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Monthly Archives: May 2009

Another American president, another North Korean nuclear test. Today’s North Korean underground blast — for which North Korea itself is making swaggering claims — was apparently bigger and better than the October, 2006 first try. For an added frill North Korea test-launched a missile that can carry a nuclear warhead.

So, what is the world’s superpower doing about this? President Obama is calling for … “action.” And not just any old “action,” but “action by the international community.”

If what he means, as urged by the UN, and in fact pursued by the second-term Bush administration,  is yet more “engagement,” “talks,” and aid and bribes for North Korea, mixed with leaky and negotiable “sanctions,” then we’ve already had quite enough “action.”   

A couple of observations, but first, a question or two:

How can we be sure that this latest North Korean blast was strictly a Pyongyang domestic project — as opposed to a rent-a-test of Iran’s bomb program?

One reason I ask is that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so swift to deny any connection — hustling out at a news conference today a response which clearly includes a lie – the question being how broad a lie. From Tehran, Reuters reports that Ahmadinejad denies any cooperation with North Korea on missiles or nuclear weapons: “We don’t have any cooperaton [with North Korea] in this field.”

On missiles, that’s flagrantly false. Iran and North Korea have been cooperating for years, with experts going back and forth. Reuters notes that Iran’s Shahab-3 missile, which could reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf, is based on North Korea’s Nodong missile.

On nuclear weapons, far less is publicly known; but both countries have been part of the nuclear proliferation web spun by Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan. And North Korea already has a rap sheet for nuclear proliferation, with North Koreans spotted helping Syria in its secret construction of a copy of North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor — a would-have-been plutonium factory that was nearing completion on the Euphrates, and might now be active, had the Israelis not destroyed it with an air strike in September, 2007. This past March, a Swiss newspaper, the Neue Zuercher Zeitung, reported allegations by a high-ranking Iranian defector, Ali Reza Asghari, formerly a deputy defense minister in Tehran, that Iran helped support the building — with North Korean help — of that Syrian reactor.

So, just how chummy (or not?) are Kim Jong Il and Iran’s mullahs on things like nuclear bomb tests? Would it be too much to ask for a straight answer from the U.S. “intelligence” community? — which delivered a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate worded so as to defuse alarm over Iran’s nuclear projects, and thus derailed any action that might have by now defused the threat itself.

Now — a couple of observations.

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 Libya’s leading democratic dissident, Fathi Eljahmi, died today – off the radar of the MSM, held for a final two weeks under wraps in a Jordanian hospital to which he was spirited earlier this month, comatose, and still watched by Libyan security, after almost seven years of isolation, deprivation and abuse inside the prison system of Muammar Gaddafi.

Fathi Eljhami gave his life for the cause of freedom. Part of his time in the clutches of Gaddafi’s security apparatus he spent — in an echo of Soviet brutality inflicted on democratic dissidents — confined in a Libyan psychiatric hospital. His “insanity” consisted of advocating free speech and calling for democratic reform in Libya.

It is hard to imagine how much courage it must have taken for Fathi — born in Libya, standing up for freedom inside Libya — to defy Gaddafi, whose regime along with its terrorist history abroad has tyrannized Libya itself for the past 40 years. When Fathi Eljahmi began speaking up for freedom, years ago, Gaddafi in 2002 threw him into Libya’s Abu Salim prison –notorious for its abuse of inmates, including a horrendous massacre of prisoners in 1996, in which up to 1,200 may have died.

In 2004, Eljahmi enjoyed a brief respite, released from prison at the request of then-Senator Joe Biden, who that March came to Libya to visit Gaddafi. Eljahmi’s release lasted less than three weeks. He answered America’s call for democratization in the Islamic world; he gave a series of interviews calling for liberty in Libya. For broadcast throughout the Middle East, he told the U.S.-based Arabic language Al Hurrah TV station that “I share with President Bush and all of the American people human sentiments and desires for freedom, democracy and propagation of democracy, human rights, right of ownership and right to form a civil society.”

It was during that fleeting respite in March, 2004, that I spoke with him by phone from New York. Fathi spoke halting English, and I do not speak Arabic, so his brother — a naturalized U.S. citizen living in America, Mohamed Eljahmi — acted as interpreter on a conference call between the U.S. and Eljhami’s cell phone in Libya (his landline had been cut).  Fathi described a scene of internal dissent in Libya, and the need for political reform. He said he was against the deal just done by the U.S. with Gaddafi — in which Gaddafi gave up his WMD programs in exchange for getting off the U.S. terror list and out from under sanctions. Fathi described it as “a deal that trades WMD for the liberty of the Libyan people.”

It seems a reasonable assessment by now to say that he sure had that right.

In late March, 2004, Fathi Eljhami was snatched back into custody by Libyan security forces, for what turned out to be more than five solid years — in other words, for the rest of his life. Held much of that time incommunicado, he went on sending messages when he could. In 2005, when he was allowed a visit by a representative of HumanRights Watch, he asked that his greetings be sent to the U.S. President and Congress. Those greetings included the specific words: “Tell them we are ready for democracy.”

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George Eliot and the Iranian Bomb

May 18th, 2009 - 9:44 am

Commentary held its annual dinner in New York last evening, with Gen. Jack Keane and Fred Kagan jointly delivering the Norman Podhoretz lecture — on the surge in Iraq, and related matters. A line that jumped out, from Gen. Keane – on Iran, and what might be done about its nuclear bomb program:

“We’re out of the time that we could have used to implode the regime from within.”

Experts will continue to debate whether that is true, what might be done, and so forth. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, meeting in Washington today with President Obama, is slam up against realities that no mere debate will stop. Whether he cares to face it or not, so is Obama. And the clock ticks and ticks…

Why are the great democracies so slow to do anything that would actually stop Iran’s bomb program? Why does America carry on as if there were, well, yes, a problem with Iran’s bomb program…  but no real and imminent mortal danger?

Well, here’s a thought.  As it happened, my subway reading the past few days has been George Eliot’s great novel, Silas Marner — perhaps as a way to escape, while immersed in its story, into a world at least beset by different problems. But in its pages, I find the same old human problem, beautifully laid out. Silas, the miser hoarding his gold, has come to feel a a false sense of security that because for 15 years no one has stolen his treasure, no one ever will. Eliot writes:

“The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not yet happened, is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.”

So it is for Silas, who steps out of his cottage, leaving the door unlocked, and returns to find that the event is upon him. The thief has been, and the gold is gone. So it is with the Iranian bomb, and the terrible things too likely to follow. Perhaps our policy makers in Washington should set aside the debate and the briefings and the make-believe for an evening, and try a refresher course in reality, via the fiction of George Eliot.

Cheerios and Climate Change

May 13th, 2009 - 7:09 pm

Here’s a puzzle: General Mills is in trouble with the Food and Drug Administration for allegedly violating federal law by advertising Cheerios as “clinically proven” to do good things for you.

But the same federal government that runs the FDA is now pushing via the Environmental Protection Agency for carbon dioxide restrictions that would cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars, on grounds that reducing CO2 emissions would be good for public health. Scientifically, and economically, no matter what you’ve been told by the United Nations or the EPA (or Al Gore or Barack Obama or Maurice Strong or the Man in the Moon) there is plenty of well-grounded skepticism about claims that lowering CO2 emissions will affect “global warming” (or combat “climate change” — or intercede at all in whatever aspect of the climate the eco-marketers have most recently latched on to).

So why is the FDA giving Cheerios a hard time, but doing nothing about the CO2 pseudo-science of the EPA? Here’s a prescription that would really do good things for you. Let the FDA go after the EPA over the CO2 racket, and leave the rest of us to hash out with General Mills the truth about Cheerios.

It’s official. In Tuesday’s vote by the UN General Assembly, the U.S. was elected to the UN Human Rights Council. Among the other winners of the 18 seats up for grabs this year, mostly uncontested, were Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, Russia, Cameroon… you get the idea.

It’s obvious at a glance that something’s very wrong with this picture, in which the U.S. will now dignify (and help bankroll) with its presence some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. But for a more specific idea of how this perverse process plays out, check out the story from China’s Xinhua state news agency, announcing China’s “re-election victory,” in which Beijing — one of the world capitals of human rights abuses — won a second three-year term on the 47 member Human Rights Council, pulling in from the 192 member General Assembly the whopping total of “167 favorable votes.”

That says plenty about the perverse nature of entire UN. The votes were cast by secret ballot, so there’s no information available from the UN on which countries were among the 167 member states that chose to support China as an authority on human rights. But whoever they were, Beijing has seized on their support to trumpet that “China contributed to the institution building of the Council,” that China is “one of 26 countries that have responded to the United Nations’ call to establish a human rights plan since 1993,” and that “Since China was elected as a founding member of the Council in 2006, it has made remarkable achievements in the field of human rights… ”

Human rights? More like UN-bestowed propaganda rights. Here’s the latest report from New York-based Freedom House, in which China and Saudi Arabia rank among the world’s 17 most repressive regimes, and one of the other winners in Tuesday’s UN vote – Cuba — ranks among the eight “Worst of the Worst.”

You should be. Under President Obama, the U.S. is in now in the running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council — reversing the Bush policy of refusing to dignify with a U.S. presence this favorite nesting place of thug regimes. As part of the U.S. bid, Obama’s ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has written a pledge letter explaining what the U.S. wishes to offer the Council.

Along with bringing fresh pots of American taxpayer dollars for the UN to spend (as detailed in my column this week for Forbes.com, U.S. Seeks to Join a Despots’ Club ) , Rice stresses that the U.S. “looks forward” to the Council reviewing America’s own record. And who exactly will be the colleague UN member states who will help oversee this exercise which the U.S. will now not merely tolerate, but actively invite?

Well, the UN Human Rights Council is notorious as a place where the worst violators of human rights like to join and then flock together as a sort of mutual protection society — prone to redefining human rights as the rights of despotic regimes to do whatever they want to humans. Also in the running alongside America for the 18 seats coming open this year on the 47-member Human Rights Council are such states as Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China, Russia, Cameroon and Djibouti. Most of them are likely to win “election” in the UN General Assembly’s secret write-in balloting next Tuesday. Care to guess what they’ll prescribe for “human rights” reforms in America?

While PJ Media has been forging ahead with such headline matters as torture memos, healthcare and the Middle East, I’ve been too much away this past week or so from the blogfront.  So I’ll ease back into this with one of those personal airport tales we all collect. This has to do with options for those sharp objects you forgot to remove from your carry on…

On April 19th, I went to a U.S. airport, to fly to Switzerland and join Pajamas CEO Roger Simon at the UN’s Durban Review Conference in Geneva (you can see some of our coverage on PJTV).

At the security check I was pulled aside. They rummaged in my shoulder bag, and they were right! I had forgotten to take out a very small Swiss Army knife. In this way, since 2001, I have lost an assortment of manicure scissors, a previous pocketknife, and been required to hand over for all time a number of bottles of hand lotion and shampoo. But not this time. There is now a service called Airport Mailers, available — so says their web site — at 22 U.S. airports, so if you forget, you no longer have to render into eternal airport oblivion your “treasured items.”

Instead, you can hand over a stack of cash. Airport Mailers had a man on hand to take my pocket knife, and for $9.95 (the price list is based on weight, and this was a very, very small pocketknife) he would mail it back to me. That seemed a ridiculously high price to mail such a miniature object. But I did the math — the knife was a gift from an old friend, and probably worth at least $10, so under the circumstances, I’d still come out some sentiment and a nickel’s worth ahead. I filled out a form, handed him the money, and went to the plane.

Today, 2-1/2 weeks after I flew out of that airport, my pocketknife finally arrived, wrapped in a copy of the form I filled out, and stuffed inside a bubble-wrap mailing envelope, with a first-class postage label priced at $1.17.  It took more time for the knife to get back to me than it took me to fly to Geneva, spend a week at a UN conference, fly back to the U.S., and wait another week-and-a-half, sort of vaguely wondering now and then if the knife would ever reappear.

Glad to get it back. Glad to have any option at the airport beyond simply losing my treasured items forever. But marveling at the markup. Even assuming the cost of the envelope plus the postage came to a full $2, that still leaves $7.95 as the price of having someone hand me an address form, collect the money, put the pocket-knife put it in an envelope, and drop it in the one-ounce first-class snail-mail slow lane. Maybe that’s a much more labor intensive project than I understand. Maybe the idea is to deter people from using a mailing service as a backstop for trying to deliberately sneak sharp objects onto planes. Maybe to compensate the mail handler for the miseries of going through the airpot security check to get to his job every day, this service has to shell out sums that make its fees look cheap.

But multiply those mailing fees by the number of people who go through airport checks every day and discover they’ve accidentally brought with them Aunt Hattie’s treasured but prohibited hat pin. At busy airports, at these prices, sure sounds like good work if you can get it. Leaves me wondering if someone could make decent money offering the same service, at half the price?