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Roger Warner: Peace In Laos At Last?

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

There’s been a breakthrough in ending a war that should have ended long, long ago. No, not Afghanistan or Iraq. It’s a tiny, little-known conflict that grew out of the Vietnam War. Yeah, that one – the war that was supposed to have ended all the way back in 1975.

The country involved is Vietnam’s next-door neighbor, landlocked, mountainous Laos, now officially known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The people involved are from the Hmong ethnic minority, which under C.I.A. direction fought the communists during the Vietnam war years. Many Hmong kept fighting once the Americans went home and the communists took over Laos’ government. It’s a fossilized insurgency, lost in a time warp. Even today, when the rice paddies of nearby countries are morphing into shopping centers, the mountains of Laos hold a few ragged resistance bands, whose leaders got their original training from the C.I.A. forty years ago. The “jungle” Hmong, as they are called, get much of their support and direction from Hmong who live in America.

The man at the center of the surprise breakthrough is General Vang Pao, the Hmong commander in the C.I.A. years and now in American exile. Until a few months ago, Vang Pao was the marquee defendant in a U.S. federal terrorism case – accused of conspiring to overthrow the same Laotian regime with which he’s now trying to reconcile. Now, with the help of representatives of the king of Thailand – another one of Laos’s next-door neighbors – and an unnamed member of the Lao Poliburo, this 80-year old tribesman has put together a tentative deal. The plan may or may not come to fruition, but it has a certain Nixon-goes-to-China audacity. And it has exposed an embarrassing reluctance to act by the U.S. State Department – even though the State Department had a major historical role in the Hmong problem’s creation.

The deal, announced December 22nd, will have Vang Pao and his retinue traveling to Thailand in January, where they will be the guests of a Thai royal foundation with connections to the Thai national security establishment. On January 10th, if their safety can be guaranteed, Vang Pao will shake hands with representatives of his old enemies halfway across a bridge over the Mekong river, which separates Thailand from Laos. He will then make a brief visit to Laos’s capital, Vientiane. That’s the ceremonial part.

The economic part is that Vang Pao and his Laotian and Thai partners would set up a 25,000-acre farm cooperative in the highlands of southern Laos on land leased for 99 years from the Laotian government. The hope is that many of the 4,000-plus Hmong refugees in Thailand – currently facing forced repatriation to Laos – now would return voluntarily to farm and become reintegrated into Laotian society. The old general would also try to persuade the remaining tribal resistance fighters to come down out of the jungle in peace, and would work with the Laotian regime to ensure their safety. Realistically, Vang Pao’s return by itself cannot end the refugee crisis or the insurgency. But it might mark the beginning of the end, by changing the mindset of the Hmong involved and by giving the local governments a new way to resolve the impasse without losing face.

Though the U.S. embassies in Thailand and Laos were briefed on the negotiations, they played no role in planning this possible breakthrough. Why? In part because of financial concerns. Who would profit from the farm in Laos? Vang Pao’s lead negotiator, a Californian named Charlie Waters, says the motive is solving a social problem, and he will set up the farm co-op in whatever way works best. Other Hmong-Americans not connected to this initiative say the U.S. embassy in Laos has a reputation for being anti-Hmong, and for giving a chilly reception to outside ideas. That was certainly my impression when I met with the embassy staff in 2008. I was told that the Hmong insurgency was a fifty-year problem in its thirty-third year.

The tribe and the State Department have had a long, roller-coaster relationship. During the Vietnam war era, the U.S. ambassador to Laos actually ran the covert military effort. The C.I.A. and the U.S. Air Force reported to the ambassador and, because there were no U.S. ground troops, Vang Pao and the Hmong were the favorite proxy soldiers. After the communists took over Laos in 1975 and began their revenge, slaughtering more than 10,000 Hmong, the State Department withdrew most of its embassy staff and turned its attention elsewherre. It has done no serious post-conflict resolution work in Laos up to today.

Eventually, one third of all Laotian Hmong came to the U.S. as refugees – an act of great American generosity. But the State Department seldom bothered to track the Hmong factions that continued to fight the Laotian regime, or chart the relationships between the jungle Hmong and their cousins in America. This indifference – together with the misrule in Laos, one of the last five communist regimes in the world – allowed a curious kind of anarchy to take root in the Hmong populations of both countries. The results included widespread illegal fundraising in America to support the resistance, young Hmong-Americans traveling to Laos to fight, and a persistent myth of Vang Pao’s inevitable return at the head of great invading army. “A lot of this could have been prevented,” says Bill Lair, Vang Pao’s former CIA advisor, “If there had been a liason” between the State and Justice Departments, on the one hand, and the Hmong-American community on the other. But there wasn’t. Nor did the State and Justice Departments appear to be sharing solid intelligence information with each other – if they had any.

In 2007, the Justice Department indicted Vang Pao and ten others on charges of conspiring to overthrow the Laotian regime with a massive, spectacular armed coup. It soon became clear that the old general learned about the coup idea from his fellow defendants, but hadn’t endorsed it, because he knew it wouldn’t work. The plan was a kind of exaggerated military fantasy, heavily promoted by a U.S. undercover agent, as part of a widespread pattern of federal sting operations in the post-9/11 era.

The reality was that the tiny, vestigial, Hmong resistance on the other side of the world was little threat to the Laotian regime and no threat to the U.S. government. The resistance at that time – maybe one or two thousand people in an Asian country the size of California – consisted of small bands of hungry men, women, and children who stayed on the run and ate roots and bugs to stave off starvation. Via satellite phones, resistance leaders in the mountains of Laos spoke regularly with Hmong in the U.S. Their underlying message: They wanted to come out of the mountains and lead normal lives, if only there was a way for them to surrender in safety.

Even before the charges against him were dropped in September, the old general had decided to return home, to make peace with his enemies and do the best he can for the jungle Hmong. He is doing so now without the support of many of his Hmong-Americans followers. It is as though he were the most prominent Cuban-American exile in Florida, and he had decided to go to Havana for a chat about normalizing relations with Fidel and Raul Castro. To many unreconciled Hmong-American exiles, this is simply unthinkable. He is puncturing their reality bubbles.

Vang Pao’s gambit could easily fail – disrupted by angry Hmong-Americans, or by hard-line elements within the Laotian regime. But it is in the U.S. interest for him to succeed. To maximize his chances, the State Department should pop its own reality bubble. It should get involved, for a change, supplying technical expertise and behind-the-scenes diplomatic muscle. And it should do so for reasons that are much bigger than America’s relationship with Laos – which is, when all is said and done, just an obscure, impoverished, strategically marginal country. It should get engaged because there’s a bigger game afoot.

The game is being played in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and in smaller conflicts that seldom make the news in northern Africa. The success or failure of many of today’s U.S. conflicts revolves around relationships with local indigenous people and their power brokers. In an interconnected world, it doesn’t help a U.S. Army captain recruit a tribal chief if the chief knows the U.S. has a history of abandoning tribal allies, as it notoriously did in Laos. And it doesn’t help U.S. Treasury agents stop the flow of money for jihad, if Egyptians and Syrians know that American citizens of Hmong descent send money to Southeast Asia, to support an insurgency there. On an international scale, leaving the Hmong mess unresolved makes the U.S. look foolish and hypocritical.

So it’s time for Secretary of State Clinton to send in skilled practitioners of statecraft to end this little conflict that should have ended a generation ago. And then apply the lessons of Laos to cleaning up the aftermaths of wars elsewhere. Unless her State Department gets much more aggressive and creative, and sends talented people out into the field for years at a time to work with local people and seek constructive opportunities, insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan will last for many decades after the Americans leave. The drama unfolding now in Laos should be seen as a warning sign – and a training mission – for the much tougher jobs of peacemongering that lay ahead.


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Dan Solin: Business Week or "Business Weak"?

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Does selling magazines justify harming investors by writing irresponsible articles about the financial markets? Apparently, Business Week believes it does. At the end of each year, it shamelessly publishes its “Investment Outlook” for the following year. Unfortunately, this year is no exception.

In its “2010 Investment Outlook,
Business Week peers into its crystal ball and tells investors to “figure out where wealth is being produced and grab a piece of it.” It doesn’t believe the U.S will have a “robust economic recovery”, in contrast to China or Brazil.

Its most irresponsible advice relates to stock picking. Here’s the data it uses to entice its readers to engage in this discredited practice: “An investor who miraculously managed to select the top 10 stocks in the world in each market sector each year for the eight years through December 2008 would have had a cumulative return of almost 7,000%.” Raise your hand if believe anyone did that.

The article encourages stock pickers to “roam the world for candidates.”

Before you rush out and start “roaming the world” for under priced stocks, let’s look at the track record of Business Week.

On December 20, 2007, it advised investors “Where to Put Your Cash in 2008.” The article was based on interviews with seven stock market analysts. It was a stellar group, including the Chief Investment Officer of UMB Financial, the Chief U.S. Equity Strategist of Citigroup, the Chief Investment Strategist of Strategas Research Partners, the Chairman of Schaeffer’s Investment Research, the Chief Investment Officer of BNY Mellon Wealth Management ( “wealth management” is a term that usually means the transfer of wealth from your pocket to your advisors), the Chief Investment Strategist of Banc of America Securities and the Chief U.S. Equity Strategist of UBS Investment Research.

Surely these leading investment experts were able to predict the worst market crash in fifty years, right?

Their predictions of where the DJIA would end in 2008 ranged from a low of 14,400 to a high of 15,300.

The DJIA closed at 8,776 on December 31, 2008.

In retrospect, some of the predictions of these “experts” are amusing, in a perverse way.

One expert predicted 2008 would bring “sustainability of robust earnings.” Citgroup’s Chief Strategist (a title which, in retrospect, seems like an oxymoron) advised investors to “buy beaten down financial and retailing stocks.”

Financial stocks lost 58% of their value in 2008.

Business Week extolled the virtues of one of its experts, noting that he was “rated as one of the best market strategists by Institutional Investor magazine” and that he had a “strong following among the sophisticated investors who run pensions and endowments.” How could you go wrong relying on a stock guru with those credentials?

He noted the “odds of a recession are low” and believed “U.S. stocks are a good buy in comparison with bonds.”

The recession of 2008 was the worst recession since the Great Depression. The S&P 500 fell 38.5% in 2008. I wonder how strong his following remains with those savvy managers of pensions and endowments.

Business Week could add credibility and strength by interviewing real “financial experts”, like William Bernstein, John Bogle, Burton Malkiel, Jonathan Clements, Jason Zweig, Michael Edesess, Eugene Fama and many others who would caution investors against relying on those who believe they can pick stocks or time the markets. Failing that, it should voluntarily add the kind of warnings mandated on cigarettes like: “Relying on these predictions can be harmful to your financial health.”

Otherwise, Business Week should change its name to “Business Weak.”

Dan Solin is the author of The Smartest Retirement Book You’ll Ever Read.

The views set forth in this blog are the opinions of the author alone and may not represent the views of any firm or entity with whom he is affiliated. The data, information, and content on this blog are for information, education, and non-commercial purposes only. Returns from index funds do not represent the performance of any investment advisory firm. The information on this blog does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice and is limited to the dissemination of opinions on investing. No reader should construe these opinions as an offer of advisory services. Readers who require investment advice should retain the services of a competent investment professional. The information on this blog is not an offer to buy or sell, or a solicitation of any offer to buy or sell any securities or class of securities mentioned herein. Furthermore, the information on this blog should not be construed as an offer of advisory services. Please note that the author does not recommend specific securities nor is he responsible for comments made by persons posting on this blog.


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Philip Radford: Carbon Price Drops Are True Signal That Copenhagen Was a Cop-Out

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Was Copenhagen historic or a failure (or both)? To discern the value of the Copenhagen deal through the din of spin, look no further than the 9% drop in the European carbon market on Monday, where confidence vanished following the President Obama’s “historic accord.”

Last week, President Obama made an audacious effort to save what was a floundering process in Copenhagen. Unfortunately, his administration’s claim of “historic accord” is little but spin. What the world was waiting for — the sinking island nations, the 300,000 that the World Health Organization says die each year from global warming, and the carbon markets — were binding agreements to cut carbon pollution, end tropical deforestation by 2015, and provide financing to assist developing countries in leap-frogging dirty development with clean energy.

What they got was business as usual. Earlier this year the House passed a deeply flawed climate bill that falls short of what the science says is needed to roll back climate change. The bill’s contents were what the president promised in Copenhagen, and his words were met with disappointment the world over.

There’s spin from all sides about just what happened in Denmark. Let me share my observations from someone with a global, not just U.S., perspective. The European Union, already actively engaged in the Kyoto Protocol, offered to cut its pollution by 20% and said they would go up to 30% if the U.S. put more ambitious goals on the table. The EU also pledged 30 billion euro per year for financing clean technology and other initiatives in the developing world. China, already outpacing the U.S. in the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies, offered to decrease the energy intensity of its emerging economy. India pledged the same.

The U.S. pressed China to allow its efforts to cut global warming pollution to be independently measured. China resisted the U.S. proposal to allow the U.S. to come in and inspect its industry, but felt that the negotiations with the U.S. were making progress on this point when it accepted an EU proposal on reporting and occasional checks. Meanwhile, the U.S. was punching loopholes into the pact.

The deal could possibly be sealed if the U.S. offered financing for developing countries and resolved the issue of transparency with China.

Enter Hillary Clinton, offering to somehow figure out how to give an unstated contribution of money from an unknown source to a $100 billion fund. In the process, she offended the Chinese premier, who was in such a fury that his negotiating staff was in a panic.

Enter President Obama. His speech, clearly written for one audience – the U.S. Senate – said three things to the heads of state in the room: hey foreign leaders, we don’t want foreign oil; hey China, even though we’ve been building trust and negotiating all year well, I’m going to scold you for the benefit of domestic politics; and hey world: even though these are negotiations, I have nothing to offer. It’s my way or the highway.

The President laid out what it had offered the world for the last nine months, budging on nearly nothing. He put forward a goal of cutting pollution by 4% below 1990 levels – about one tenth of what the EU offered. In fairness, he had little to offer. The combination of the President’s hesitance to lead to overcome special interests to achieve his own stated objectives – whether on a public option in health care or pollution reductions of any respectable size – and the power of the coal and oil lobbies put the his negotiators in the awkward positoin of negotiating without very much to give.

The Chinese premier stormed out of the room and refused to meet with the President. Finally, the President secured a meeting and hammered out a deal that has the value of the carbon markets today: very little.

So few people had a clue about the “deal” that when President Obama later announced it the EU negotiators were still forging a deal and G77 delegates were talking in the halls about the perilous state of the Summit. Ultimately, most signed on, because if they did not, then their country would not get a cut of a $30 billion package for clean energy and adapting to current global warming. A few brave countries, not wanting to be bought, said “no” to the deal. The historic accord was “noted” by the process, a nod to its existence.

The world still expects great things of President Obama and the US, but we cannot expect him to save the world on his own, we can expect – and must demand – that the president leads in recommitting the U.S. to the democratic UN process, doubles his efforts through the EPA and other methods to cut global warming pollution without the loopholes, clean air act rollbacks, impending nuclear disasters, and green light for coal that we see in current legislation, and approaches the negotiations as what they are – negotiations to save millions of lives, dozens of countries, 70% of the world’s species, and a future that is worth passing on to our children.

More on Barack Obama


Cambodia Deports 20 Uighurs To China, Gets $1.2 Billion

December 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping thanked Cambodia on Monday for deporting 20 Muslim asylum-seekers while handing the country $1.2 billion in aid , the government spokesman said.

The 20 ethnic Uighurs deported Saturday were sought by China in connection with violent anti-government protests. Human rights activists are concerned that they will face persecution in China.

The United States said Sunday it was “deeply disturbed” by the forcible deportations. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the incident would affect Cambodia’s relationship with the United States and its international standing.

“China thanked the government of Cambodia for assistance in sending back those people (Uighurs) to China because under Chinese law these people are criminals. This represents cooperation by the two sides,” Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said after a meeting Monday between the Chinese leader and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

He said that the 14 agreements totalled $1.2 billion in grants and loans, ranging from Chinese help in building roads to repairing Buddhist temples. Earlier, China had provided Cambodia with $930 million in loans and other aid.

China is key ally and donor to impoverished Cambodia.

Cambodia said it was expelling the Uighurs because they had illegally entered the country.

Xi’s trip to Cambodia is seen as significant because he is widely considered the leading contender to eventually succeed President Hu Jintao. It is his last stop on a four-nation Asian tour that also included Japan, South Korea and Myanmar.

While economic powerhouses Japan and South Korea are rivals to China, Myanmar and Cambodia are two of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries, where China uses its wealth to spread its influence.

Beijing is the closest and most powerful ally of military-ruled Myanmar, and has major investments in the country, which is shunned by the West because of its failure to restore democratic rule.

Cambodia is nominally more democratic than Myanmar, but Hun Sen is an autocratic ruler who uses his ties with China as a balance against dependency on Western nations.

More on China


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GM woos CFO Chris Liddell away from Microsoft

December 21st, 2009 admin No comments

As you may or may not have heard, Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell announced that he was leaving the company late last month, but neither he nor Microsoft was doing much talking at the time about what he would be doing next — other than that he would be “looking at a number of opportunities that will expand his career beyond being a CFO.” Well, it looks like he will still be a CFO after all — this time at General Motors. That move was just made official today, and follows news earlier this month that GM’s current CFO, Ray Young, would be transferring to China. As you might expect given the executive situation at GM, however, there’s plenty of speculation that this hire might be more than what it seems, and folks already talking that Liddell may actually be being groomed to take over as CEO of the company once he gets a bit more experience in the automotive industry.

GM woos CFO Chris Liddell away from Microsoft originally appeared on Engadget on Mon, 21 Dec 2009 16:13:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Uighur refugees deported back to China

December 21st, 2009 admin No comments

Cambodia will deport 20 refugees of Uighur minority descent back to China, where human rights groups say they may be tortured or executed upon return. Hundreds of Uighurs were detained by Chinese authorities after a civil uprising, with official reports that 17 have been sentenced to death, but independent reports point to widespread use of torture extrajudicial killings, and grave human rights violations. (via Oxblood)


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Avatar earns $232.2m in opening weekend

December 21st, 2009 admin No comments

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That’s the biggest ever for a non-sequel. It earned $73m in the U.S, the rest abroad. The LA Times points out that many on the east coast were snowed in by the worst blizzard in a decade, and that it’s yet to open in China and Japan. Subhead of the day, however, goes to Reuters: “BLUE PEOPLE WOW CRITICS.”


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Alexia Parks: Let’s Get Real About Copenhagen

December 21st, 2009 admin No comments

Let’s get real about Copenhagen. Until now, the biggest roadblock to signing the Kyoto agreement, and to making progress at #COP15 has been the United States. Yes, China has now surpassed us as THE biggest polluter on the planet, yet in part, their rapid growth has been in response to feeding our need to consume.

Now, the U.S., led by President Barack Obama, has brokered a deal — a real deal, although a very, very small deal. However, a deal is a deal. And, of course, it cannot be legally binding until the U.S. Congress says so.

Given the polarized nature of today’s U.S. Congress, it would be almost impossible for them to sign any binding global agreement on climate change. So give Obama a break here. His presence did catalyze action and closure at the UN conference.

In Copenhagen, a deal has been struck. It will lead to larger and bigger actions, for two main reasons.

1. During the two week UN Conference, there was an enormous amount of networking done by observer organizations, researchers and delegates. There is now an ever expanding community of committed people around the globe who know each other by face, by name, or by organization. Avaaz.org is one organization that managed to gather more than 11 million signatures during the two week conference, in support of what they termed a REAL deal.

2. There was extraordinary media coverage. The media loves conflict and cliff-hangers. The UN conference gave them plenty of these, with a message attached. The conflict was not the kind covered in celebrity gossip, in fact, more stories were probably written about climate change over these two weeks, than about Tiger Woods. Billions of people around the world have had access to news of the dangers and perils of climate change and actions that must be taken.

Which leads me to my final point, and I’ve said it before. All climate impacts are local. Whatever governments say or do, it still comes down to individual actions that we, each one of us, takes in our everyday lives, and actions taken in the communities where we live.

To get the U.S. Congress to take its first steps toward meaningful climate protection action, we will need to sweep out old thinking and bring in new thought leaders. In 2010, we need to elect politicians who understand that climate change is a real and pending danger, and who are willing to take dramatic action to reduce U.S. emissions.

In 2007, at a similar conference in Bali, the only agreement the 193 nations were able to make was to wait until 2009, until a new president had been elected in the United States. That has happened. Now, leaders and delegates from the 193 nations in Copenhagen are waiting until 2010, until a new group of politicians are elected to the U.S. Congress.

Change happens. And we have a role to play when we go to the polls next year.

More on Climate Change


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Aigo jumps on the e-reader bandwagon with EB6301

December 21st, 2009 admin No comments
It’s official: everyone’s making an e-reader. While we’re still a little unsure of where all this is heading (hey, call us Luddites, but we actually like turning pages!), we’re always glad to see an ever-expanding offering of literacy-encouraging gadgets. Chinese company Aigo has just announced its own model, the daringly named EB6301. This one boasts a 6-inch E Ink display, a host of buttons running down its left side in addition to the navigation panel, and has 2GB of built-in storage. There’s no WiFi on this unit which is a disappointment, and it’s going to run 2,499 yuan — about $366. There’s no word on availability outside of China at this time.

Aigo jumps on the e-reader bandwagon with EB6301 originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 20 Dec 2009 23:34:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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David Harris: Iran: The Truth Hurts

December 21st, 2009 admin No comments

It’s as predictable as day follows night.

Raise the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, as I have more than once, and all Tehran’s flacks and flunkies, including Israel-bashers galore, come out of the woodwork.

They rush to Iran’s defense, portraying it as a peace-loving, law-abiding, misunderstood nation.

There is no evidence whatsoever, they allege, that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

Oh, and by the way, on the off chance it is, they add, it’s strictly for defensive purposes. Iran has never hurt a soul in its history, so why the concern?

They accuse all kinds of alleged miscreants – warmongers, neoconservatives, Zionists, you name it – of besmirching Iran’s good name in pursuit of nefarious aims. The label is meant to say it all.

If heaven forbid, you’re a Zionist, as I am, then it’s abundantly clear what you must be up to. Nothing more need be said. Were it not for you, Iran would enjoy the reputation for democracy and decency it so richly deserves.

And they seek to divert the discussion to Israel’s nuclear program and a whole host of other misdeeds, falling just short of holding Jerusalem responsible for the melting of the ice caps.

You see, they contend, the problem in the Middle East is Israel, not Iran. Anything that focuses on Iran is off-limits, as it’s only a ploy to divert the world’s attention from the root cause of all evil and instability, Israel, in an otherwise serene and sedate region.

Gee, if only Israel would go away – hmm, come to think of it, that Iranian nuclear bomb just might help – the region would overnight resemble Europe or North America in its commitment to peace, development, and human rights.

All these spin doctors, whether they comment in the Huffington Post or Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News, offer a variant of these themes.

Frankly, they do themselves a disservice. Strip away the huffing and puffing and their arguments don’t amount to a hill of beans.

Iran’s stock has been dropping like a rock, and the responsibility lies solely and exclusively with Iran. Trying to blame this state of affairs on others may play to the bleachers, but won’t wash on the street.

First, consider what’s been going on.

The UN Security Council has adopted three sanctions resolutions against Iran because of its nuclear program, each with the support of the five permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States. And a fourth resolution appears to be just around the corner.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has censured Iran as recently as last month for developing in secret a uranium enrichment site near Qom. The vote was 25 to 3. Those voting against were Cuba, Malaysia, and Venezuela. Right afterwards, Malaysia indicated that its vote was in error, leaving just Cuba and Venezuela, quite a support group for Iran. As the saying goes, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Interpol has issued “red notices” for five Iranians, including Iran’s current defense minister. These red notices indicate that Argentina seeks the arrest and extradition of the five in connection with a terror attack against the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people.

In February, Bahrain suspended talks with Iran on a gas deal after Iranian officials referred to the country as “the 14th province of Iran,” evoking memories of Saddam Hussein’s claim that Kuwait was an integral part of Iraq – and all that followed.

In March, Morocco broke diplomatic ties with Iran. Rabat accused Tehran of “intolerable interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom.”

In April, Egypt lodged an official protest with Iran over Tehran’s “blatant interference in internal Egyptian affairs.”

In June, President Barack Obama visited Saudi Arabia. The Saudi king pressed for tougher U.S. action against Iran, fearing the geostrategic implications for his country and all the Arab Gulf states of a nuclear Iran.

That’s just a small taste of Iran’s dealings with the larger world. What about inside the country?

Each day brings new reports about human rights abuses, as the current regime, besieged since the rigged June elections, tightens the noose – literally and figuratively.

Literally, as public hangings have been among the favored methods of capital punishment practiced by the Iranian government. Figuratively, as nervous leaders attempt to quash the demonstrations that keep popping up, despite efforts to intimidate and cow the protesters.

Will the whitewashers of the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime defend the government’s repressive practices against students, reform politicians, independent journalists, women activists, gays, or religious minorities?

And then there’s the Israel argument. But that doesn’t hold any more water than the others.

If Israel has a nuclear arsenal, it is for one purpose – and one purpose only. It serves as the ultimate guarantor of the security of a state that has been the target of its enemies since its very establishment in 1948.

Last time I checked, Israel, unlike Iran, had never called for the destruction of any country in the region. Israel has never questioned Iran’s right to exist. It is Iran that questions Israel’s right to exist.

And last time I checked, Israel had never resorted to the use of nuclear weapons, though faced with devastating wars since the 1950s, when reports suggest it first developed those weapons. If that doesn’t indicate rational, responsible behavior, what does?

I understand that being Iran’s lawyers in the court of public opinion these days can be rather tough. It’s not easy to find salient arguments to make. Iran has become its own worst enemy – practicing deceit and deception abroad, repression and brute force at home.

Sorry, but no smokescreens, straw men, name-calling, or truth-twisting can deny the stark, unassailable facts about Iran today.

More on Israel



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