Friday, January 2, 2009

Rob Riemen: An Open Letter to President-Elect Obama

An Open Letter to President-Elect Obama, by Rob Riemen
January 2, 2009

Dear Mr. President-elect,

Your interest in the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt demonstrates an admirable historic consciousness, an awareness that wisdom can be found among those who, like yourself at this moment, are confronted with an immense challenge and responsibility.

But in the many books on your great predecessor, one crucial conversation has erroneously vanished, not just because it was extremely influential on the third inaugural address of President Roosevelt -- and thus on his presidency during the war years that would be so decisive for the future of America and Europe -- but also because it is this specific conversation that is of such importance for our time.

As you compose your first inaugural address, I fervently hope that you will not pass over the exchange of ideas between a great president and a great intellectual in the White House on the chilly morning of January 14, 1941.

War is raging in Europe, the consequences of the Depression are still present, and America is sharply divided about her role in the world. With only a week to go before he is to give his inaugural, Roosevelt consults the European writer and Nobel Prize winner, Thomas Mann. They first met in 1935 when Mann, partly on the advocacy of Roosevelt, was awarded an honorary doctorate from Harvard. Roosevelt appreciated the writer as the intellectual and moral conscience of Europe, while Mann saw the antithesis of Hitler in this American president. Four days before the election Mann wrote in his journal: "Roosevelt's reelection is of the greatest importance for the further course of history. However, the current era makes this unlikely..." As soon as it is clear that, contrary to his expectation, Roosevelt is reelected, he confides in his journal, "This is the first joy, the first victory in more than seven years, which have brought nothing but disappointment and rage." He sends a congratulatory telegram. Two months later, Mann is invited to the White House.

The conversation between Roosevelt and Mann can be reconstructed through Mann's journal notes, two of his lectures in Roosevelt's possession, and the inaugural address itself.

The evening of January 14, 1941 Mann writes in his journal: "Lively conversation. Political-moral vision priority over economy. [...] Gave him a copy of War and Democracy and dedicated it: 'To F.D.R. President of the U.S. and of a coming better world.''' Mann's gift is a twenty-five page booklet. This booklet contains a more detailed treatment of a theme he discussed in February 1938 in 'a coast-to-coast lecture tour of the U.S.A' to an audience of sometimes more than ten thousand Americans: The Coming Victory of Democracy. Mann's arguement in these two lectures can be summarized as follows.

Never should anything of value be taken for granted. America, too, will have to keep reflecting on what democracy really means if she does not want to be lost, as Nazi Germany is lost. Because, in the end, politics has to do with fundamental values, and as democracy is not merely a way of governing and representation, it is a political duty to make society aware that "democracy is that form of government and of society which is inspired above every other with the feeling and consciousness of the dignity of man." These are big words and Mann is quite aware of how small man can be in "his self-centeredness, cruelty, cowardice, and stupidity." But that is precisely why we must not forget that "The great and honorable in man manifest themselves as art and science, as passion for truth, creation of beauty and the idea of justice." True democracy honors man as a spiritual being, focuses on cultivating human greatness, "It wishes to elevate mankind, to teach it to think, to set it free. It seeks to remove from culture the stamp of privilege and disseminate it among the people -- in a word, it aims at education."

When we forget this, the anti-democratic forces, which are always and everywhere present, will grab for power. To them, human beings are not oriented toward truth, freedom, and justice, but are thoughtless creatures, yearning for physical and material gratification only. They would rather cultivate ignorance than the intellectual life. The anti-democrats do not know what the essence of freedom is. Or freedom is reduced to an exclusively economic phenomenon (Mann: "The perhaps natural egotism of the great private business which at a time of universal conscription insists on its own absolute freedom..."). Or else freedom is threatened by fanatics who do not believe in freedom but rather in "force, high explosive bombs, and bestiality." And this latter danger, the determination to destroy humanity is reinforced by the fact that, when "face to face with fanaticism incarnate, a freedom that through sheer goodness and humane skepticism no longer believes in itself will be irrevocably lost". Nazi Germany is the most harrowing example of anti-democracy but, Mann warns, this force can manifest itself all too readily in the US as well. True democracy can only continue to exist as long as it is an expression of the true ideal of freedom: the cultivation of nobility of spirit, and the determination to defend itself against its deadly enemies.

Six days after his conversation with Thomas Mann, President Roosevelt begins his third inaugural address with the observation that it is important for the Americans "to rediscover what we are and what we may be. If we do not, we risk the real peril of inaction." This, he continues, is all the more important because there are those who claim that democracy no longer has a future. However, that is not true. Not only were matters dealt with democratically in difficult times ("We acted quickly, boldly, decisively"), but there is also "a better understanding that life's ideals are measured in other than material things." The fact that America is able to survive her crisis is, in fact, due to democracy. Democracy is not dying and must not die, "as it is the most humane, the most advanced and in the end most unconquerable of all forms of human society." What is fundamental is the awareness that: "A nation, like a person, has something deeper, something more permanent, something larger than the sum of all its parts. It is that something which matters most to its future -- which calls forth the most sacred guarding of its present. [...] We all understand what it is -- the spirit -- the faith of America." That spirit has always been an ideal of freedom and this freedom must never be reduced to a merely economic phenomenon: "The hope of the Republic cannot forever tolerate either undeserved poverty or self-serving wealth." We must build a society that is safe and offers everyone an opportunity. However: "It is not enough to clothe and feed the body of this Nation, and instruct and inform its mind. For there is also the spirit. And of the three, the greatest is the spirit." America will manage to survive her crisis and will set the example for the rest of the world if she remains true to her spirit, true to the true democracy, true to what George Washington proclaimed the destiny of America to be in his first inaugural address: "The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty [...] entrusted to the hands of the American people." That is why, as Roosevelt concludes his address: "Our purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America."

Thus President Roosevelt eloquently articulated the content of a conversation that Thomas Mann summarized that same evening as: "Lively conversation. Political-moral vision priority over economy."

Mr. President-elect, the problems and challenges that confront you are undoubtedly no fewer than those of President Roosevelt. Neither is there any doubt that you will have to act and, like President Roosevelt you will "act quickly, boldly, decisively." But the historic conversation in the White House of 14 January 1941 teaches us that there can be no doubt either that mere economic and policy actions are insufficient. In the spirit of Roosevelt, Thomas Mann warned after the war that "no conference, technical measure, or juridical institution, nor even a world government, can possibly bring the new society one step closer if it is not preceded by a different spiritual climate, a new receptivity to the nobility of spirit".

The wisdom that President Roosevelt and Thomas Mann bestow on us is that America will survive the present crisis but only if the awareness prevails that the true spirit of America, the true democracy, is none other than "that form of government and of society which is inspired above every other with the feeling and consciousness of the dignity of man."

It is an awareness that has been forgotten for too long.

For too long we have been hearing that "It's the economy, stupid!" or "country first," and we have forgotten that the hallmark of a civilized society is human dignity for all.

For too long there has been a culture of money and there never would have been a financial crisis had we not forgotten the wise words of the philosopher Socrates: "My very dear friend... Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul."

For too long there has been a culture of total ignorance and anti-intellectualism, and we have forgotten what Mann said in America as early as 1938: "In a democracy which does not respect the intellectual life and is not guided by it, demagogy has free play and the level of national life is depressed to that of the ignorant and uncultivated."

For too long education has been discussed in terms of 'useful' and 'practical,' and we have forgotten that the liberal arts are there to help us express our emotions, articulate our experiences; that true liberal education is there to liberate us from stupidity, prejudice, blind desire, and thus helps us to live in truth and cultivate our soul.

For too long the danger of fanatics who hate the true democracy has been underestimated.

Mr. President Elect, the mere fact that you have been elected is a hopeful indication that the spiritual climate is changing. That the young have played a decisive role in your election is an equally hopeful sign. But the true change, the only change that can offer us a real prospect of a better world to come is a renewed awareness of the true meaning of one word only: freedom.

I am writing you in the hope that an unjustly forgotten conversation of long ago and the example of a great president will be an inspiration to you and encourage you to place your presidency, too, in the renewed conquest and defense of that freedom and the nobility of spirit without which it cannot exist.

I wish you great courage and wisdom for the years to come.

Yours sincerely,

Rob Riemen,

Author of Nobility of Spirit. A Forgotten Ideal (Yale University Press

Heritage: Toward an Alternative Strategic Security Posture

Toward an Alternative Strategic Security Posture, by Baker Spring
Heritage WebMemo #2183

On December 12, the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States released its interim report.[1] The commission is charged with guiding policy for a strategic posture for the United States that meets today's security needs. This guidance will define the future of U.S. strategic nuclear, strategic conventional, and strategic defense forces.

Currently, there is no consensus in Congress on an appropriate strategic posture. As an interim report, the commission's tentative recommendations do not provide such a consensus. However, the report does describe an alternative policy that would recognize the essential role of nuclear weapons in providing for U.S. security while establishing a defense-oriented strategic posture and seeking the circumstance where comprehensive nuclear disarmament becomes a real possibility.

The final report is due on April 1, 2009. If the tentative and general recommendations in the interim report can be translated into this alternative strategic policy, then a strategic posture that is broadly supported in Congress should result.

Global Nuclear Disarmament

Individuals both within the commission and outside it fervently desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons.[2] The commission recognizes, however, that this goal is "extremely difficult to attain and would require a fundamental transformation of the world political order."[3] This means those favoring nuclear disarmament have recognized that their preferred outcome is not appropriate under present circumstances and that there is no direct path to nuclear disarmament at this time. Implicit in this understanding is that these same individuals will abandon unilateral steps aimed at atrophying the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure. They will, for example, have to abandon immediate steps to de-alert U.S. nuclear forces, cease efforts to curtail all programs for modernizing the nuclear force, put off ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and cease efforts to impose changes on the declared policy governing the use of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Strategic Defenses, Conventional Superiority, and the Prospect of Nuclear Disarmament

The commission's recommendations regarding global nuclear disarmament are not only qualified; they are conditioned on taking other steps regarding the broader strategic posture of the U.S. Included in these are steps to field robust missile defenses and preserve U.S. conventional superiority. In this context, those who strongly favor nuclear disarmament should recognize that robust strategic defensive measures--including ballistic missile defenses--and conventional superiority can create a circumstance where nuclear disarmament is appropriate.
In this context, the commission should support a longer-term approach for strengthening strategic defenses and strategic conventional forces, along with select steps for nuclear modernization, that recognizes that neither is provocative under the right circumstances. This option would use U.S. diplomacy to convince other states (starting with China and Russia) that a "protect and defend" strategy will serve their interests as much as those of the U.S.

Such an effort should encourage the principle of non-aggression and reducing and ultimately eliminating those strategic weapons that pose the greatest threat to civilian populations, vital national institutions, and infrastructure. This policy would start by focusing on controlling high-yield nuclear weapons that are mounted on inaccurate delivery systems and offer little or no defensive value. For its part, the U.S. should produce lower-yield weapons mounted on highly accurate delivery systems and hold at risk those weapons that pose a threat of widespread destruction to itself and its allies. While nothing is certain, the adoption of fundamentally defensive strategies by these three nations may lead to a direct path to nuclear disarmament.

Strengthening Strategic Defenses

Regarding strategic defenses specifically, the interim report states, "Missile defenses appropriate to defend against a rogue nuclear nation could serve a damage-limiting and stabilizing role in the US strategic posture, assuming such defenses are perceived as being effective enough to at least sow doubts in the minds of potential attackers that such an attack would succeed."[4] Limiting the strategic defensive posture to missile defenses, however, is too narrow. Accordingly, the final report should expand this recommendation to cover the other means of delivering strategic attacks on the U.S. and its allies.

Further, the commission warns against fielding defenses that might provoke China and Russia. This point should be qualified in two ways. First, it must identify an objective standard for what might provoke China or Russia. Otherwise, any claim of China's or Russia's provocation would be seen as legitimate. Second, the commission should describe how the diplomatic and arms control options toward both China and Russia described earlier will cause both to see America's defensive measures as not provocative but stabilizing, reinforcing their security against attack.

An Alternative Vision

If the proponents of nuclear disarmament on the commission honor the qualifications and conditions described here and convince Congress to do likewise, then the proponents of fielding robust strategic defenses should offer an alternative vision for the U.S. strategic posture. This alternative vision points to a future circumstance where the U.S. and other states could consider direct steps to nuclear disarmament. It would represent the indirect path to global nuclear disarmament. All concerned, however, need to recognize that the consensus outlined here does not mean an end to the debate. It will only serve to define the parameters of the debate from here forward. The fact of the matter is that substantive differences of opinions regarding the appropriate strategic posture of the United States will remain.

Baker Spring is F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.


[1] Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, "Interim Report," December 11, 2008, at (December 17, 2008).

[2] See George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A-15; Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn, "Toward a Nuclear-Free World," The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2008, at (December 18, 2008).

[3] Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, "Interim Report," p. 9.

[4] Ibid., p. 10.

Gaza Conflict Threatens Regional Peace and Stability, UN Official Cautions

Gaza Conflict Threatens Regional Peace and Stability, UN Official Cautions
New York, Jan 2 2009 3:10PM

The future of the Middle-East peace process, the stability of the region and the safety of ordinary people in the Gaza Strip have been seriously jeopardized by the “irresponsibility of Hamas rocket attacks” and the “excessiveness of Israel’s response,” a senior United Nations envoy to warned today, as diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict intensify.

On the seventh day of Israeli bombing raids on Gaza and with more than 400 Gazans reportedly killed and thousands wounded, Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, called for the international community to step up its attempts to end the growing humanitarian crisis.

“Much of Gaza’s infrastructure has now been destroyed. The death and injury toll in Gaza continues to mount. Hamas rockets are now reaching 40 kilometres into Israel,” Mr. Serry said via video-link from Jerusalem.

Israel has cited rocket and other attacks by militants in Gaza against Israeli civilians as the reason for its military offensive and closing crossings into Gaza for much of the previous two months.

With Israeli tanks on Gaza’s border, the envoy underscored the urgency and importance of an immediate and lasting cessation of hostilities to avoid an even deeper and deadlier conflict.

He said that he will join a number of Arab leaders slated to arrive in New York next week to find a solution to the crisis.

“Diplomatic efforts are underway involving many players, including the United States, the European Union (EU), the Arab League, Turkey and others, and we believe the roles of the Quartet [comprising the UN, EU, Russian and the US] and the Security Council are going to be very important.”

While a ceasefire is vital, a return to the previous situation would not be enough to maintain security or find a durable peace, Mr. Serry said.

He stressed the need for the uninterrupted reopening of crossings into Gaza with a commitment from both sides to fully respect a ceasefire, including an end to all rocket attacks from Gaza and weapons smuggling into the Hamas controlled territory.

“It will also require bringing Gaza back into the fold of the Palestinian Authority through arrangements on the ground and renewed efforts to reunited Gaza and the West Bank,” he said, adding that “it is more vital than ever that Israeli-Palestinian peace is achieved. The underlying issues must be addressed: end of conflict, end of occupation and the creation of the Palestinian State alongside a secure Israel.”

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been distributing bread to families in the hardest-hit areas of Gaza, and said today that it urgently requires $9 million to meet additional food needs caused by the upsurge in fighting.

The bombing raids over the last week have greatly worsened the already harsh humanitarian situation in Gaza, which is home to an estimated 1.5 million people facing severe shortages of food, fuel and cooking gas.

“The current situation in Gaza is appalling and many basic food items are no longer available on the market,” said Christine van Nieuwenhuyse, WFP Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Yesterday, the agency started handing out bread to around 15,000 people in the northern city of Beit Hanoun – one of the poorest areas in Gaza and the most heavily affected by the conflict.

However, the recent Israeli offensive has prevented WFP and its partners from operating at full capacity and has delayed the regular distribution of food to nearly 270,000 people in the region.

“We are responding to the immediate food emergency needs as much as we can, but the destruction of local infrastructure and the shortages of basic utilities such as fuel and gas means that more people will fall into poverty, and have no other option than to be assisted by the international community,” said Ms. Nieuwenhuyse.

WFP’s 3,300-ton food stockpile will run out during the next month as distributions resume, security permitting, with more food convoys expected to replenish the supplies.

Due to the scarcity of wheat, most of the mills and bakeries in Gaza have stopped working and there is an acute shortage of bread, the staple food for Palestinians.

In a related development, a group of independent UN human rights experts said today that it was “deeply alarmed” at the continuing violence in Gaza and called on all parties to end attacks putting civilian lives at risk.

“Both air strikes by Israeli Government forces and rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel are resulting in inexcusable loss of life and placing the civilian populations in the affected areas in extreme danger,” said Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the experts’ coordinating body, said in a statement.

She stressed that international human rights law “imposes binding obligations on all parties in situations of armed conflict.”

The chairperson said that neither Israel’s use of disproportionate force, missiles launched from Gaza, nor the general disregard for the safety of non-combatants can justify either side’s aggression.

The UN experts voiced particular concern at the impact of the current violence and destruction of vital infrastructure on the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and called on all parties to ensure access for humanitarian relief efforts and supplies.

Independent experts, known as special rapporteurs, serve in an autonomous unpaid capacity and report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Jan 2 2009 3:10PM

For more details go to UN News Centre at

The Diversification Challenge in Africa's Resource-Rich Economies

Rowing Against the Current: The Diversification Challenge in Africa's Resource-Rich Economies

John Page, Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Global Economy and Development, The Brookings Institution

Global Working Papers No. 28

For a growing number of countries in Africa the current commodity boom is a huge opportunity. But if the economic history of resource-rich, poor countries—especially in Africa—is any guide, rather than bringing prosperity, the resource boom may drive them into what Paul Collier (2007) in his influential book The Bottom Billion terms the “Natural Resources Trap.” In Africa, countries dependent on oil, gas, and mining have tended to have weaker long-run growth, higher rates of poverty, and higher inequality than non mineral-dependent economies at similar levels of income.

Two recent studies suggest both the potential and the risks of resource extraction. Alekseev and Conrad (2008) show the potential—resource wealth has tended to make countries better off. They find that in the long run resource-rich countries have significantly higher levels of income than other countries. However, Collier and Goderis (2007, 2008) suggest that this may be due only to the income generated by resource rents rather than to the growth of output. In resourcerich economies—unlike those with more diversified economic structures—production and income may diverge substantially. Collier and Goderis ask whether a commodity boom helps an economy to produce more output. They find that for the first few years following an increase in the price of commodity exports output increases relative to what it would otherwise have been, but usually the growth of output is not sustained. After two decades the typical resource extracting economy is producing less than it would have done in the absence of the boom. Collier and Goderis simulate the outcome of the current commodity boom and find that, if history repeats itself, after two decades output for the typical African commodity exporter will be around 25 percent lower than it would have been without the boom. This is the resource curse.

But geology is not destiny. Natural resource wealth can be an effective driver of growth. Chile, which has been the fastest growing Latin American country for the past 15 years, has relied almost entirely on exports of natural resource products. Botswana has been among the world’s fastest growing economies for the last 30 years, and Indonesia and Malaysia have used their natural resource wealth to diversify and grow their economies. From the global evidence Collier and Goderis find that although a decline in production is the norm, it is by no means inevitable. Some societies have succeeded in harnessing commodity booms for sustained increases in production, while others have not. The consequences of resource-riches, they argue, depend upon choices.

This paper is about one important set of choices faced by Africa’s resource-rich economies, whether and how to diversify production beyond the natural resource sector. Following this introduction, Section 2 examines the role of natural resource exports in Africa’s recent growth recovery. Using a new methodology developed by Arbache and Page (2007) it finds that Africa’s growth acceleration after 1995 has been driven mainly by avoiding the policy mistakes that led to sharp economic contractions in the past and by a strong surge in growth in the resource-rich economies. This makes Africa’s long-run growth prospects vulnerable to the natural resource curse.

Section 3 introduces the main theme of the paper: Africa’s resource exporters are rowing against the current as they attempt to diversify their economies. The relative price changes that occur in a resource exporting economy—symptoms of the “Dutch disease”— place Africa’s natural resource-rich countries at a disadvantage with respect to two drivers of industrial change and economic growth. Because Dutch disease discourages the development of new tradable goods producing activities, it inhibits the diversification of the manufacturing sector and limits the potential for increases in the sophistication of manufacturing production and exports. Both diversity and sophistication have been linked in recent literature to higher incomes and faster growth. In addition, research on the impact of agglomeration economies on production costs and international competitiveness strongly suggests that late-comers to industrialization, such as Africa’s natural resource exporters, suffer from a competitive disadvantage linked to the spatial distribution of global industry. It is far easier to expand an existing industrial agglomeration than to start a new one. Not surprisingly, then, the data show that Africa’s mineral rich economies trail both the Africa regional average and the least developed countries in general in key indicators of industrial dynamism.

Section 4 draws on the experience of three successful natural resource exporters—Chile, Indonesia and Malaysia—to make the point that geology is not destiny. Each of these economies had rising income growth accompanied by increasing diversity of their manufacturing and export structure between 1980 and 2000. Successful diversification away from dependence on natural resources was the consequence of different public policies to mitigate the impact of the Dutch disease. In the cases of Indonesia and Malaysia, government policies successfully targeted moving into new more sophisticated manufacturing sectors. In Chile public policy favored the expansion into new, knowledge-intensive natural resource based exports.

Some options for policy choices are set out in section 5. The basic theme of the section is that governments—through improvements in the investment climate and public expenditures—can mitigate the worst consequences of the Dutch disease. Section 6 concludes and offers some ideas for further research.

A document-based 318-year record of tropical cyclones in the Lesser Antilles, 1690–2007

Lesson of the Lesser Antilles
World Climate Report, December 30, 2008


Our interest in the Lesser Antilles was heightened by a recent article in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems by Chenoweth and Divine who managed to secure funding for the research from the Norwegian Research Council and NOAA’s Climate and Global Change Program. They note that “In the Atlantic basin, the Caribbean region has several centers of continuous European settlement dating from the early 1500s in the Spanish colonies and the 1600s in other European colonies. Hence, there is strong potential for estimation of tropical cyclone activity in this region at least three centuries back in time.”

The pair of scientists cleverly compiled information on hurricanes from ship logbooks, newspaper accounts, state reports, official government gazettes, meteorological registers, consulate office reports, and more commonly relied-upon meteorological observations. From all the archival material and meteorological observations, they were able to produce the graphic below (Figure 2) showing hurricanes and tropical storms over a 318-year period. If you see no upward trend, join the world of reality! Despite all the claims to the contrary by the global warming advocates, there is zero evidence that hurricane activity is increasing over the three centuries of recorded events. Furthermore, it is far more likely to miss a hurricane 300 years ago compared to today, and this under-representation in the past should have produced a clear upward trend in the data.

[Graphs in the original article]

In describing the results, Chenoweth and Divine note “There is no evidence of trend significant at the 5% level for the entire record or for shorter segments (such as 1899–2007 and 1970–2007) but there is multidecadal variability that produces peaks and troughs in counts of up to 50% from the long-term average.” Furthermore, “The number of hurricanes passing through declined in the 20th century on the order of ~20%. Tropical storm numbers show little change over time. The net result is a nonstatistically significant decline in tropical cyclone frequency in the Lesser Antilles region. This decline is present even in the undercounted ocean areas north of the islands and we conclude that the actual decline is even larger than depicted in this area.”

It gets even better as they state “Major hurricane numbers over 12–18°N (the most accurately and reliably sampled sector) were 20 from 1701 to 1800, 19 from 1801 to 1900 and 16 from 1901 to 2000 and none have passed through since 2000.” They say “For whatever reason, fewer tropical cyclones reached hurricane intensity along 10–25°N 61.5°W in the past century than in previous centuries.”

They summarize noting “We find no evidence of statistically significant trend in the number of tropical cyclones passing through the region on any time scale. While tropical cyclone numbers show no statistically significant trend hurricane frequency is down about 20% in the 20th century compared to earlier centuries. This decline is consistent with the 20th century observed record of decreasing hurricane landfall rates in the U.S.” How about this line … “Although there is no significant long-term trend since the beginning of the series the period 1968–1977 was probably the most inactive period since the islands were settled in the 1620s and 1630s.”



Chenoweth, M., and D. Divine (2008). A document-based 318-year record of tropical cyclones in the Lesser Antilles, 1690–2007. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 9, Q08013, doi:10.1029/2008GC002066.

US Treasury Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 102 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act

US Treasury Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 102 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act
Dec 31, 2008

This report fulfills the requirement under section 102 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA) for the Treasury Department to report to Congress within 90 days of the passage of the bill on the insurance program established under Section 102(a).

Asset Guarantee Program

Treasury is exploring use of the Asset Guarantee Program to address the guarantee provisions of the agreement with Citigroup announced on November 23, 2008. Under the agreement, the Treasury Department will assume the second-loss position after Citigroup on a selected group of mortgage-related assets.

As required by section 102(a), Treasury established the Asset Guarantee Program (AGP). This program provides guarantees for assets held by systemically significant financial institutions that face a high risk of losing market confidence due in large part to a portfolio of distressed or illiquid assets. This program will be applied with extreme discretion in order to improve market confidence in the systemically significant institution and in financial markets broadly. It is not anticipated that the program will be made widely available.

Under the AGP, Treasury would assume a loss position with specified attachment and detachment points on certain assets held by the qualifying financial institution; the set of insured assets would be selected by the Treasury and its agents in consultation with the financial institution receiving the guarantee. In accordance with section 102(a), assets to be guaranteed must have been originated before March 14, 2008.

Treasury would collect a premium, deliverable in a form deemed appropriate by the Treasury Secretary. As required by the statute, an actuarial analysis would be used to ensure that the expected value of the premium is no less than the expected value of the losses to TARP from the guarantee. The United States government would also provide a set of portfolio management guidelines to which the institution must adhere for the guaranteed portfolio.

Treasury would determine the eligibility of participants and the allocation of resources on a case-by-case basis. The program would be used for systemically significant institutions, and could be used in coordination with other programs. Treasury may, on a case-by-case basis, use this program in coordination with a broader guarantee involving one or more other agencies of the United States government.


The objective of this program is to foster financial market stability and thereby to strengthen the economy and protect American jobs, savings, and retirement security. In an environment of high volatility and severe financial market strains, the loss of confidence in a financial institution could result in significant market disruptions that threaten the financial strength of similarly situated financial institutions and thus impair broader financial markets and pose a threat to the overall economy. The resulting financial strains could threaten the viability of otherwise financially sound businesses, institutions, and municipalities, resulting in adverse spillovers on employment, output, and incomes.

Determination of Eligible Institutions

In determining whether to use the program for an institution, Treasury may consider, among other things:

1. The extent to which destabilization of the institution could threaten the viability of creditors and counterparties exposed to the institution, whether directly or indirectly;

2. The extent to which an institution is at risk of a loss of confidence and the degree to which that stress is caused by a distressed or illiquid portfolio of assets;

3. The number and size of financial institutions that are similarly situated, or that would be likely to be affected by destabilization of the institution being considered for the program;

4. Whether the institution is sufficiently important to the nation's financial and economic system that a loss of confidence in the firm's financial position could potentially cause major disruptions to credit markets or payments and settlement systems, destabilize asset prices, significantly increase uncertainty, or lead to similar losses of confidence or financial market stability that could materially weaken overall economic performance;

5. The extent to which the institution has access to alternative sources of capital and liquidity, whether from the private sector or from other sources of government funds.

In making these judgments, Treasury will obtain and consider information from a variety of sources, and will take into account recommendations received from the institution's primary regulator, if applicable, or from other regulatory bodies and private parties that could provide insight into the potential consequences if confidence in a particular institution deteriorated.
TARP Accounting and Treasury's Loss Position

Treasury generally achieves a greater impact per TARP dollar absorbed by taking an early loss position over a narrow interval of losses rather than a late loss position over a larger range of losses.

Treasury's purchasing authority under TARP is reduced by the total value of the guaranteed asset less the cash premium received, where the premium is equal to the expected loss on the guaranteed asset. If the Treasury collects a non-cash premium . for example, preferred shares - the TARP purchasing authority is reduced by the entire value of the guarantee until the preferred shares are sold and converted to cash.

These accounting rules imply that if guarantees for two assets of different values have the same expected loss, the larger asset will be more TARP-intensive to insure. For example, suppose Treasury has the choice between guaranteeing two different assets, one of which is worth $50 and has a 10 percent chance of losing all of its value and the other of which is worth $10 and has a 50 percent chance of losing all of its value. For the sake of simplicity, the premium in this example will be paid in cash. If the premium received equals the expected value of the losses to TARP from the guarantee (thereby meeting the statutory requirement), Treasury would collect a $5 premium for guaranteeing either asset. However, the TARP purchasing authority would be reduced by $45 for the guarantee on the first asset (the $50 covered minus the $5 premium) and just $5 for the guarantee on the second asset (the $10 covered minus the $5 premium). Although the net expected payouts of the two guarantees are equal, the second guarantee is more valuable per dollar of TARP absorbed: covering the first asset uses $9 of TARP per $1 of expected loss, whereas the second asset uses only $1 of TARP per $1 of expected loss.

Because of this feature of TARP accounting under Section 102 of the EESA, Treasury in using the AGP will generally take a relatively early loss position over a narrow range of losses to provide the greatest protection per TARP dollar absorbed.

Other Potential Asset Guarantee Programs

Treasury is reviewing options for the development of other programs to insure troubled assets pursuant to the legislation. Two design considerations will be important factors for any potential program developed under Section 102:

(1) Accounting under the TARP purchasing authority: The TARP purchasing authority is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount guaranteed less the premiums received; the expected net payout from the program is not considered for this purpose. This means that insuring an asset under section 102 has almost an equivalent impact on the TARP purchasing authority as purchasing the same asset (Section 102.c.4).

(2) Adverse selection: Information on the credit risk underlying a particular asset, notably complex assets such as mortgage backed securities, can often be understood only through intensive research.and even then, the risk will ultimately depend on outcomes such as future home price appreciation that can be forecast only imperfectly. If an insurance program were to offer a set premium for a specific asset class - even one that is narrowly defined - it could well be the case that only the holders of assets for whom the premium was either appropriate or underpriced would buy insurance. By construction, the credit risk associated with the securities that would actually be insured at any given premium would be higher than the premium would cover. Individually pricing the assets - a resource-intensive endeavor . is the only way of achieving an expected net payout of zero. In practice, this means that setting the pricing of the insurance premiums will inevitably require particular assumptions and judgments; the ex-post financial outcome involved with the guarantees could deviate substantially from the ex-ante actuarial analysis-for better or for worse.

To assist in the consideration of programs under Section 102, the Treasury issued Federal Register Notice (Docket # TREAS-DO-2008-0018 posted 10/16/2008). Treasury asked for comment on programs consistent with Section 102 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA). Treasury particularly invited comments on the appropriate structure for such a program, and whether the program should offer insurance against losses for both individual whole loans and individual mortgage backed securities (MBS), as well as the payout and triggering event, estimation of losses, and setting the appropriate premium. A summary of the comments received is attached next as an Appendix to this report.

Gaza: UN Human Rights Experts Express Shock at the Scale of Combat

Gaza: UN Human Rights Experts Express Shock at the Scale of Combat

New York, Jan 2 2009 1:10PMA group of independent United Nations human rights experts today said it was “deeply alarmed” at the continuing violence in Gaza and called on all parties to end attacks putting civilian lives at risk.

“Both air strikes by Israeli Government forces and rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel are resulting in inexcusable loss of life and placing the civilian populations in the affected areas in extreme danger,” said Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the experts’ coordinating body, said in a statement.

She stressed that international human rights law “imposes binding obligations on all parties in situations of armed conflict.”

The chairperson said that neither Israel’s use of disproportionate force, missiles launched from Gaza, nor the general disregard for the safety of non-combatants can justify either side’s aggression.

“They constitute clear violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law,” she said.

The UN experts voiced particular concern at the impact of the current violence and destruction of vital infrastructure on the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and called on all parties to ensure access for humanitarian relief efforts and supplies.

“Independent human rights monitoring, including by the various UN Special Procedures, is particularly crucial in these circumstances which result in an exceptionally broad range of human rights violations.”

Independent experts, known as special rapporteurs, serve in an autonomous unpaid capacity and report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Jan 2 2009 1:10PM
For more details go to UN News Centre at

What does Islam say about Terrorism?

What does Islam say about Terrorism?


Sancity Of Human Life

The Glorious Qur’an says:

“…take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.” [Al-Qur’an 6:151]

Islam considers all life forms as sacred. However, the sanctity of human life is accorded a special place. The first and the foremost basic right of a human being is the right to live. The Glorious Qur’an says:

“…if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” [Al-Qur’an 5:32]

Such is the value of a single human life, that the Qur’an equates the taking of even one human life unjustly, with killing all of humanity. Thus, the Qur’an prohibits homicide in clear terms. The taking of a criminal’s life by the state in order to administer justice is required to uphold the rule of law, and the peace and security of the society. Only a proper and competent court can decide whether an individual has forfeited his right to life by disregarding the right to life and peace of other human beings.

Ethic[s] Of War

Even in a state of war, Islam enjoins that one deals with the enemy nobly on the battlefield. Islam has drawn a clear line of distinction between the combatants and the non-combatants of the enemy country. As far as the non-combatant population is concerned such as women, children, the old and the infirm, etc., the instructions of the Prophet are as follows: "Do not kill any old person, any child or any woman"[1]. "Do not kill the monks in monasteries" or "Do not kill the people who are sitting in places of worship."[2] During a war, the Prophet saw the corpse of a woman lying on the ground and observed: "She was not fighting. How then she came to be killed?" Thus non-combatants are guaranteed security of life even if their state is at war with an Islamic state.


While Islam in general is misunderstood in the western world, perhaps no other Islamic term evokes such strong reactions as the word ‘jihad’. The term ‘jihad’ has been much abused, to conjure up bizarre images of violent Muslims, forcing people to submit at the point of the sword. This myth was perpetuated throughout the centuries of mistrust during and after the Crusades. Unfortunately, it survives to this day.

The word Jihad comes from the root word jahada, which means to struggle. So jihad is literally an act of struggling. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that the greatest jihad is to struggle with the insidious suggestions of one’s own soul. Thus jihad primarily refers to the inner struggle of being a person of virtue and submission to God in all aspects of life.

Secondarily, jihad refers to struggle against injustice. Islam, like many other religions, allows for armed self-defense, or retribution against tyranny, exploitation, and oppression. The Glorious Qur’an says:

“And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? - Men, women, and children, whose cry is: "Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!" [Al-Qur’an 4:75]

Thus Islam enjoins upon its believers to strive utmost, in purifying themselves, as well as in establishing peace and justice in the society. A Muslim can never be at rest when she sees injustice and oppression around her. As Martin Luther King Jr. said:

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Islam enjoins upon all Muslims to work actively to maintain the balance in which God created everything. However, regardless of how legitimate the cause may be, the Glorious Qur’an never condones the killing of innocent people. Terrorizing the civilian population can never be termed as jihad and can never be reconciled with the teachings of Islam.

History Of Tolerance

Even Western scholars have repudiated the myth of Muslims coercing others to convert. The great historian De Lacy O'Leary wrote:

"History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims, sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated."[3]

Muslims ruled Spain for roughly 800 years. During this time, and up until they were finally forced out, the non-Muslims there were alive and flourishing. Additionally, Christian and Jewish minorities have survived in the Muslim lands of the Middle East for centuries. Countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan all have significant Christian and/or Jewish populations.

This is not surprising to a Muslim, for his faith prohibits him from forcing others to see his point of view. The Glorious Qur’an says:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things.” [Al-Qur’an 2:256]

Islam - The Great Unifier

Far from being a militant dogma, Islam is a way of life that transcends race and ethnicity. The Glorious Qur’an repeatedly reminds us of our common origin:

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)” [Al-Qur’an 49:13]

Thus, it is the universality of its teachings that makes Islam the fastest growing religion in the world. In a world full of conflicts and deep schisms between human beings, a world that is threatened with terrorism, perpetrated by individuals and states, Islam is a beacon of light that offers hope for the future.

[1] Narrated in the collection of traditions of Abu Dawud
[2] Narrated in the Musnad of Imam Ibn Hanbal
[3] Islam At Crossroads, London, 1923, page 8

Conservative views on the Bush nominations for the Supreme Court

Supreme Success, by M. Edward Whelan III
Thanks to Bush, we have a chance for a Roberts Court.

Monday, December 29, 2008
National Reveiw Vol. LX, No. 24

Dwight Eisenhower called his appointments of Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice William Brennan his two biggest mistakes as president. With ample reason, George W. Bush regards his appointments of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito as two of his best decisions.
In the space of barely six months, from mid-July 2005 to the end of January 2006, President Bush achieved what his Republican predecessors since Eisenhower each failed to accomplish through the whole of their presidencies: the nomination, confirmation, and appointment of two new justices whose sterling qualifications appear to include a deep commitment to respect the broad play the Constitution gives to the operations of representative government. It's too early, to be sure, to take for granted that Roberts and Alito will prove to be superb justices over the long haul and that they will resist the temptation to "grow" to curry the favor of the liberal elites in legal academia and the media. But their strong performance in their initial years on the Court and their admirable characters and temperaments justify lofty expectations.

Lest Bush's 2-for-2 record on Supreme Court appointments be underappreciated, it is important to recall that the great Ronald Reagan went only 1 for 3 (a stellar pick in Antonin Scalia, but tragic failings in Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy) -- or 2 for 4 if you include his elevation of William Rehnquist to chief justice. Bush's father batted 1 for 2 (the home run of Clarence Thomas, preceded by the dismal whiff of David Souter).

To the essential virtue of judicial restraint, Roberts and Alito both add the virtue of (relative) youth. Roberts, who became the youngest chief justice since John Marshall, is still only 53, and Alito is 58. It is reasonable to hope that they -- and Clarence Thomas, who is only 60 (and nine years younger than the next youngest justice) -- will serve on the Court for a long time to come.
The fiasco of the Harriet Miers nomination must be acknowledged. Whatever Miers's merits, she was surely not in the top tier of qualified Supreme Court candidates. As Reagan did with O'Connor in 1981, Bush made the mistake of deciding in advance that his nominee must be a woman, and Miers was somehow the only one left standing after other, better-qualified candidates were knocked off the list. The conservative movement deserves credit for grasping the importance of what was at stake and objecting vociferously (some publicly, others privately). Bush in the end also deserves credit for taking the difficult step of withdrawing the nomination of his longtime friend. Thus, a Justice Miers is not part of his legacy in the way that O'Connor, alas, is part of Reagan's.

While President Bush earns the highest marks for Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, his project of restoring the Court to its proper role in a constitutional republic remains incomplete for the simple reason that he was presented with only two Supreme Court vacancies over his eight years in office. The "Roberts Court" bears that title only as a formality, as Chief Justice Roberts is one vote short of a working majority that is broadly aligned with his jurisprudential principles. Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito form a strong core of four, but in politically contentious cases Kennedy frequently sides with, or even leads, the liberal-activist quartet of Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer in inventing newfangled constitutional rights. So, if President-elect Obama fails to inflict irreversible damage on the Court, it will be up to a future president to pick up where Bush left off and build on his excellent progress.

President Bush's record on lower-court appointments is much more mixed. Let's begin with the numbers. Bush appointed 62 judges* to the federal courts of appeals. That's even fewer than the 65 that President Clinton appointed, amidst bitter Democratic complaints and media buzz about a confirmation slowdown by Senate Republicans. Bush's total also includes three of Clinton's unsuccessful nominees whom Bush renominated -- two in 2001 in unrequited gestures of goodwill, and one in 2008 as part of a Sixth Circuit deal. The numbers for the federal district courts are even worse: 261 Bush appointees versus 305 Clinton appointees. The Bush numbers are all the more disappointing as Republicans controlled the Senate for more than half of the Bush presidency, whereas Clinton enjoyed Democratic control for only two of his eight years.

There's plenty of blame to go around. When they were in the minority, Senate Democrats resorted to unprecedented measures of obstruction. Until the presidency of George W. Bush, there had never been a partisan filibuster against a judicial nominee. In 2003 and 2004, Democrats unleashed the filibuster and succeeded in defeating some 20 cloture petitions on ten different nominees, five of whom -- including Miguel Estrada, the superbly qualified nominee to the D.C. Circuit -- were never ultimately confirmed. Even as the bipartisan "Gang of 14" agreement in May 2005 permitted some of the filibustered nominees to be confirmed, it undercut what would have been a successful Republican effort to revise Senate rules to forbid the filibuster of judicial nominees.

Many Senate Republicans, meanwhile, seemed to demonstrate more interest in the patronage opportunities that judicial nominations presented them -- getting their own home-state folks nominated and confirmed -- than in moving Bush's judicial nominees generally. Indeed, the Senate Judiciary Committee under Republican leadership dramatically expanded the Senate's "blue slip" policy by giving individual senators an effective veto over judicial nominations in their states (including over federal appellate judgeships, which the laws do not assign by state and whose workload has no more connection to one state than to any other in a circuit). This Senate Republican conferral of extraordinary leverage on obstructionist Democrats explains, for example, why a Fourth Circuit seat regarded as belonging to Maryland has been vacant throughout Bush's presidency -- and why so many other seats were filled with compromise candidates.

After retaking control of the Senate in 2007, Democrats were even better positioned to play hardball. Over the last two years, the Senate confirmed only 10 federal appellate judges (including one former Clinton nominee), compared with 15 confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate in the last two years of the Clinton administration. Among the nominees left languishing were Peter Keisler, a brilliant lawyer whose nomination to the D.C. Circuit in June 2006 received hearty bipartisan acclaim; Robert Conrad, a Fourth Circuit nominee who, like Keisler, received the ABA's highest rating and who had the ardent support of both Republican senators from North Carolina; and Glen Conrad, a Fourth Circuit nominee from Virginia, who was pre-approved by Democratic senator James Webb.

The Fourth Circuit, long stalwart in its judicial conservatism, provides perhaps the starkest illustration of the Bush administration's failure to get its nominees confirmed. The 15-member court, which covers Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, has four vacancies, three of which have existed for the entirety of the Bush presidency. Among the eleven active judges, six are Republican appointees and five (counting Roger Gregory, the Clinton recess appointee who was renominated by Bush) are Democratic. So President-elect Obama will likely soon be able to establish a Democratic majority on the Fourth Circuit.

There is no evidence that the Bush White House ever developed a general strategy to counter Democratic obstruction and Republican indifference in the Senate, and, especially once Democrats regained control of the Senate, it's far from clear what strategy would have been effective.

The good news on the lower courts is that President Bush did succeed in appointing a number of outstanding judges to the courts of appeals, judges who have already made their mark and will continue to do so. Fifteen Bush appointees serving on federal appellate courts are 50 or younger, and several more are just over 50. If and when a future president is ready to help build a real Roberts Court, that president will have plenty of strong Bush appointees to choose from. Let's hope that President Bush's full Supreme Court legacy proves to be even greater than his outstanding appointments of Roberts and Alito.

-- Mr. Whelan is president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a regular contributor to National Review Online's Bench Memos blog.

* Correction: the number of Senate-confirmed appointees for Bush is 61, versus 65 for Clinton; if one includes recess appointments, the Bush total is 62, versus 66 for Clinton.

Relax: British Embassy Breach Is an Iranian InfoOp

Relax: British Embassy Breach Is an Iranian InfoOp. By Steve Schippert

Folks, the "storming" of the British Embassy in Tehran by "a large group of people and students" is an Iranian Information Operation (IO) intended to be perceived (by you) as just an impromptu gaggle of angry Iranian citizens expressing rage at Israel's operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is, never forget, the newest Iranian satellite and client.

The British Embassy was not stormed by angry everyday Iranian citizens, folks. You are looking at a coordinated event staged by the regime employing the Basij (see here for a lightweight, digestible introduction), which is the mullah regime equivalent to the Hitler Youth. These embassy stormers, it should be noted, are the same regime Basij youth corps that is unleashed on Iranian people who dare defy the regime. And we are supposed to believe that those who beseiged (pardoning the aural pun) the British embassy are those same defiant Iranians. Don't. They aren't.

At least this early story from the UK's Telegraph eventually hits the target — but only after first playing up the alarm. (Wrong way to counter clear IO, but what should we expect journalists to know?):
Iran’s official news agency said: “A large group of people and students entered the Gulhak Gardens, which are occupied by the British embassy to protest at Britain’s policies in supporting the Zionist regime and put up the Palestinian flag there.”

The demonstrators had torched the British, US and Israeli flags, other Iranian media reports said.

There appears to be little doubt that the Iranian regime orchestrated or at least inspired the attack on Gulhak. Just days ago Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, suggested his force should facilitate “revolutionary action” similar to the capture of the “Den of Spies” – the US embassy — on November 4, 1979.

The remarks, made in a speech to hardline university students from a large paramilitary vigilante organisation under his control, were seen as a thinly-veiled threat against the British embassy which has become of the main focus of ire against the West since the American embassy became defunct.

Look carefully at the AFP/Getty image included in the story. Couple things to make note of.

First, just as the "storming" begins (both gates are not even open yet, just one), a photographer just happened to be ahead of the wave to take a very convenient snap of "The Breach." These are the things that Pulitzers are made of, what with these zany photographers who just happen to be in the right spot for the money shot, no? Bilal Hussein, anyone?

Second, note that there are two members of Iranian security (cough) in riot gear in the photo.

First thought: It's "The Breach" and there are but two near the gates.

Second thought: Iranian crowd control is not known for their tepid restraint. If the regime wanted to control the situation, they would be outside the gates and not inside, and there would be a general beatdown with injury and immediate dispersal by the "large group of people and students" in reaction.

Third thought: Similarly, average Iranians do not defy regime (read: Revolutionary) thugs enforcing "security." That is a precious rarity, plain and simple. This group of Basij members knows full well that the "security force" is part of the IO Dog & Pony Show and not a bodily injury risk. Who, in defiance of regime thugs, smiles as they run past the "riot police" and toward the waiting photographer(s) but fellow regime thugs? Answer: In Iran, no one. These "people and students" are the Basij, whose role and embrace has been renewed and reinvigorated under Ahmadinejad, himself a former commander in the "all grown up" Basij, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

So sit back and enjoy the show, folks. Staged Iranian information operations are best enjoyed with a spot of tea, a few biscuits and a touch of jam. Their inherent inferiority complex causes the Iranian regime to do the most bizarre things, sometimes entertaining and sometimes dangerous and deadly. This one falls on the entertaining side.

Accept this one for what it is, an amusing sideshow, and be sure to play your part of the alarmed and impacted IO target.

US Sate Dept On Dispute Regarding Gas Delivery from Russia to Ukraine

Press Statement
Gordon K. Duguid, Acting Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC, January 1, 2009
Ukraine: Dispute Regarding Gas Delivery from Russia to Ukraine

We are concerned that Gazprom has cut off gas sold to Ukraine. The U.S. encourages Gazprom and Naftogaz to resume negotiations on an agreement that will maintain the reliability of gas delivery to Ukraine and Europe. We urge Russia and Ukraine to resolve their dispute over the gas debt and the terms of their natural gas supply arrangements in a transparent, commercial manner.

Released on January 1, 2009

US State Dept Secretary's Remarks: Situation in Gaza

US State Dept Secretary's Remarks: Situation in Gaza
Fri, 02 Jan 2009 09:43:15 -0600
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
The White House, Washington, DC, January 2, 2009

SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. I’ve just had a chance to brief the President and to discuss with him the situation in Gaza. Obviously, the United States is very concerned about the situation there and is working very hard with our partners around the world to address it.

I want to begin by noting that Hamas has held the people of Gaza hostage ever since their illegal coup against the forces of President Mahmoud Abbas, the legitimate President of the Palestinian people. The Hamas has used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities and has contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza, and to a humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address. But frankly, Hamas has made it very difficult for the people of Gaza to have a reasonable life.

We are working toward a ceasefire that would not allow a reestablishment of the status quo ante where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza. It is obvious that that ceasefire should take place as soon as possible, but we need a ceasefire that is durable and sustainable. I might note that it was Hamas that rejected the Egyptian and Arab calls for an extension of the Takia that Egypt had negotiated. But I have been in constant contact with the key Arab states. I have talked with our European colleagues, and we are talking constantly with the Israeli Government to find a solution to Gaza that will be a sustainable one for the people of Gaza, for the people of Israel and for the people of the Palestinian territories of the Middle East more broadly.

The President has also been in touch with the major leaders of the Arab States and with the Israelis. And we’re going to continue our work toward a ceasefire that will not allow a return to the status quo ante and that will be durable. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, do you plan to go to the Mideast to broker…?

SECRETARY RICE: I have no plans at this point. Thank you.

Released on January 2, 2009

US State Dept on Burma's Independence Day

Press Statement
Sean McCormack
Washington, DCJanuary 2, 2009

Burma's Independence Day

Sunday, January 4, 2009 marks the 61st anniversary of Burma’s independence from British rule. We wish to express our warmest wishes to the people of Burma on this occasion. As we reflect on Burma’s independence struggle, led by General Aung San, we are reminded of our own history.

We support the peaceful efforts of people everywhere to exercise freely their universal human rights. We stand with the Burmese people today in honoring Aung San’s vision for an independent, peaceful, and democratic Burma and look forward to the day when Burma’s citizens will be able to enjoy the fruits of freedom and democracy. We earnestly hope that day will come soon.


Released on January 2, 2009