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz “teaching the shlichim before they go [to the US].”

The Herzilya “soft warfare” paper also discussed university campuses (and schools) as the subject of a suggested “proactive public relations” drive. It added that “such public relations should cover both the subject of Israel and its history, and the subject of radical Islam and the dangers it unfolds.” Yet as has been evident for a while now, the anti-BDS push on campus is just as — if not more — likely to emphasize “dialogue” and “narrative-sharing,” as opposed to openly pushing an “Israel first” line. In other words, instead of far-right former-MK Effie Eitam we’ll have the dovish pro-Israel advocacy group J Street “Invest, Don’t Divest” campus programming and two-state solution-peddling One Voice tours.

The reported response of campus Zionists in Canada to Israeli Apartheid Week is instructive and encouraging. Apart from promoting Israel’s “global renown in science, medicine, technology, business, humanitarian aid” and culture, public talks are being scheduled (”Students get ready to counter ‘apartheid lie,’” The Canadian Jewish News, 18 February 2010). There are apparently talks scheduled in Toronto by a Sudanese human rights activist, Arab reporter Khaled Abu Toameh of the The Jerusalem Post, and a self-proclaimed “ex-terrorist” whose mission is to “wake up the body of Christ” to the danger of “radical Islam” (”Students get ready to counter ‘apartheid lie.’”

It is also worth noting the Global Forum’s BDS Working Group’s recommendation that “more money needs to be spent on the programs that already exist in countries like Canada to send non-Jewish student leaders (members of student government, campus organizations, campus newspapers etc.) to Israel to learn the facts on the ground.”

A call for coordination

A common theme in the recently intensified discussion by the Zionist lobby is the perceived need for improved, and centralized, organization and coordination. The Reut Institute’s “Delegitimization Challenge” report pointed to the imperative of reorganizing “the foreign policy establishment” in Israel, including “comprehensive reform within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

The “soft warfare” paper urged the creation of “a state-led, integrated capability,” reflecting what they described as a “broad consensus that a sufficiently-funded government agency is required in order to manage the battle against hate incitement.” The two specific options put forward were “a special unit under Israel’s National Security Council” to run a public relations strategy in association with “pro-Israeli organizations and activists abroad,” or “an entity within the Israeli intelligence community, which would collect, analyze and distribute information, and initiate ‘operations’ in areas relevant to Israel’s public relations campaign.” This latter “entity” could cooperate with groups like Middle East Media Research Initiative (MEMRI), as well as “direct the intelligence agencies to thwart anti-Israeli propaganda efforts.”

The Global Forum’s anti-BDS group talked of the “Jewish community” needing “a war room” that would be “tracking this movement, sharing best practices, coaching communities.” It mentioned that “in North America, the Federation system is talking about launching a coordinating body to fight BDS.” One of the group’s co-chairmen, McGill professor Gil Troy, commented on his blog on The Jerusalem Post’s website earlier this month that there was a new initiative “rumored to be in the works in North America and Israel to help galvanize and centralize pro-Israel sentiment.”

For all those involved in some capacity in the international campaign for justice in Palestine/Israel, and the growing BDS movement, these state-backed efforts can appear rather daunting. The Israeli government and its allies in lobby groups are not short of powerful contacts and money, and there is now a concerted effort to think “strategically.” However, for all the research, conferences and working papers, there is a comical ignorance shaping these responses. A great example of this is can be found in the Global Forum’s BDS paper, which includes the idea to “circulate information on Muslims acting contrary to Islam.” This is on the basis that “if the people of countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia knew their ‘pious’ leaders were really alcoholics, gamblers and perverts, they might hasten regime change.” As if the people in the Middle East are not fully aware of the corruption of their autocrats and dictators — many of whom, of course, enjoy US and Israeli support for their antidemocratic “moderation.”

Moreover, all of this strategizing and energy is needed in order to avoid the manifestly unimaginable truth — that Israel is increasingly unable to maintain a regime of ethno-religious exclusion, apartheid separation and colonial violence without paying a price. Its supporters are also unable to see that it will prove to be unsustainable.

PM's Saudi visit attempt to make up for lost time

The Times of India

PM's Saudi visit attempt to make up for lost time

Diwakar, TNN, Feb 28, 2010, 02.46am IST

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left for Saudi Arabia on Saturday morning on a visit tailored to close a gap in India's efforts to promote its economic and strategic interests through a string of international partnerships.

Singh's is the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Saudi Arabia since 1982 when Indira Gandhi travelled to the desert kingdom, which accounts for 20% of country's energy imports and, by virtue of its King being the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, holds a pivotal position in the Islamic world.

It is recognized here that the country should have followed up on Indira Gandhi's visit, but the failure to do so is blamed on India's preoccupation with developments in the neighbourhood and the toil to come to grips with the post-Cold War world. Saudis had their own concerns and imperatives -- a volatile Middle East and churn in the Islamic world which threatened to challenge the hold of the House of Sauds.

But the two countries have decided to make up for the lost time and deepen the engagement. The visit of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in January 2006 when he was also the Chief Guest for the Republic Day celebrations, was the turning point.

The one-day visit of Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal in December 2008 to convey Saudi Arabia's condemnation of the terror attack on Mumbai was gesture of solidarity that went down well here. In a way, the Prime Minister's visit, as petroleum minister Murli Deora puts it, is a thanksgiving gesture to a country which stood by India during the energy crisis. But while crude imports remain the most crucial component of the ties, India is now looking at a partnership which is diverse. An extradition treaty is on the table. More important, the government is keen on gauging the Saudi response to Pakistan's moves to take advantage of the growing American weariness of its war efforts in Afghanistan to install a puppet regime in pursuance of its quest for strategic depth.

Being the only country which, apart from Pakistan and UAE, recognized the Mullah Omar-led Taliban regime as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan, Saudis seem to subscribe to the good Taliban/bad Taliban formulation peddled by Pakistan to secure the return of its favourite jehadi groups to power in Kabul.

India, however, is laying store by the developments that have exposed the growing collaboration between Taliban and al-Qaida -- a group that the ruling Saudi dynasty sees as posing a threat to their rule.

Saddled with the perception that their country -- base of the radical Wahabi Islam -- from where Osama bin Laden and the overwhelming majority of 9/11 attackers came, Saudi authorities are having to battle al-Qaida both within and outside as in neighbouring Yemen.

At a time when countries like China and Iran have rejected the good Taliban/ bad Taliban distinction as spurious, and when the Western forces have launched a huge offensive in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister may like to apprise his hosts of India's take on the issue. In a statement released before he took off for Riyadh, Singh stressed: "I believe India and Saudi Arabia have much to gain by cooperating with each other in combating extremism and terrorism. I expect to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and other regional issues of mutual interest."

In an interview to Saudi journalists, the PM underlined that extremism and terrorism represent a major threat not just to India, but also Pakistan and the entire neighbourhood. "As a neighbour, we cannot remain immune to the rise of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan, or on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Extremism and terrorism are major threats not only to India, but also to Pakistan, and all its neighbours," he said.

Though there are, as the failure of their efforts for unity between rival Palestinian groups show, limits to the Saudi leverage with Sunni groups, they remain a factor.

Government is also seeking to use PM's visit to make a pitch for investments from Saudi Arabia. Saudis have so far preferred the US and West in investing the gigantic pile of petro dollars they are sitting on. Government is keen to get a piece of the cake by projecting India as the new hot destination.

China's Wen Vows Inflation Focus in Chat

FEBRUARY 27, 2010
The Wall Street Journal

China's Wen Vows Inflation Focus in Chat

By J.R. WU

BEIJING—In a broad-ranging chat with netizens in China Saturday,
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao reaffirmed Beijing's monetary policy stance
and told the U.S. he didn't want this year to become a turbulent one
in key bilateral ties.

Wen's comments come a week before the annual session of the National
People's Congress, China's parliament, where—on March 5—Wen will
deliver the Government Work Report, which will lay out Beijing's
economic blueprint for 2010, including economic growth targets.

His remarks are likely a preview of the tone of the report, which
isn't expected to offer detailed policy measures but should indicate
Beijing is giving itself leeway to gradually exit from its
crisis-driven expansionary policies of the past year as inflationary
risks rise in the world's third-largest economy.

Wen said Saturday that 2010 will be a "complex" year for the domestic
economy, but that he was confident about China's economic development.
He said managing inflationary expectations is a key task this year in
consolidating the recovery of the domestic economy.

"Currently we are still carrying out a moderately loose monetary
policy. That is to say 'moderately loose' is on the one hand ensuring
a stable and relative fast economic development, and on the other hand
being able to manage inflationary expectations," said Wen during the
two-hour online discussion that elicited more than 60,000 questions.

The online chat was done in the same fashion as one year ago, when Wen
took questions from the online public in China for the first time. The
Chinese leader, who is in charge of the country's economic portfolio,
also spoke on subjects ranging from employment and housing needs at
home to the Shanghai expo, healthcare and economic ties with Taiwan.
Wen didn't discuss the yuan exchange rate.

China has nearly 400 million Internet users—the most of any
country—and the live chat was carried on the central government's Web

Wen said China must curb speculative investments in the housing
market, even as the government works to encourage home buying for real
needs. He said the government must prevent the overly rapid rise of
prices in general and part of the work to do that means money supply
must be "appropriate."

Concerns about asset price inflation have been on the rise in China
this year after the lending spree of the past year to stimulate
economic growth. Policymakers in China have been tightening their
oversight on bank lending and the People's Bank of China has already
twice this year ordered banks to keep a larger portion of their
reserves parked with the central bank in an effort to mop up the flush

Wen said he believed the government could control consumer prices
within a reasonable level.

When asked about ties with the U.S., China's second-largest trading
partner behind the European Union, Wen said both powers must work
together to lower trade tensions.

"We hope China-U.S. trade frictions can ease. We also don't hope for
this year to become a 'non-pacific' year in the China-U.S. economic
and trade relationship. This will require both sides to work
together," Wen said.

He said trade frictions between China and the U.S. should be resolved
through equal consultation, and not with trade sanctions, which hurts
both sides.

Wen reiterated China's desire for the U.S. to recognize China's market
economy status and for the U.S. to open up its high-technology exports
to China.

Wen restated that China does not pursue a trade surplus and wishes its
economic and trade ties with the U.S. to be balanced and sustainable.

Write to J.R. Wu at

Do not even think about bombing Iran

Do not even think about bombing Iran

Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel

The Financial Times: February 28 2010

For years, the US has retained the option of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Not preferred by either George W. Bush or Barack Obama, it has nonetheless survived the US presidential transition as a last resort should diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to persuade Tehran to put its nuclear programme back under proper restrictions and inspections. As an option, however, it should not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need instead to develop a long-term strategy for dealing with a nuclear Iran and not box ourselves into war.

The threat of a military strike is seen as increasing American leverage. In this view, not only does it supposedly intimidate Iran, but it also helps Washington and like-minded western nations persuade other countries to tighten and enforce official sanctions. The US can argue that sanctions are preferred to military force, but that they will only work if all co-operate.

The strike option, however, lacks credibility. America is engaged in two massive and unpopular military campaigns in the region. Given Iran’s ability to retaliate against the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is simply not credible that we would use force in the foreseeable future. Tehran, Moscow and Beijing know this.

There is also a technical reality: even a massive strike would not slow Iran’s progress towards a bomb for long. We cannot be sure we know where all existing Iranian facilities to enrich uranium are located – as the revelation of yet another previously unknown site near Qom last year reminded us. Even if we did strike most or all existing facilities, Iran can rebuild fairly fast and would surely expel inspectors and burrow further underground when building its next facilities. It would be even harder to find, and strike, those assets.

If there were any real chance of major political reform in Iran within a couple of years, buying that much time might be worth the cost. But the unrest in Iran since last year’s stolen election is not likely to bring about regime change, given the regime’s control of the military. Nor is a strike by an outside power likely to help the cause of Iranian reformists.

Generally, those who argue against a military strike stop 10 yards short of the finish line. After concluding that a strike would not make sense, they still tend to tolerate leaving it as a last resort. There are dangers to such an approach. Mr Obama may some day come under pressure to employ it when all else has failed – and we think this would be a mistake, not only for the specific matter of Iran policy but more broadly for his effort to recast the US as a country playing by international legal norms.

In addition, keeping the option of force requires US diplomats and military officials to take preparatory steps that may distract from our current efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and complicate a number of regional bilateral alliances. Some states in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are generally worried about Iran. But few are anxious to support moves towards war. We will be better positioned for a sustained tightening of regional alliances if we remain resolute yet fundamentally defensive in our orientation and strategy.

There is a better way: sanctions, deterrence and containment. To be sure, another nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, especially one touting the extremist views of the current Iranian regime, would be bad for regional security. But Iran would be suicidal to attack a US ally in the region – especially one such as Israel, which has a formidable nuclear arsenal by all accounts. Iran has already proved its willingness to wage proxy and terror wars against the US and Israel. It is doubtful that a small nuclear arsenal would offer it many more options than it has already.

We should structure a sanctions regime so that it could evolve into containment of a nuclear-armed Iran, focusing on high-technology goods and weapons transfers. We should also pledge to provide a nuclear umbrella over Israel and other threatened states. In other words, we would use the techniques of containing the Soviet Union and communist China from the cold war to handle this newer, serious yet smaller, threat. It is not a great option. But it is much better than war.

The writers are senior fellows at Brookings. Michael O’Hanlon is co-author of the new book Toughing It Out in Afghanistan, and Bruce Riedel is author of The Search for al Qaeda
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.

Netanyahu and the sanctioning of Iran

From Open Democracy
Netanyahu and the sanctioning of Iran

Thomas S Evans, 25 February 2010

Israel’s attempt to rally support for energy sanctions against Iran look like failing, for good reason. They would be likely to work to the detriment of the West’s and Israel’s goals.

As Israeli commentators pick apart the Herzliya conference and mull over the state of Israel’s soul, a flurry of declarations and decisions has brought the issue of sanctions on Iran into sharp focus. The Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow last week to rally the Kremlin behind ‘crippling’, wide-ranging sanctions signalled a new drive to get the problematic states (that is, Russia and China) on side. Yet over the past two weeks, the extensive sanction regime proposed by Netanyahu in a speech last Monday has taken a battering.

Today, Russia’s predictable reply to Netanyahu’s request laid waste to rising hopes that Russia had grown disillusioned with Iranian prevarications (suggested by last week’s delay of a batch of promised S-300 SAM missile systems for ‘technical reasons’) and would come around to energy sanctions. Nor is Netanyahu guaranteed the support of the US over sanctions. Clinton’s Qatar speech last Monday revealed that, though shifting away from Obama’s early promises of ‘open hand’ policy and dialogue to a more hard-line stance, the US Policymakers are still reluctant to pursue extensive sanctions against Iranian interests, preferring to focus on limited, targeted sanctions that damage the interests of the Revolutionary Guards while leaving the majority of Iranians unaffected. This is likely to remain US policy, despite Clinton’s testimony today that Iran’s failures to accept administration offers of engagement have forced the US to ‘impose greater costs and penalties’.

All of this gives added significance to Netanyahu’s claim that, if necessary, an absolute sanction on the energy sector must be ‘done outside the Security Council’; that is, unilaterally. As the number of Israelis in opposition to military strikes ratchets up (including Zeev Raz, the Squadron Leader of the Osirak raid), the Israeli government is putting its energy into sanctions. Many see Iran’s energy imports as its Achilles heel. Despite holding around one-third of the world’s oil reserves, a lack of domestic refining capability means the country is dependent on petrol imports to meet 40 percent of its domestic consumption

Yet there are serious drawbacks to this position. Never mind that Russia, China and the United States have rather different plans in mind. Presumably, as shown by Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow, Israel is putting maximum effort into convincing the Big Three to accept the necessity for extensive sanctions (potentially using the implicit threat of a far worse alternative-an Israeli air raid or even ground surge-as diplomatic collateral). Even the sidelining of the UN, though perhaps lamentable by international law (I hear the collective scoff of the Israeli public), is something of a red herring.

The main difficulty for Israel, and all supporters of energy sanctions, is that there is very little reason to think that they will have the effect desired. Danielle Pletka, director of foreign policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has stated that the Iranian regime ‘will likely be impervious’ to energy sanctions.

In fact, the reality is far worse; should anyone be tempted to say that, even if it fails to work, ‘at least we’ll know that we tried’, it may be argued that crippling sanctions will work to the detriment of Israel’s, and the West’s, goals.

Firstly, there is the problem of the Revolutionary Guard. Contrary to those who see the Iranian elite as one undifferentiated mass of hatred and danger, few analysts would deny that the inner circle of the Iranian regime is a fluid constellation of divergent interests and bickering cliques. Any policy towards Iran must consider how it will affect the balance of power between those who detest Israel enough to seek its destruction, and those who ‘merely’ dislike it intensely but know they must live with it. The targeted sanction regime drawn up by the US Treasury Dept adroitly takes this into account, ensuring that only those elites that pose the clearest and most immediate danger are affected. Not only would Netanyahu’s sanctions fail to make this distinction; there is good reason to think they would strengthen the Guards, cementing their hold on the reins of state, much to the detriment of Israeli security. As Alireza Nader, an Iran expert with the RAND Corporation, has said, "any sort of sanctions regime targeting fuel imports is going to be difficult to enforce because there is the black market, which the Revolutionary Guard is very much involved in”. This has been the case before, and would likely be the case in the event of hard-line energy sanctions.

There is also the wider impact on the Iranian population. Undeniably, there would be some effect. Iranians receive 100 litres of discounted petrol at every month, at great cost to the economically struggling government. Opinions on this issue diverge between supporters and opponents of energy sanctions. Netanyahu has made it clear which side he supports: oil sanctions, by hurting the Iranian people, will turn them against the government whom they will blame for bringing this cruel fate upon them. Yet few analysts agree with this position.

The faltering economy is a major bone of contention in recent domestic battles. As Fariborz Ghadar, an expert in trade at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has pointed out, the Iranian government would welcome any excuse to shrink their energy subsidy programme, which is a drain on an already sparse budget. Energy sanctions would provide the perfect reason to do so. By chopping out this troubling expense, the Ahmedinejad regime would get that extra wiggle room to sort out its economic troubles and dampen domestic opposition.

There is also significant agreement among specialists that the Iranian people would not blame the government for its suffering, but rather the architect of that suffering: the United States and its allies. At a hearing of the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs last December, four of the five experts agreed that sanctions would aid the government, allowing it to cast the US and Israel as the villains and creating a nationalist rallying point around the regime. Far from destroying the existential threat, a crippling embargo could serve increase anti-Israel sentiment in Iran, creating an embattled atmosphere that could be exploited by the government to Israel’s harm.

Finally, there’s the effect on the nascent Green Movement within Israel. Though few of its supporters are especially supportive of the Jewish state, it’s clear that Israel would be much better off if the opposition movement won power. Yet many prominent opposition figures have come out against energy sanctions. Mir Hossein Moussavi has stated that they “will impose agonies on a nation who suffers enough from miserable statesmen”. Given that the government can find alternative sources of energy, argues Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, ‘economic sanctions will only affect the people’.

This is all, to some extent, academic. Without the agreement of Iran’s primary energy suppliers, such sanctions will falter in the first stages; we won’t get to the stage where the Iranian people and government are being hit hard. While most of Iran’s energy imports come from Swiss firms Vitol, Glencore and Trafigura, France's Total, and British Petroleum, as well as the Indian firm Reliance, other companies wait in the wings to replace them. As things stand now, it is likely that Royal Dutch Shell, Lukoil (Russia) and Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp. (China) would continue to import gasoline. Last year Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, pledged to supply Iran with 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day as part of a concerted effort to further economic ties between the two ‘anti-imperialist’ nations.

This is not to say that there is no need to do anything. Ahmedinejad’s recent claim that Iran will to produce 20%-enriched uranium, and its rejection of an IAEA plan for the Islamic Republic to ship out its low-enriched uranium rods to Russia for further enrichment, suggest that the stakes are rising. Almost daily public declamations against Israel and America justifies the Israeli government’s belief that something must be done. Yet it will help no-one to rush through a policy that could make matters far worse. It’s imperative that Israel engage with its allies in formulating a refined, subtle approach to the persistent nuclear problem in Iran. If one thing is clear, it’s that blanket energy sanctions of the kind proposed by Netanyahu cannot and must not remain on the table as a viable policy option.

MEC International Ltd.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Head of IMF Proposes New Reserve Currency

Head of IMF Proposes New Reserve Currency
IMF's Strauss-Kahn suggests IMF may one day provide global reserve asset
By HARRY DUNPHY Associated Press Writer

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, suggested Friday the organization might one day be called on to provide countries with a global reserve currency that would serve as an alternative to the U.S. dollar.

"That day has not yet come, but I think it is intellectually healthy to explore these kinds of ideas now," he said in a speech on the future mandate of the 186-nation Washington-based lending organization.

Strauss-Kahn said such an asset could be similar to but distinctly different from the IMF's special drawing rights, or SDRs, the accounting unit that countries use to hold funds within the IMF. It is based on a basket of major currencies.

He said having other alternatives to the dollar "would limit the extent to which the international monetary system as a whole depends on the policies and conditions of a single, albeit dominant, country."

Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister of France, said that during the recent global financial crisis, the dollar "played its role as a safe haven" asset, and the current international monetary system demonstrated resilience.

"The challenge ahead is to find ways to limit the tension arising from the high demand for precautionary reserves on the one hand and the narrow supply of reserves on the other," he said.

Several countries, including China and Russia, have called for an alternative to the dollar as a reserve currency and have suggested using the IMF's internal accounting unit.

Strauss-Kahn said the IMF also needs to do a better job of tracing how risk percolates through the global economy.

"Here it will be essential to improve our ability to monitor several dozen large complex financial institutions that make up the `plumbing' through which global capital flows," he said, while leaving national regulators the job of monitoring the solvency of individual institutions.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

When It Comes To Nuclear Enrichment, What Are The Iranians Thinking?

When It Comes To Nuclear Enrichment, What Are The Iranians Thinking?
Another Puzzle in Iran After Nuclear Fuel Is Moved -- New York Times

WASHINGTON — When Iran was caught last September building a secret, underground nuclear enrichment plant at a military base near the city of Qum, the country’s leaders insisted they had no other choice. With its nuclear facilities under constant threat of attack, they said, only a fool would leave them out in the open.

So imagine the surprise of international inspectors almost two weeks ago when they watched as Iran moved nearly its entire stockpile of low-enriched nuclear fuel to an above-ground plant. It was as if, one official noted, a bull’s-eye had been painted on it.

Why take such a huge risk?

Read more ....

My Comment: When it comes to Iran there is one simple rule that everyone should follow .... do not trust them. Iran has a terrible history in the international arena of diplomacy and respecting the sovereignty of other countries and negotiated agreements. Death to America and threatening the annihilation of Israel in every speech and demonstration tends to get dry after a while ... but they are listed as a state sponsor of terror for a reason and every threat and comment made by the regime in Tehran must be taken seriously. So .... moving their nuclear fuel may be a puzzle to the New York Times .... but trust me .... there is a very blunt reason on why they are doing this ..... it is just that we have not figured it out yet.

Silicon Valley Isn't New York's Enemy -- Wall Street Is

Silicon Valley Isn't New York's Enemy -- Wall Street Is
from Clusterstock by Chris Dixon

I’ve written a few times about what seems to be an exploding tech scene in NYC. This is sometimes interpreted as arguing that NYC is a better place to start a company than the Valley. Most recently, Matt Mireles seems to be addressing people like me with his critique of the NYC startup scene (he makes some good points as does Caterina Fake in her response).

I’ve never meant my arguments to be about where it is better to start a company. California is a phenomenal place to start a tech company. NYC is a great place as well. (Note to Matt – it’s hard for first time founders everywhere). To me, the important question isn’t which place is better, but rather how we import the things that make the Valley great into NYC. As I said last year:

New York City has many of the same strengths as Silicon Valley – merit-driven capitalism, the embrace of newcomers and particularly immigrants, and a consistent willingness to reinvent itself. Silicon Valley will always be the mecca of technology, but now that people here are getting back to, as Obama says, making things, New York City has a shot at becoming relevant again in the tech world.

I spent the past week in California and had the honor of meeting some legendary venture investors. I was deeply impressed: they are legends for a reason. Of course, they are incredibly smart and hard working and all of that, but most impressively, it was clear that they truly believe in making big bets on ambitious, seemingly wacky ideas to try to change the world. Every VC has this rhetoric on their website, but – at least in my experience – most just want to make incremental money on incremental technologies.

(Side note: I noticed that the more powerful the VC, the more likely they were to pay close attention, show up on time, and not bring phones/computers into meetings. I guess when you are changing the world, emails can wait an hour for a response).

California should be NYC’s role model and ally. The enemy should be people and institutions who make money but don’t actually create anything useful. In NYC, this mostly means Wall Street, along with the Wall Street mindset that sometimes infects East Coast VC’s (emphasis on financial engineering, needing to see metrics & “traction” vs betting on people and ideas, etc).

Matt should do what’s best for his company. God knows it’s hard enough doing a startup – you don’t need to carry the weight of reinvigorating a region on your back as well. That might mean moving to California. Meanwhile, forward-thinking investors and founders in NYC will continue trying to make things that change the world – in other words, trying to make NYC more like the Valley.

Chris Dixon is Cofounder of Hunch. He's also an investor in early-stage technology companies, including Skype (acquired by eBay), Postini (acquired by Google), Flarion (acquired by Qualcomm), Gracenote (acquired by Sony), P.A. Semi (acquired by Apple), Celtel (IPO), BladeLogic (acquired by BMC), TrialPay, Gerson Lehrman Group, ScanScout, OMGPOP, BillShrink, Oddcast, Panjiva, Knewton, and a handful of other startups that are still in stealth mode.

Silicon Valley Isn't New York's Enemy -- Wall Street Is

Silicon Valley Isn't New York's Enemy -- Wall Street Is
from Clusterstock by Chris Dixon

wall street snowstorm slideshow

I’ve written a few times about what seems to be an exploding tech scene in NYC. This is sometimes interpreted as arguing that NYC is a better place to start a company than the Valley. Most recently, Matt Mireles seems to be addressing people like me with his critique of the NYC startup scene (he makes some good points as does Caterina Fake in her response).

I’ve never meant my arguments to be about where it is better to start a company. California is a phenomenal place to start a tech company. NYC is a great place as well. (Note to Matt – it’s hard for first time founders everywhere). To me, the important question isn’t which place is better, but rather how we import the things that make the Valley great into NYC. As I said last year:

New York City has many of the same strengths as Silicon Valley – merit-driven capitalism, the embrace of newcomers and particularly immigrants, and a consistent willingness to reinvent itself. Silicon Valley will always be the mecca of technology, but now that people here are getting back to, as Obama says, making things, New York City has a shot at becoming relevant again in the tech world.

I spent the past week in California and had the honor of meeting some legendary venture investors. I was deeply impressed: they are legends for a reason. Of course, they are incredibly smart and hard working and all of that, but most impressively, it was clear that they truly believe in making big bets on ambitious, seemingly wacky ideas to try to change the world. Every VC has this rhetoric on their website, but – at least in my experience – most just want to make incremental money on incremental technologies.

(Side note: I noticed that the more powerful the VC, the more likely they were to pay close attention, show up on time, and not bring phones/computers into meetings. I guess when you are changing the world, emails can wait an hour for a response).

California should be NYC’s role model and ally. The enemy should be people and institutions who make money but don’t actually create anything useful. In NYC, this mostly means Wall Street, along with the Wall Street mindset that sometimes infects East Coast VC’s (emphasis on financial engineering, needing to see metrics & “traction” vs betting on people and ideas, etc).

Matt should do what’s best for his company. God knows it’s hard enough doing a startup – you don’t need to carry the weight of reinvigorating a region on your back as well. That might mean moving to California. Meanwhile, forward-thinking investors and founders in NYC will continue trying to make things that change the world – in other words, trying to make NYC more like the Valley.

Chris Dixon is Cofounder of Hunch. He's also an investor in early-stage technology companies, including Skype (acquired by eBay), Postini (acquired by Google), Flarion (acquired by Qualcomm), Gracenote (acquired by Sony), P.A. Semi (acquired by Apple), Celtel (IPO), BladeLogic (acquired by BMC), TrialPay, Gerson Lehrman Group, ScanScout, OMGPOP, BillShrink, Oddcast, Panjiva, Knewton, and a handful of other startups that are still in stealth mode.

Taking Christ Out of the Country

Taking Christ Out of the Country

H/T to Swiftspeech for this excerpt from Robert Paul Wolff’s excellent blog, new to me but not for long, The Philosopher’s Stone.

…Do we want to live in a country in which the fortunate (medically speaking) accept additional insurance costs in order to provide for the unfortunate? Or do we wish to live in a country in which the fortunate are permitted to separate what happens to them from what happens to the unfortunate? Notice that by “fortunate” and “unfortunate” I do not mean “those who do not get sick” and “those who do get sick.” That would be looking at the matter ex post. I mean by fortunate “those less less likely ex ante to get sick,” and by “unfortunate” I mean “those more likely ex ante to get sick.” We are still talking probabilities here, of course. Even the young and healthy sometimes get cancer and have heart attacks. They just do so much less often. And by the same token, even multiple cancer sufferers sometimes go cancer free for the rest of their lives. But that too occurs much less often.

When we clear away all the bafflegab, all the confusion, all the posturing and bickering and procedural wrangling, all the political maneuvering, what we find is that the Democrats want America to be a country in which the fortunate shoulder some of the burdens of the unfortunate. And the Republicans want America to be a country in which they do not. In short, if I may put it this way, the Democrats want America to be a Christian country, and the Republicans want America to be a Godless country…



Posted by Jerome Doolittle

Friday, February 26, 2010

Future Shock Americans just aren’t equipped for the 21st century.

Future Shock
Americans just aren’t equipped for the 21st century.

On Tuesday, Intel CEO Paul Otellini delivered a speech at Brookings on long-term economic competitiveness. While there were some points with which I disagreed—specifically, his critique of the stimulus plan and his advocacy of wide-ranging corporate tax cuts—I agreed with his core thesis: We’re not investing adequately or strategically in our nation’s future, and we’ll pay a huge price if we don’t change course.

To support his argument, Otellini cited some startling statistics: Although we rank sixth among the top 40 nation’s in innovation-driven competitiveness, we rank dead last—40th out of 40—in the effort we’ve made over the past decade to improve future competitiveness. That sounded too bad to be true, so I hunted down Otellini’s source, “The Atlantic Century,” a 2009 study conducted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

The ITIF constructs an index based on 16 indicators in six different categories—human capital, innovation capacity, entrepreneurship, information technology infrastructure, economic policy, and economic performance. A few examples will make the point. We rank fourth in science and technology researchers as a share of our workforce, but only 20th in our rate of change over the past decade; fifth in corporate R&D investment, but 17th in the rate of change; fourth in government R&D investment, but 15th in the rate of change; seventh in broadband, but 22nd in rate of change; first in GDP per working-age adult, but 16th in rate of change; and so on.

While statisticians can always quibble with the report’s selection of indicators and the methodology used to weigh and assess them, it’s harder to argue with its overall thrust. Because we’re under-investing in the areas that will determine our future dynamism and standard of living, we’ll continue to lose ground relative to our competitors and may eventually lose ground in absolute terms as well. (In seven of the 16 ITIF indicators, we’ve actually gone backwards since 1999.)

To be sure, 1999 represented a cyclical peak. Still, it’s hard not to conclude that the past ten years were a lost decade. We can’t afford to lose the next one. Our challenge now is to adopt policies that build a stronger future while reining in our unsustainable budget deficits and protecting working families from the harshest consequences of disruptive economic change.

The way forward is neither obvious nor easy. But one thing is clear: Our margin for error is a lot smaller than it was a generation ago. We can no longer afford to waste resources, public or private, on expenditures that do not create economic or social value. The federal budget and tax code are honeycombed with unproductive payoffs to special interests; it’s time to purge them. And the private economy has been dominated by a financial sector that’s more interested in transferring wealth (to itself) than in creating wealth through sensible investments. Perhaps the 2008-2009 financial crash will force bright young people to stop producing complex derivatives and start working on innovations that improve our lives.

William Galston is a former policy advisor to Bill Clinton and current senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Wasted Youth from The New Republic,1
Wasted Youth
Is Obama losing the under-30 crowd, too?

WASHINGTON--Young Americans are the linchpin of a new progressive era in American politics. So why aren't Democrats paying more attention to them?

The relative strength of conservatives in American politics since the 1980s was built on generational change: Voters whose views had been shaped by the New Deal were gradually replaced with the more cautious souls who came of age after FDR. Then the Millennial generation came along. The Millennials--generally defined as Americans born in 1981 or after--are, without question, the most liberal generation since those New Dealers, and they could transform our politics for decades. But this will happen only if progressive politicians start noticing their very best friends in the electorate.

Progressives who doubt this could usefully spend time with the Pew Research Center's exhaustive new portrait of the Millennials that was released Wednesday. The study underscored the new generation's "distinctiveness," and a big part of that distinctiveness is how progressive younger Americans are compared with the rest of the country.

For one thing, they are not allergic to the word "liberal." Americans under 30 include the largest proportion of self-described liberals and the smallest proportion of self-described conservatives of any age group in the country: 29 percent of the under 30s called themselves liberal compared with 28 percent who called themselves conservative. "In every other age group," Pew notes, "far more described their views as conservative than liberal."

Among Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), the conservative advantage over liberals was 38 percent to 20 percent. Among Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964), conservatives led 43 percent to 18 percent. Among those born in 1945 or before -- Pew uses the classic "Silent Generation" tag -- the conservative advantage was 45 percent to 15 percent. (Moderates and a few respondents who refused a label made up the remainder in all groups.)

The difference in self-labeling reflects real differences in attitudes. It's well-known that younger voters are more liberal on social issues, particularly gay rights. But their liberalism also includes sympathy for activist government.

For example, 53 percent of Millennials said that "government should do more to solve problems." In every other age group, pluralities preferred the alternative statement offered by the pollsters, that "government is doing too many things better left to business and individuals."

"Millennials," the report concludes, "are significantly less critical of government on a number of dimensions than are other age cohorts."

Important demographic factors account for some but not all of the distinctiveness of the new generation: Census data cited by Pew shows that 61 percent of the Millennials are white compared with 70 percent of Americans ages 30 and over. This means that political outreach to the young will require particular attention to Hispanics (19 percent of Millennials) and African-Americans (14 percent).

For Democrats looking ahead to this fall's election, the Pew study has some disturbing news.

It's true that Millennials are the most Democratic age group in the electorate -- they voted for Barack Obama by 2-1. Their turnout rate relative to older voters was higher in 2008 than in any election since 1972, the first presidential contest in which 18-year-olds had the right to vote.

But Pew notes that since 2008, the Millennials' "enthusiasms" have "cooled" -- "for Obama and his message of change, for the Democratic Party and, quite possibly, for politics itself."

Obama's personal ratings among the Millennials remain very high -- three-fourths have a favorable view of the president -- but his job approval rating has slipped from 73 percent a year ago to 57 percent this month. In the early months of last year, Democrats had a 29-point Millennial advantage over the Republicans. By the end of the year, their lead had been cut to 14 points.

That still keeps the 18-to-29s the electorate's most Democratic age group. But Democrats face disaster this fall and real problems in 2012 if the Millennials become disaffected from politics, and if the Republicans continue to erode the Democrats' generational edge. And what will Democrats do about it? Politicians have a bad habit in midterm elections: They concentrate on older folks, assuming younger voters will stay home on Election Day.

This may be rational most of the time, but it is a foolish bet for Democrats and liberals this year. The young helped them rise to power and can just as easily usher them to early retirements. Obama cannot afford to break their hearts.

E.J. Dionne's e-mail address is ejdionne(at)

E.J. Dionne, Jr. is the author of the recently published Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right. He is a Washington Post columnist, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a professor at Georgetown University.

(c) 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

Poll Tax from The New Republic by Neera Tanden

Poll Tax from The New Republic by Neera Tanden

Last week, I left the Obama administration to join the Center for American Progress. Policy—constructing it, selling it—has been my career, as an advisor for the president and Hillary Clinton. The New Republic has asked me to use this experience to help illuminate the glorious (and occasionally unattractive) process of policymaking, how wonks and politicians think about the hard work of governing. Herewith, my first installment.

What can defeat health care reform? Polls—or more specifically, Democratic politicians misreading them. Most of the data that crosses their desks these days resembles the numbers from the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, which shows the public evenly divided on reform—43 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed. (And that was one of the more favorable ones!) Numbers likes these have members of congress worrying about their own election prospects and desperately hoping the issue goes away. And, of course, on the surface, this assessment is rational.

In my time in Washington, I've watched congressmen, senators and their advisors allow similarly stark polling data to shape their calculus on countless occasions. But the problem is polls can be amongst the worst basis for a politician to make a good decision about their self-interest. Often, they can suggest a course of action that is blinkered or worse, self-destructive. And that's exactly the case with health care reform.

There's no denying that health care is a tad unpopular. But what does this suggest? Many Democrats are making the relatively crude calculation that if they drop this seemingly unpopular issue, their own popularity will rise. They think of health care as an anchor, and the minute they cut it loose they'll sail for better electoral waters.

Well, the problem with this analysis is that issues don't operate in a vacuum. Elections are based on competing arguments. Of course, issues are integral to those arguments—the very building blocks of them. But very few individual issues make or break a nationalized election. So in 1992 Bill Clinton had a series of policies—a middle class tax cut, help for college—that "Put People First." They were meant to convey his support for the middle class, in contrast to Republicans who were about supporting the powerful. It was the entire cocktail of policies that proved so politically effective.

And of course issues can help drive a negative narrative too. In the fall of 2000, Al Gore called for government to tap the Strategic Petroleum Oil Reserve. On paper, this was a good move. Gas prices were rising precipitously. It seemed like a political no-brainer. Unfortunately, Gore had denounced the idea of utilizing these reserves several months earlier. He had made that case in a totally different context. But it didn't matter. His opponent, George W. Bush, accused him of hypocrisy, pushing a bad policy for political gain. Gore's internal polls, I was told at the time, showed him falling a disastrous five points in the wake of this move.

Right now Democrats need to stop worrying about health care polling and to start worrying about their narrative. If Democrats do not deliver on health care reform, a reasonable voter could make the following assessment: Democrats spent the last year discussing a particular problem and put forth a solution. And with 59 seats in the Senate and 254 in the House, they failed to do anything about this problem that they argued was a catastrophe for the American people. And if they are not able to solve that problem with huge majorities, why should they be trusted to govern past November, when their majorities are likely to shrink? And what exactly will they deliver?

Incompetence is a pretty strong attack. Democrats should be well aware of that fact. They bludgeoned George Bush for his botched response to Katrina and bungled efforts in Iraq with devastating effects.

I know that lots of Democrats are in cold hard sweats right now. It is true that they face very difficult terrain. But health care is not some issue that Democrats randomly adopted. This has been a 50-year fight for the party. The Republicans have our backs against the wall. But in reality, momentum builds in politics. If individual members think that they can survive Republican attacks by simply running away, they should recognize that it's also possible that running away could dramatically worsen their predicament. Nothing will strike voters as more pathetic than doing nothing. And rarely in politics are pathetic politicians rewarded.

Sometimes, the only way out is through.

Neera Tanden is the Chief Operating Officer of the Center for American Progress. She served in the Obama and Clinton administrations.

Bernanke: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain from Washington's Blog by George Washington

Bernanke: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
from Washington's Blog by George Washington

In July 2009, ten Congress members sent Fed Chairman Bernanke the following letter because they were worried that Goldman “is not changing its business model” but is instead “using its regulatory freedom to evade capital requirements and take outsized risks with taxpayers on the hook for losses”. They asked for details behind the Fed-Goldman relationship.

Ben Bernanke
Federal Reserve System
20th Street & Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20551

Dear Chairman Bernanke:

In the fall, Goldman Sachs secured access to government funding by converting from an investment bank into an ordinary bank. Despite this shift, the CFO of the company, David Viniar, said last week that the company is continuing to operate as if it were still a high-risk investment bank: “Our model really never changed,” he noted in a quote to Bloomberg. “We’ve said very consistently that our business model remained the same.”

This statement seems accurate. Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve granted a temporary exemption to Goldman Sachs from standard bank holding company Market Risk Rules, allowing the company to continue operating as if it were an investment bank. The company and its employees have taken full advantage of its new government subsidies, and the retained ability to bet big. In its most recent quarter, Goldman Sachs earned high profits of $2.7 billion on revenues of $13.76 billion, with 78 percent of this revenue derived from high-risk trading and principal investments. It paid out much of this revenue in compensation, setting aside a record $772,858 for each employee at an annualized rate. The company’s own measurement of risk, its Value-at-Risk model, recently showed potential trading losses at $245 million a day, up from $184 million last May.

Despite its exemption from bank holding company regulations, Goldman Sachs has access to taxpayer subsidies, including FDIC-backed bonds, TARP money (since repaid), counterparty payments funneled through AIG, and an implicit backstop from the taxpayer that allowed a public equity offering in a queasy market. The only difference between Goldman Sachs today and Goldman Sachs last year is that today, the company is officially gambling with government money. This is the very definition of “heads we win, tails the taxpayers lose.”

It is worth noting that there sometimes might be good reasons to grant temporary regulatory exemptions, considering that companies cannot instantly change their business model. Still, given Goldman Sachs’s last quarter results and public statements that it is not changing its business model, we are worried that the company is using its regulatory freedom to evade capital requirements and take outsized risks with taxpayers on the hook for losses.

With this in mind, our questions are as follows:

1) In the letter granting a regulatory exemption to Goldman Sachs, you stated that the SEC-approved VaR models it is now using are sufficiently conservative for the transition period to bank holding company. Please justify this statement.

2) If Goldman Sachs were required to adhere to standard Market Risk Rules imposed by the Federal Reserve on ordinary bank holding companies, how would its capital requirements differ from the current regulatory regime?

3) What is the difference in exposure to the taxpayer between these two regulatory regimes?

4) What is the difference in total risk to the portfolio between these two regulatory regimes?

5) Goldman Sachs stated that “As of June 26, 2009, total capital was $254.05 billion, consisting of $62.81 billion in total shareholders’ equity (common shareholders’ equity of $55.86 billion and preferred stock of $6.96 billion) and $191.24 billion in unsecured long-term borrowings.” As a percentage of capital, that’s a lot of long-term unsecured debt. Is any of this coming from the Government? In this last quarter, how much capital has Goldman Sachs received from the Federal Reserve and ot
her government facilities such as FDIC-guaranteed debt, either directly or indirectly?

6) Many risk-management experts, most notably best-selling author Nassim Taleb, note that VaR models can dramatically understate risk. What is your overall view of Taleb’s argument, and of the utility of Value-at-Risk models as regulatory tools?

As we work through legislative conversations regardling systemic risk, these questions are taking on increased significance. We appreciate your time and the efforts you are making to explain the actions of the Federal Reserve to Congress, and to taxpayers.

Alan Grayson, Ron Paul, Walter Jones, Brad Miller, Dan Lipinski, Elijah Cummings, Tom Perriello, Maxine Waters, Jackie Speier, and Maurice Hinchey.

The next month, things changed ...

As I wrote in October:

[Simon] Johnson provided interesting information regarding Goldman Sachs. As everyone knows, Goldman switched to a bank holding company in September, to have access to funds from the Fed at essentially zero percent interest.

But Johnson noted that in August of 2009, Goldman switched again - to a "financial holding company".

What's the difference?

Johnson says that being a financial holding company means that Goldman can borrow money from the Fed at essentially no cost, and then invest it in any thing it wants. For example, Johnson says that Goldman has bought a large share of the stock of a Chinese automaker. If the investment succeeds, Goldman will reap the profits. If it fails, the taxpayers are on the hook.

Last week, Bernanke finally responded to Congress' July 2009 letter.

I've read the 7-page response. Here's the executive summary.

Is The US National Debt A Threat To National Security

Is The US National Debt A Threat To National Security
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington February 24, 2010. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Hillary Blasts Greenspan On Debt, Says It Is A Threat To National Security -- ABC News

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a swipe at Alan Greenspan today, saying the former Federal Reserve chair's "outrageous" advice led to a ballooning national debt that Clinton said is now a threat to national security.

"I served on the budget committee in the Senate, and I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday when we had a hearing in which Alan Greenspan came and justified increasing spending and cutting taxes, saying that we didn't really need to pay down the debt -- outrageous in my view," she said.

Read more ....

More News On Secretary Of State Clinton, The Debt, And National Security

Clinton says U.S. deficit now a security issue -- Reuters

US debt is a national security matter: Clinton -- Yahoo News/AFP

Debt a national security issue -- Straits Times

Of course the national debt is a threat to national security .... it always has been.

I am happy that Sec. of State Clinton has found religion on the need to be fiscally prudent when it comes to our nation's finances, but the Democrats have had an ironed grip on Congress for the pass three years and the Presidency for the past year .... and they have done next to nothing to alleviate this crisis situation.

The Road to Armageddon

The Road to Armageddon
from Foreign Policy Journal
There will always be Americans who will believe whatever the government tells them no matter how many times they know the government has lied to them.

The Road to Hell is Paved ... David Rieff Loyalty Oaths

Read Bio
The Road to Hell is Paved ...
David Rieff
Loyalty Oaths

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that wishful thinking was America’s “besetting sin.” As the wife of a man whose most famous utterance was the preposterous contention that the United States had “nothing to fear but fear itself”, she was certainly in a position to know. Last week’s Conservative Political Action Committee meeting, with its mantra of America being able “to choose its own destiny,” as Glenn Beck put it, or Michele Bachmann’s insistence, after making the virtually identical claim—“the joy of being an American,” she said, “is that we get to choose. We get to choose our destiny, whether it is decline or greatness” (and this is a woman who calls herself a Christian!)—went further, not only reasserting American exceptionalism, but denying the legitimacy of any other nation making a similar claim. “If everyone is exceptional, then no one is exceptional,” she said to wild applause.

Of course, to almost any non-American (otherwise known as 94 percent of the world’s population), the doctrine of American exceptionalism doesn’t seem so much wrong as it does deranged. And it is hardly restricted to the hard Right. To the contrary, it is an assumption that binds liberal and conservative Washington together. The formulations of a Bachmann or a Beck may be case studies in chauvinistic self-regard, but they certainly are no cruder than the claims of many so-called Progressives. The liberal policy pundit Michael A. Cohen, for example, claimed in 2007 that America was “inherently good.” This, to the extent his simulacrum of a rationale was intelligible, was because the U.S. had a good constitution and Bill of Rights that somehow reflected the underlying commitment to freedom and opportunity that "underpin" the nation and ensure American democracy’s self-correcting nature. If only Cohen’s views were rare in think-tank Washington; instead, qualified a bit, and usually put somewhat less baldly, they are commonplace.

That no nation is inherently good and that no nation gets to choose its own destiny should be self-evident to any adult not absolutely crippled by narcissism. But that, unfortunately, is rather the point: The United States as a polity is suffering from a bad case of collective narcissism, and its expression in both domestic and international affairs bears an uncanny resemblance to what American psychologist Sandy Hotchkiss identified as the essential characteristics of a narcissistic personality. These were shamelessness, magical thinking, arrogance, envy (often coped with by resorting to contempt to minimize others), entitlement, exploitation (in the sense of using others with no regard to their interests and the related assumptions that others should be subservient), and an impaired ability to recognize and accept boundaries.

What about this could be said not to apply to the United States at the present moment? In reality, the diagnosis is an all but perfect fit, most notably the pathological grandiosity that, as the textbooks have it, is in no way commensurate with actual accomplishment. Thus, most polls suggest that Americans still believe the so-called American Dream is as true today as it ever was. But the truth is that this is no longer the case. For example, there is now less social mobility in the United States than in much of Western Europe, not more. Intergenerational income mobility is not only considerably higher in the Scandinavian countries, but also in France and Germany (not to mention Canada). And all rich countries, not just the United States, are becoming immigrant countries now. The migrants may indeed be “yearning to breathe free” as in Emma Lazarus’s celebrated phrase, but whatever Americans may choose to believe, migrants think they will find political freedom and economic opportunity in Spain, Germany, or Sweden, as well as in the United States. Interestingly, given the Obama administration’s failure so far at least to secure even modest health care reform, a July 2009 Pew poll showed that only 15 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that American health care was the best in the world, with 59 percent rating it average or below average—something that suggests that, however deeply engrained, magical thinking doesn’t really survive patient confrontations with insurance company treatments refusals, ruinous deductibles and co-pays, and, increasingly, the limitations the HMOs impose on the time a physician can spend with a patient. However narcissistic we’ve become, we’re not bipolar, or not yet, anyway.

And yet Barack Obama is being reproached—principally from the Right, but from many liberal foreign policy commentators as well—for not believing sufficiently in American exceptionalism (this mostly from the Right), not being willing to make human rights rhetoric a central priority of U.S. foreign policy (this from the Right and the so-called Progressives), and for assuming that one of his principal challenges is to manage the country’s relative decline. I am no great admirer of the president’s, a well-intended, intelligent, but utterly conventional centrist technocrat whose strange reluctance to defend himself reminds me of no one so much as Michael Dukakis. But at least he will not pander to the exceptionalist fantasy. And, given the feral imbecility of the continuing consensus in its favor in Washington—and the fact that there is much political risk and no political gain to telling the truth publicly—it is brave of him.
Feb 22, 2010 4:23:00 PM EST

Israel's conditions make talks with the Palestinians futile By Rami G. Khouri

Copyright (c) 2010 The Daily Star

Israel's conditions make talks with the Palestinians futile
By Rami G. Khouri

The contrast is startling between the slow pace of attempts to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas and the relentless Israeli drive on many fronts to dominate and effectively destroy the concept of a distinct and sovereign Palestinian people in the historic land of Palestine. Israeli actions in recent weeks clarify the futility of trying to negotiate peace with an Israeli state that wages war on the idea that Palestinians have national rights in the same land that Israel claims as its exclusive patrimony.

Recent Israeli actions include driving Palestinians out of their homes in East Jerusalem and replacing them with Zionist settlers; assassinating a Hamas leader in Dubai; attacking targets in the Gaza Strip while maintaining the siege there; continuing to expand settlements in the occupied West Bank; and, most recently last week, declaring two sites in occupied Hebron and Bethlehem as part of Israel’s eternal national heritage.

The two sites are the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, that is thought to be the burial place of Abraham and that Israelis call the Cave of the Patriarchs, and the shrine in Bethlehem called Rachel’s Tomb. The Israeli declaration does not change anything on the ground for the moment, because the Israeli Army is in full control of the sites. Its significance is in the signal it sends to Palestinians that if the Arab-Israeli conflict is ever resolved through negotiations, this will only happen according to rules dictated by Israel that give priority to Israeli-Zionist claims.

The Israeli decision prompted young Palestinians to clash with Israeli troops in Hebron. On Monday, the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the declaration “shows there is no genuine partner for peace, but an occupying power intent on consolidating Palestinian lands.”

The Israeli move is so provocative that it even sparked some life in the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert H. Serry. He declared: “These sites are in occupied Palestinian territory and are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism, but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well. I urge Israel not to take any steps on the ground which undermine trust or could prejudice negotiations.”

The startling aspect of all this is that it occurs while both sides look toward the United States to continue efforts to rekindle Israeli-Palestinian talks. There is no possible way that the US or anyone else could realistically reconcile the two parallel dynamics that are under way – engaging in negotiations that seek to achieve the legitimate and equal rights of both parties, and a process of Zionist colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that has been going on for a century or so.

No wonder the chief Palestinian negotiator described the Israeli decision to keep control of archaeological and tourist sites as “part of the continuing Israeli settlement enterprise.”

The Palestinians view Israeli actions in this light, as part of a long process of evicting the Palestinians from their ancestral lands and making room for Zionist Jews to come from abroad and reclaim what they consider to be their ancestral land. Valiant attempts to negotiate a resolution to the conflict have failed, and will continue to fail if the negotiating process largely reflects the same imbalance on the ground that is manifested in the unilateral Israeli actions that we have recently witnessed on a continuous basis.

That imbalance sees Israel maintain the status quo through its superior military power, its ability to control the movement of people in and out of Palestinian areas, and its reliance on unilateral actions that respect only Israel’s own priorities, rather than the dictates of peacemaking through negotiations that affirm the validity of parallel Israeli and Palestinian national narratives.

The futility of negotiating peace under these conditions is obvious to any but the most politically blind. The two most important players dealing with the Palestinians – Israel and the United States – remain unwilling to come to terms with the single most important issue for the Arabs, which is the continuing ethnic cleansing and refugee status of the Palestinians; and they refuse to deal seriously with pivotal actors like Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon.

Such distortions in the negotiating context are depressing enough for anyone who seeks a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; they are infinitely more troubling when we realize that they are coupled with continued Israeli predatory and unilateral moves on the ground, and an apparent American penchant for acquiescence rather than transformation in dealing with this situation.

Rami G. Khouri is published regularly by THE DAILY STAR.

Mossad's License to Kill

By Gordon Thomas
Published: 17 Feb 2010

The Mossad assassins could have felt only satisfaction when the news broke that they had succeeded in killing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a top Hamas military commander, in Dubai last month.

The Israeli government's refusal to comment on the death has once more gained worldwide publicity for Mossad, its feared intelligence service. Its ruthless assassinations were made famous by the film Munich, which detailed Mossad's attacks on the terrorists who killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Long ago, the agency had established that silence is the most effective way to spread terror among its Arab enemies.

In the past year, al-Mabhouh had moved to the top of Mossad's list of targets, each of which must be legally approved under guidelines laid down over half a century ago by Meir Amit, the most innovative and ruthless director-general of the service. Born in Tiberius, King Herod's favourite city, Amit had established the rules for assassination.

"There will be no killing of political leaders, however extreme they are. They must be dealt with politically. There will be no killing of a terrorist's family unless they are also directly implicated in terrorism. Each execution must be sanctioned by the incumbent prime minister. Any execution is therefore state-sponsored, the ultimate judicial sanction of the law. The executioner is no different from the state-appointed hangman or any other lawfully-appointed executioner."

I first met Amit in 2001 and through him, I talked to the spies of Mossad, the katsas, and finally, to the assassins, the kidon, who take their name from the Hebrew word for bayonet. They helped me write the only book approved by Mossad, Gideon's Spies. Amit said the book "tells like it was – and like it is".

Amit showed me a copy of those rules at our first meeting. After two years of training in the Mossad academy at Herzlia near Tel Aviv, each recruit to the kidon is given a copy.

The killing in Dubai is a classic example of how Mossad goes about its work. Al-Mabhouh's 11 assassins had been chosen from the 48 current kidon, six of whom are women.

It has yet to be established how al-Mabhouh was killed, but kidon's preference is strangling with wire, a well-placed car bomb, an electric shock or one of the poisons created by Mossad scientists at their headquarters in a Tel Aviv suburb.

The plan to assassinate Mahmoud al-Mabhouh had been finalised in a small conference room next to the office of Meir Dagan, who has run Mossad for the past eight years. The 10th director-general, Dagan has a reputation as a man who would not hesitate to walk into a nameless Arab alley with no more than a handgun in his pocket.

Only he knows how many times he has asked a prime minister for legal permission to kill a terrorist who could not be brought to trial in an Israeli court, along with the kidon to whom he shows the legally stamped document, the licence to kill.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's name had been on such a document, which would have been signed by Benyamin Netanyahu. That, like every aspect of a kidon operation, would be firmly denied by a government spokesman, were he to be asked. This has not stopped Dubai's police chief, Lt-General Tamin, from fulminating against the Israeli prime minister.

Two years ago this week, Dagan sent a team of kidon to Damascus to assassinate Imad Mughniyeh. His Mossad file included details of organising the kidnapping of Terry Waite and the bombing of the US Marine base near Beirut airport, killing 241 people. The United States had placed a £12.5 million bounty on his head. Dagan just wanted him dead.

Mossad psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioural scientists, psychoanalysts and profilers – collectively known as the "specialists" – were told to decide the best way to kill Mughniyeh.

They concluded that he would be among the guests of honour at the Iranian Cultural Centre celebrations in 2008 for the celebration of the Khomeini Revolution. The team rigged a car-bomb in the headrest of the Mitsubishi Pajero they discovered Mughniyeh had rented, to be detonated by a mobile phone. As Mughniyeh arrived outside the Culture Centre at precisely 7pm on February 12, the blast blew his head off.

At Mughniyeh's funeral in Beirut, his mother, Um-Imad, sat among a sea of black chadors, a sombre old woman, who wailed that her son had planned to visit her on the day after he died. She cried out she had no photograph to remember him by. Two days later she received a packet. Inside was his photograph. It had been posted in Haifa.

The list of kidon assassinations is long and stretches far beyond the Arab world. In their base deep in the Negev Desert – the sand broken only by a distant view of Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona – the kidon practise with a variety of handguns, learn how to conceal bombs, administer a lethal injection in a crowd and make a killing look accidental.

They review famous assassinations – the shooting of John F Kennedy, for example – and study the faces and habits of potential targets whose details are stored on their highly restricted computers. There, too, are thousands of constantly updated street plans downloaded from Google Earth.

Mossad is one of the world's smallest intelligence services. But it has a back-up system no other outfit can match. The system is known as sayanim, a derivative of the Hebrew word lesayeah, meaning to help.

There are tens of thousands of these "helpers". Each has been carefully recruited, sometimes by katsas, Mossad's field agents. Others have been asked to become helpers by other members of the secret group.

Created by Meir Amit, the role of the sayanim is a striking example of the cohesiveness of the world Jewish community. In practical terms, a sayan who runs a car rental agency will provide a kidon with a vehicle on a no-questions basis. An estate agent sayan will provide a building for surveillance. A bank manager sayan will provide funds at any time of day or night, and a sayan doctor provides medical assistance.

Any of these helpers could have been involved in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Mossad has recently expanded its network of sayanim into Arab countries.

A sayan doctor in the West Bank provided details of the homoeopathic concoction Yasser Arafat used to drink. When he died in 2004, his personal physician, Dr al-Kurdi, said "poisoning is a strong possibility in this case".There have been reports that more than a dozen terrorists have died from poisoning in the past five years,.

Within the global intelligence community, respect for Mossad grew following the kidon assassination of Dr Gerald Bull, the Canadian scientist who was probably the world's greatest expert on gun-barrel ballistics. Israel had made several attempts to buy his expertise. Each time, Bull had made clear his dislike for the Jewish state.

Instead he had offered his services to Saddam Hussein, to build a super-gun capable of launching shells containing nuclear, chemical or biological warheads directly from Iraq into Israel. Saddam had ordered three of the weapons at a cost of $20 million. Bull was retained as a consultant for a fee of $1 million.

On the afternoon of March 20, 1990, the sanction to kill Bull was given by the then prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir. Nahum Admoni, the head of Mossad, sent a three-man team to Brussels, where Bull lived in a luxury apartment block. Each kidon carried a handgun in a holster under his jacket.

When the 61-year-old Bull answered the doorbell of his home, he was shot five times in the head and the neck, each kidon firing their 7.65 pistol in turn, leaving Bull dead on his doorstep. An hour later they were out of the country on a flight to Tel Aviv.

Within hours, Mossad's own department of psychological warfare had arranged with sayanim in the European media to leak stories that Bull had been shot by Saddam's hit squad because he had planned to renege on their deal.

The same tactics had been placed on stand-by on October 24, 1995, for the assassination of Fathi Shkaki who, like Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, had reached the top of Mossad's target list as a result of his terrorist attacks.

Two kidon – code-named Gil and Ran – had left Tel Aviv on separate flights. Ran flew to Athens, Gil to Rome. At each airport they collected new British passports from a local sayan. The two men arrived in Malta on a late-afternoon flight and checked into the Diplomat Hotel overlooking Valetta harbour.

That evening, a sayan delivered a motorcycle to Ran. He told hotel staff that he planned to use it to tour the island. At the same time, a freighter that had sailed the previous day from Haifa bound for Italy radioed to the Maltese harbour authorities that it had developed engine trouble. While it was fixed, it would drop anchor off the island. On board the boat was a small team of Mossad communications technicians. They established a link with a radio in Gil's suitcase.

Shkaki had arrived by ferry from Tripoli, Libya, where he had been discussing with Colonel Gadaffi what Mossad was convinced was a terrorist attack. The two kidon waited for him to stroll along the waterfront. Ran and Gil drove up on the motorcycle and Gil shot Fathi Shkaki six times in the head. It had become a kidon signature.

When the police came to search Shkaki's bedroom they found a "Do not disturb" sign on his door – a signature that was repeated in last month's Dubai killing.

Gordon Thomas is the author of 'Gideon's Spies'.