IPS Blog

Albright and ISIS Still Believe Danilenko and Parchin Are Radioactive

On March 14 I we posted a piece titled Do Albright and ISIS Buy Parchin Clean-up Story or Don’t They? Excerpt:

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) refers to itself as a “non-partisan institution that focuses on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.” But it’s sometimes demonstrated a tendency to lean toward, if not the right, the alarmist about nuclear proliferation. As late as 2002, its “ubiquitous” president David Albright, oft quoted in print and on television, issued nuclear warnings about Iraq. In January of this year, Albright and the ISIS staff published a report titled Reality Check: Shorter and Shorter Timeframe if Iran Decides to Make Nuclear Weapons.

ISIS also endorsed the unconvincing story that Iran built an explosives chamber to test components of a nuclear weapon and carry out a simulated nuclear explosion (the Danilenko affair, if you will). Albright told Toby Warrick of the Washington Post in November of last year:

“It remains for Danilenko to explain his assistance to Iran. … At the very least, Danilenko should have known exactly why the Iranians were interested in his research and expertise. The IAEA information suggests he has provided more than he has admitted.”

Investigative journalist Gareth Porter, among others, debunked that story.

ISIS staff person Paul Brannan, presumably noticing the post on Google Alerts, responded. He begins:

For a more comprehensive review of information regarding Danilenko, please see:

ISIS Analysis of IAEA Iran Safeguards Report: Part II – Iran’s Work and Foreign Assistance on a Multipoint Initiation System for a Nuclear Weapon


Vyacheslav Danilenko – Background, Research, and Proliferation Concerns

Then Brannan writes:

It strains credibility to suggest that Danilenko’s assistance to Iran regarding high explosive implosion system design would have been used by Iran for synthetic diamond production. Danilekno was an expert on the physics of a shockwave resulting from the detonation of high explosives and spent a career in the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons program. Synthetic diamond production is a commercial application of this expertise. Moreover, Danilenko was hired by Seyed Abbas Shahmoradi, the director of the Physics Research Center, a parallel nuclear program in Iran at the time—separate from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and under the military. For more on the Physics Research Center, please see:

The Physics Research Center and Iran’s Parallel Military Nuclear Program

Regarding the building at the Parchin site, ISIS initially searched through satellite imagery looking for increased activity at the site (as was reported to have been present at the Parchin at various times) as a means to locate the building referenced in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) November 2011 safeguards report on Iran. There is a consistent level of activity at the Parchin site going back many years, however, making the identification of new activity and determining its purpose difficult. ISIS then sought to find the specific building itself. After identifying the building, ISIS published imagery of it the same day.

ISIS is committed to providing the public with accurate and unbiased information about nuclear proliferation worldwide. We will continue to do so, even when that information suggests unsettling acts of proliferation or nuclear weapons research and development. It is crucial that the international community find a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue that avoids military strikes, as ISIS most recently advocated in a March 5, 2012 report made possible by the United States Institute of Peace, found here: http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/USIP_Template_5March2012-1.pdf

Kony Case Reveals Millennial Generation’s Evolving Sense of International Justice

Considering the recent quake in interest in Joseph Kony among my fellow members of generation Y, last week’s unanimous decision by the International Criminal Court to convict Thomas Lubanga Dylio is timely to say the least. Lubanga was the president of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UCP), an ethnically based opposition movement with roots in Ituri in Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lubanga also served as the commander in chief of UCP’s military branch, the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (PFLC). Lubanga oversaw systematic rape, ethnic massacres, and torture. Additionally, he was accused of spearheading child abductions and then using these children, mostly under the age of 15, as child soldiers during the height of the Ituri conflict from September 2001 to August 2003. After over 60 witnesses and over 1,000 pieces of evidence were heard during the three-year trial of Mr. Lubanga, Presiding judge Adrian Fulford announced last Wednesday that the prosecution produced evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Lubanga, who was commonly accompanied by child soldier body-guards before his 2005 arrest, played a direct role in the conscription of children during this conflict.

As we wait to learn of his final sentencing, we are left wondering what kind of sentence might be expected for the now infamous Joseph Kony if he gets his day in court. While there is something commendable about Invisible Children spreading awareness of Kony’s atrocities, calling for “justice” is terribly vague, especially among millennials. Everyone agrees that Kony’s actions have been horrendous, but there has been little consensus on what bringing him to justice would really look like. The focus has been on getting him (through Africom) with little thought of what to do to him next. The very term “getting him” is itself vague with no clue as to if how or in what state he will be retrieved. The difference between recognizing a clear wrong and identifying a just right could not be plainer.

Considering the way the Kony 2012 video was designed, I wouldn’t be surprised if many newcomers to the movement hadn’t considered this yet. If so, there are several more questions left for them to ponder.

Let us presume that Kony the Barbarian is located. What should happen then? Lubanga’s three charges pertaining to using child soldiers added up to a measly sentence range of 11-30 years with many expecting something close to the maximal sentence. If Kony were to be sentenced similarly to Lubanga, would the movement spurred by Invisible Children feel that justice was served? Or is time in prison somehow getting off easy? Would the 11-17 year old girls who made up the largest cohort of viewers of the Kony 2012 video feel vicariously avenged if Kony was sentenced to death after a trial? Is a trial even necessary? How does one dole out justice that can respond to such terrible acts as those performed by the likes of Kony and his lesser known counterpoint, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni who has also been accused of committing war crimes by the International Court of justice?

In addition to the judicial possibilities, let’s take a moment to explore extrajudicial scenarios. What if, akin to Osama Bin Laden, Special Forces swooped in on an LRA encampment and “took out” Kony before he knew what hit him? This would distract from the gravity of the reality of taking justice out of the courts and onto the battlefield, deploying soldiers to serve as both judge and executioner. How convenient would it be if we could all handily avoid focusing on the action itself of killing Kony by instead dwelling on the flashy scenario that would have surrounded the mission? News media would constantly replace the real action of killing, executing, shooting, with more appealing action-movie euphemisms like “taken out” or “neutralized” not to mention a flashy name like “Operation Wolverine.” The kids these days love Wolverine, right? Surely the soldiers would be far more revered than any ICC prosecution attorney. Many antimilitarists have criticized Invisible Children for encouraging American intervention in the crisis that may lead to just such an eventuality as well as many other unintended consequences regarding Africom. Do the means justify the ends if Kony is captured or killed by Special Forces using drones? Ultimately, if a case could be made for alternative means that empower local officials, are less violent, and less interventionist such as local police relying on informants in order to apprehend Kony, then I would posit that militarist means cannot be so easily justified.

Pew 1Research done by the Pew Research Center shows that military intervention and capital punishment are not as popularly supported by the millennial generation as older generations. The report warned that “the relationships among age, generation and attitudes about national security are complex and defy easy generalization” but did go on to point out two surveys from 2009 indicated that this up and coming generation was less hawkish than its elders. The 2009 report showed that only 38% believed that the best way to ensure peace was through military strength and were also less supportive* of an assertive approach to national security.

Alas, the picture is not entirely clear. There is a clear difference between an assertive approach to national security and humanitarian intervention. After all, Save Darfur drew heavily on support from young people, though this demographic was significantly less outspoken on intervention in Libya and has been relatively quiet in regard to ongoing human rights violations in Syria. Despite being far more likely to identify as liberal, another Pew poll taken in November 2011 showed that the majority of young people still support capital punishment for murder. With 59% approval, millennials were only slightly below the national average of 62%. At the same time, millennials opposed the death penalty as a suitable punishment for murder more than any other age related demographic.

Pew 2

Though capital punishment is supported by the majority of Americans as an appropriate penalty for our own citizens, many U.S. citizens have been significantly less cavalier about executions of foreign criminals, especially among the millennial generation. In the wake of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, what was at first a generally jovial Facebook, news feeds began to see more and more humanistic and religiously inspired quotes about the tragedy of death, violence and killing (many of which were mistakenly attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.).

I was about to start my final semester of my senior year of high school on December 2006 when Saddam Hussein was executed for his crimes committed during his tyrannical rule over Iraq. I attended high school in a conservative rural area in Oregon, a state that had lost a higher than average number of national guardsmen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of my peers planned on joining the military after high school. And while people were generally satisfied that justice had been served, no one I knew had the stomach to watch the video. My closest friend noted admiringly of rumors that even George Bush turned away and did not watch the full video. What does it say about a punishment if it is so horrendous we can celebrate the sentence but not bear to watch it? To watch it is to own it, to take responsibility for it. To Kony 2012 let me just say that if it is justice you want, you might want to be more specific.

*The Pew Research Center’s published research regarding support for assertive national security did not include an enumerated Y radial on their graphic results which made speculation as to the degree of any generation’s support for such action unidentifiable in non-relative terms.

Heath Mitchell is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Why We Are Still Not Supporting Jeffrey Sachs to be World Bank President

Thanks to The Nation for creating the forum for this important dialogue on the World Bank presidency and also to Jeffrey Sachs for participating. Progressives should not expect that we will always march together to one song; we should savor the venues like this where we can debate as allies. We appreciate the many comments that have been posted and others that were sent to us privately.

We will use our limited “rebuttal” space to respond to two key issues.

Jeffrey Sachs should not be the next World Bank chief. Photo by Ryan Rayburn.

Jeffrey Sachs should not be the next World Bank chief. Photo by Ryan Rayburn.

Some progressives are urging us all to be more “strategic,” to support Sachs for World Bank president because he is better than possible Obama pick Larry Summers. We agree that Summers would be a terrible choice to head the Bank and, indeed, have joined tens of thousands to sign a petition to the Obama administration opposing his candidacy. However, the deadline for governments to announce their candidates is not until March 23. By then, several governments will nominate Sachs. The United States will announce a candidate. And, other governments may nominate someone else. After that point, it will be important for progressives around the world to debate who, if anyone, deserves our support. Before the 23rd, we believe that one productive strategic role for progressives is to critique the traditional presumption that Americans will support the European choice for the IMF head and Europeans will back the U.S. choice at the Bank, virtually assuring that the rich countries get their way. We commend the Bretton Woods Project for their open letter arguing for a reformed selection process.

So too do we think it strategic for progressives to put forward the best candidates from across the globe, candidates with the qualifications to run a large organization and with the vision, humility, sensibility, and ability to listen to the 99 percent — all necessary to transform the Bank. Since we wrote our initial piece, dozens of people have sent us such names: Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, former UNDP head Gus Speth, urban poor advocate Sheela Patel, Greenpeace International chair Kumi Naidoo, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter, former Brazilian president Lula, and ActionAid International head Joanna Kerr, among others. Any could be a great leader of the Bank, but people and governments hesitate to put “best” names forward so long as the U.S.-European grip on the selection process continues. If U.S. progressives spent as much time promoting a “best” candidate as they are backing Sachs, that person might take-off as a candidate. Such a “best-person” list also presses those who are running to prove they match such high credentials, not that they are better than the worst.

Our second rebuttal issue has to do with the development record of Jeffrey Sachs. Knowledgeable commentators below have added their reflections on Sachs’s role in “shock therapy” and its impacts, particularly in Bolivia. In terms of Sachs’s current work, we note that nobody supporting Sachs has demonstrated that the Millennium Villages represent a “sustainable” future; whatever the pesticide costs per person, fossil-fuel dependent agriculture is not the way forward. We have spent time on the ground with sustainable farmers and “farmer scientists” who are restoring the soil, cutting costs, and raising yields without chemicals. In the era of climate catastrophe, they are the future of agriculture. Millennium Villages and the World Bank should be on board to accelerate the transition to post-chemical, sustainable farming that is good for farmers, consumers, the land, and the climate. Agribusiness firms and fertilizer corporations will fight this transition every step of the way; we need a World Bank president who will stand up to them.

Paul Ryan’s 2013 Budget Slashes Social Safety Net, Gives Tax Breaks to the Rich

Paul Ryan is wildly out of touch with average Americans.

Paul Ryan is wildly out of touch with average Americans.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled a 2013 budget plan that would impose unnecessary hardship on already hurting Americans.

Before the economy has had a chance to bounce back, the GOP budget would slash critical safety net programs to rates below what both parties had agreed to in last summer’s Budget Control Act. At the same time, the Ryan budget would give tax breaks to the wealthy and to corporations.

I think this shows not only that the GOP is wildly out of touch with average Americans, but that they lack the ability to lead us anywhere but off a cliff. We need revenues, investments, jobs, and a strong safety net for the millions of Americans who continue to suffer from the Great Recession. Tax breaks for the rich and less for everyone else is an idea which has already failed the vast majority of Americans.

Can LOL Cats Help Avert World War III?

Israel catThe cat pictures are the newest permutations of a social media campaign started over the weekend by two Israeli graphics designers that is called “We Love Iranians,” aimed at raising public awareness against the steady march to war the Likud government has been taking Israel on towards Iran.

The meme has “gone viral” in Israel, and while it’s spawned a number of sensible parodies (such as noting that the same tone was on display for Iraqis to hear — if they could hear over the ack-ack — by George W. Bush in 2003) and is inevitably going to lead to a “slacktivism” discussion, at least it’s demonstrating that public opinion against war with Iran in Israel is growing. Israel is ostensibly a democracy, so the best-case outcome is that all those national security specialists and “cultural icons” who have been keeping quiet realize there is a base of domestic support for them to tell Bibi to can the Holocaust references

More comforting, though, has been news that 1) Mossad once again concludes with the U.S. intelligence services that Iran has neither the capability nor political will to pursue nuclear weaponization now, 2) some Iranian leaders are saying they’re willing to make concessions at the new P5+1 roundtable, and 3) Netanyahu has failed to convince his kitchen cabinet that he knows what he is talking about on Iran, and considering some of the people in that “Octet,” that is saying something — not least because one of the skeptics is in fact the Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister, a post Netanyahu’s Likud party established in 2009 to have a kind of go-to-guy looking over Shin Bet and Mossad, a la Dick Cheney.

Still, no one is out of the woods yet, Mossad assessment and grinning Israeli couples’ pinterest tags aside. Netanyahu has deliberately set the bar for Iranian concessions so high it’s difficult to believe progress can be made in talks — i.e., asking the Iranians to do things no other NPT signatory is expected to do when Israel itself isn’t even an NPT signatory — and the U.S. has made it pretty clear it will take military action if it feels “compelled” to do so in the region by either an Israeli or Iranian “action.”

Cross-posted from the Arabist.

Qadhafi Family’s Money Confiscated, Accounts Frozen

Gaddafi sharksStraight-up Bond villain extravagances via Hannibal Qadhafi, reports the Financial Times. The dictator’s son was building himself a cruise ship with a shark tank:

“Replete with marble columns, gold-framed mirrors and huge statues, the Phoenicia was to have included a 120-tonne tank of seawater for two sand tiger sharks, two white sharks and two blacktip reef sharks. Four resident biologists would have tended to the animals. The sharks’ nutritional needs mandated a dedicated food store.”

No word on how much the liner cost Libyans – Hannibal skimmed off the top of the country’s port incomes – but the Phoenicia is being refitted by Swiss maritime conglomerate MSC for regular passenger duty at a cost of over US$720 million. Apparently Hannibal had extremely tacky taste and interior renovations have been rather involved. Sadly for passengers and Roger Moore enthusiasts, the shark tank will go – though that’s at least good news for the sharks.

The National Transitional Council, the new Libyan government, is having better luck confiscating money and properties from other Qadhafi family members, though the UAE is freezing the accounts of the late Colonel’s wife, Safia Farkash Al Barassi, and gaining ownership of Saadi Qadhafi’s £10 million London estate that was improperly purchased using Libyan Investment Authority funds. The NTC is also looking to bring Saadi himself, living in exile in Niger, back to Libya to face trial, a proposition that, like most NTC governance efforts, is proving to be an extremely challenging task to enforce.

For their part, some African Union leaders now miss Qadhafi’s largesse in terms of foreign investments as countries are unfreezing and returning Libyan Investment Authority assets to the NTC. They’re in “good” company in the EU and the U.S.

(It’s a parable for the Qadhafi era, really, that despite the presence of sharks onboard, there was a willingness to do much business with the sharks’ wealthy owners.)

UPDATE: Nicholas Sarkozy, who was perhaps the most gung-ho EU leader on intervening in Libya last year, seems determined not to let reports of his campaign taking US$66 million from Colonel Qadhafi turn into a new “Bokassa’s Diamonds” episode in French politics. First Berlusconi’s Libyan investment gymnastics, and now Sarko’s alleged blood money. At least for Sarko’s peace of mind he hasn’t been accused of corruption and abetting mass killings like Francois Mitterrand was.

Swift Boat to Bahrain

If it looks like an arms deal, walks like an arms deal and quacks like an arms deals, is it an arms deal? The State Department says no:

Today, officials from the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and State’s Legislative Affairs office briefed select congressional offices about their decision to transfer seven rigid-hull inflatable boats and 12 32-foot Boston Whaler boats from the U.S. Navy in Bahrain to the Bahrain government. Offices briefed ahead of the Friday formal notification included aides to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the offices of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-WY) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), two lawmakers who have been leading the congressional opposition to continued U.S. arms sales to Bahrain.

…”This isn’t a new package or policy decision. This is part of what was briefed to Congress in January. We are still maintaining a pause on most security cooperation for Bahrain pending further progress on reform,” a State Department official told The Cable today. “The transfer of these boats are necessary to protect U.S. naval personnel and assets based in Bahrain. None of these items can be used against protestors. The transfer does not include any arms and the boats are intended for patrol missions, which is critical for ensuring a robust and layered defense of Bahrain’s coast and for enhancing Bahrain’s ability to counter maritime threats to U.S. and coalition vessels.”

The real story out of Bahrain these days, though, is not the gift of some old PT boats, but with the vagaries of the dialogue going on between the pro-government camp and the predominantly Shia opposition groups, increasingly splitting between the leading pro-dialogue al-Wifaq group and younger demonstrators opposed to al-Wifaq’s stance. According to Justin Gengler, the pro-government camp is starting to list some “reformist” demands of its own:

Once again, then, we hear two separate arguments from members of Bahrain’s Sunni political movements: (1) the state should not negotiate with terrorists; and (2) the state needs to take better care of those who are loyal to it, specifically by clamping down on corruption and other wastes of state resources. As I’ve written previously, whereas the first argument is sure to further complicate the search for a solution to Bahrain’s present political impasse, the second is much more worrisome to the country’s rulers. It implies that Sunnis are beginning to connect the state’s percieved leniency with the opposition with its larger (perceived) neglect of the pro-government faction generally.

In other words, they’re asking the Al Khalifas where are their welfare checks?

Gengler continues:

It is one thing, in other words, for Sunnis to disagree with the government’s approach in dealing with the opposition; it is another if they begin to suspect that this approach is not simply short-sighted but actually belies a coherent government strategy of checking Sunni ambitions through its dealings with the opposition. Put more bluntly, some Sunnis are beginning to feel duped.

Notably, one increasingly-prominent feature of this Sunni movement toward greater political participation and influence is the notion that behind the Bahraini government’s manipulation of citizens is a second, even more sinister puppet-master: the United States.

Given the prominence of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain and the tepid response of the State Department to the Bahraini protests, this suspicion is already well-founded among the demonstrators, but apparently, it is taking a very nasty turn among Sunni critics of the government thanks to the arrival of some very questionable, anti-American firebrands from Kuwait in their forums.

So there is, according to anonymous Congressional staff, another rationale for this PT boat deal: “‘state is trying to show appreciation for them changing but every time there is a step forward there is also one step backward,’ said a senior Senate aide close to the issue.”

And considering that this aide then snarked that the State Department was essentially saying “Have a nice day, thank you for your interest in Bahrain. It’s just boats so it’s no big deal,” I think it’s likely that said aide hails from an office in the Congressional bloc led by Wyden and McGovern that is holding up a much larger US$53 million arms deal. As for the one step forward, one step backward situation, the aide could be referring to the announcement that the controversial U.S. and UK ex-police chiefs the royal family has brought in are setting up an accountability office for Bahrain police force as questionable trials and protestor-police clashes continue.

P.S. Gulf watchers Sultan al-Qassemi and Justin Gengler have both reported on rumors about the KSA and Bahrain forming some sort of political union (the United Arab Autocracy?). Outlandish, yes, but it’s not like there wouldn’t be a precedent: after a popular uprising in Poland in 1848, the “Year of Revolutions,” was put down by the Prussian Army, Berlin formally annexed the region where the revolt took place. Perhaps the deployment of the Peninsula Shield Force has given Riyadh similar ideas. As professor Toby Jones told the AP, “Bahrain can be looked at as something of a Saudi colony now in the sense that policies are merged.” Might as well make it official.

U.S. Government Finally Catching up With MEK Boosters Like Ed Rendell

Cross-posted from IPS Special Project Right Web’s the Militarist Monitor.

In a controversial 6-3 ruling on Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the executive’s right under the USA PATRIOT Act to prosecute individuals or groups deemed to have provided “material support” to any organization classified by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization—including for nonviolent advocacy that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment, if the accused can be shown to have worked in concert with or at the behest of a proscribed organization.

In practice, notes Glenn Greenwald, this has amounted to a wave of prosecutions against young Muslim men for making Internet postings critical of U.S. foreign policy or in praise of alleged anti-American terrorists. It has also frustrated activists working to help terrorist-designated organizations in Turkey and Sri Lanka lodge international human rights complaints as a means of redressing their grievances nonviolently.

But the feds may be ready to add a higher-profile name to the list in former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, an avid (and highly compensated) advocate for the Muhajedin-e Khalq (MEK). Rendell recently disclosed that the U.S. Treasury Department was investigating his speaking agency for payments he received on behalf of the group. Rendell insists that he spoke his own views and received no money or input from MEK’s leaders, although he does not deny receiving large payments from supportive organizations.

U.S.-based apologists for MEK, an exiled Iranian group that fiercely opposes the country’s clerical regime and has for many years been on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, had previously received a pass on prosecutions since Holder, even as far more marginal figures were prosecuted for much lower-profile advocacy of other causes.

Many hawkish U.S. pundits and pressure groups have embraced the group as Iran’s “legitimate opposition” and urged the State Department to remove MEK from its list of terrorist organizations. Groups like Raymond Tanter’s Iran Policy Committee exist solely for this purpose, but they are hardly alone. MEK and an apparently well-heeled community of supporters have shelled out considerable sums to enlist the support of scores of prominent Washington figures, including Rendell, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former CIA Directors Porter Goss and James Woolsey, former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and a host of others.

A Christian Science Monitor report from 2010 quoted a State Department official describing how MEK representatives would approach recently retired Washington politicos to solicit their backing: “Your speech agent calls, and says you get $20,000 to speak for 20 minutes. They will send a private jet, you get $25,000 more when you are done, and they will send a team to brief you on what to say.” All this high-profile support for an apparently active Iranian terrorist group inevitably raised questions about why human rights activists and lonesome Internet pontificators should suffer the wrath of the U.S. government while well-heeled politicos were appearing with MEK officials and accepting large sums to advocate for the group with apparent impunity.

MEK has aroused considerable antipathy in Iran for its often violent opposition to the country’s regime, including serving on the Iraqi side of the Iran-Iraq war. Indeed, much to the chagrin of its U.S. backers, MEK has been disavowed by Iran’s opposition Green Movement. In Iraq, where the cultish group maintains an embattled encampment outside Baghdad, the organization is widely despised for its complicity in Saddam Hussein’s massacres of Iraq’s Shiites and Kurds.

Prior to Iran’s Islamic revolution, MEK was an active participant in a violent campaign against the shah’s rule, during which time the group killed several Americans considered close to the regime. More recently, although MEK claims to have disavowed terrorism, U.S. officials have linked the group to Israeli efforts to sabotage and attack Iranian nuclear facilities, killing several Iranian scientists in the process.

Shilling for the MEK is apparently seen by Washington insiders as a low-risk and lucrative way to push for regime change in Iran, particularly when linked to the separate but often conflated issue of the human rights situation at the group’s Ashraf encampment in Iraq. Whatever the result of Rendell’s investigation (which is admittedly curious for its isolation), and whatever the merits of the Holder ruling or MEK’s status itself, future political retirees might think twice before doubling down on a terrorist group with few friends in either Iran or Iraq. Surely there are less legally troublesome opportunities in less bloody enterprises.

The Lineup: Week of March 19-25, 2012

In this week’s OtherWords editorial package, Sanjeev Bery addresses the situation in Syria and Jim Hightower lauds the residents of Keene, New Hampshire who don’t want their town to get its own tank. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. The Humanity of Poetry / Sarah Browning
    The 500 poets participating in Split This Rock festival come from all walks of life and all levels of education and training.
  2. Consumers Need to Know about Those Newfangled Ingredients / Andrew Korfhage
    Between 70 and 80 percent of the processed foods Americans eat contain genetically modified ingredients.
  3. Syria’s Systematic Torture / Sanjeev Bery
    Concerted action by the international community appears to be the only recourse
  4. What’s Good for the CEO May Be Bad for Business / Kenneth Peres
    Today’s corporate elites should stop pushing for austerity for the many and prosperity for the few and embrace Henry Ford’s strategy of shared prosperity.
  5. I Don’t Like Ike’s Memorial / Donald Kaul
    If you’re going to do something that big, don’t put it on the National Mall.
  6. Standing Up For Common Sense / Jim Hightower
    Keene, New Hampshire has no crime that would warrant rolling out a tank.
  7. Our Health Care Racket / William A. Collins
    The purpose of America’s health care industry is to provide cozy income to the few at the top while abusing the poorly paid health aides at the bottom and consigning vast swaths of the population to inadequate care.
  8. Syria’s Butcher / Khalil Bendib
Syria's Butcher. an OtherWords op-ed by Khalil Bendib.

Syria’s Butcher. an OtherWords op-ed by Khalil Bendib.

Irish Try to Wriggle Free of Mother Merkel’s Hair Shirt of Debt

St. Lawrence O'TooleSomeone has pinched the heart of St. Lawrence O’Toole, and thereby hangs a typical Irish tale filled with metaphors, parallels, and some pretty serious weirdness.

Who done it? The suspects are many and varied.

Could the heist from Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral have been engineered by the infamous “troika” of the European Commission, the European Bank, and the International Monetary Fund? Seems like a stretch, but consider the following: O’Toole—patron saint of Dublin—was, according to the Catholic Church, famous for practicing “the greatest austerity.” Lawrence liked to wear a hair shirt underneath his Episcopal gowns and spent 40 days in a cave each year.

That is a point of view the troika can respect. They have overseen a massive austerity program in Ireland that has strangled the economy, cut wages 22 percent, slashed education, health care, and public transport, raised taxes and fees, and driven the jobless rate up to 15percent—30% if you are young. At this rate many Irish will soon be living in caves, and while hair shirts may be uncomfortable, they are warm.

There are other suspects as well. For instance, St. O’Toole was friendly with the Norman/English King Henry II, who conquered the island in 1171. The Irish are not enamored of Henry II, indeed most of them did their level best to drive the bastard into the sea. Not Lawrence. He welcomed Henry to Dublin and, according to the Church, “Paid him due deference.”

So “deference” establishes yet another suspect: the current Fine Gael/Labor ruling coalition. Fine Gael leader and Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Edna Kenny has already signed the new European Treaty, but was forced to put it up for a public referendum at home (no other EU county is being allowed to vote “yea” or “nay”). Kenny is pressing for a “yes” vote, and Labor’s Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore argues that a “yes” vote would be a “vote for economic stability and a vote for economic recovery.”

The Treaty will not only continue the austerity program, it will move decision-making to EU headquarters in Brussels. This will mean that governments will be powerless when it comes to the economy. Think “Model United Nations” and lots of earnest high school students.

Who will make these decisions? Good question. Well, it turns out that a committee of the German Bundestag debated the Irish austerity proposals before the Dublin government even got a chance to look at them. How did that happen? Again, good question, but no answer yet.

Maybe German Chancellor Andrea Merkel lifted O’Toole’s heart. She certainly has a motive: Merkel is leading the “austerity is good for you” charge, a stance that has battered economies from Spain to Greece. In any case, the Irish are already suspicious of the German chancellor. An anti-austerity demonstration outside the Dail, Ireland’s parliament, featured a poster calling government ministers “Angela’s Asses.”

Much of the economic crisis in Europe—and virtually all of it in Ireland— is due to the out-of-control speculation by German banks, along with the Dutch, Austrian, and French financial institutions. “Yet it is the working people of Ireland and Europe who are being asked to pay the price,” argues Des Dalton of Sinn Fein. It appears that the Germans have discovered that one does not need Panzer divisions to conquer Europe, just bankers and compliant governments.

“Compliant” however, has run into some difficulties in Ireland, a place where “difficulty” is a very common noun. On Mar. 2, Sinn Fein President Jerry Adams trekked out to Castlebar in the west of Ireland to resurrect the ghost of Michael Davitt, founder of the Land League and leader of the 1878 Land War (there was an earlier one from 1761 to 1784, but more on that later). Adams told the Mayo County crowd “The Irish people cannot afford this treaty.”

The Castlebar symbolism was about as heavy as you can get. Davitt, along with the great Irish Parliamentarian Charles Stewart Parnell, launched the land war from that city, calling up the words of the great revolutionary, James Fintan Lalor: “I hold and maintain that the entire soil of a country belongs by right to the entire people of that country.”

These days that is not a popular sentiment in most European capitals, where governments are shedding public ownership in everything from airlines to energy production. The Irish government is trying to sell off several lucrative holdings, including Aer Lingus, Ireland’s natural gas company, and parts of its Electricity Supply Board. The state’s forestry will be sold as well. “It is the depth of treachery to sell billions of Euros worth of State assets to pay bad gambling debts,” Socialist Party member Joe Higgins said in the Dail.

The land wars were a reaction to efforts by the English to apply to Ireland the Enclosure Acts, a policy that sold “common land” to private landowners and forced the rural population of England, Scotland and Wales into the hellishness of industrial Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool.

As Laura Nader and Ugo Mattei maintain in their book “Plunder: When the rule of law is illegal,” what is currently happening in Ireland (and all over Europe) is a 21st century version of the Enclosure Acts. The last vestiges of public ownership are being systematically auctioned to the highest bidder, and the concept of “the common good” is fading like the ghost of providence.

But not without a fight.

While Adams was resurrecting the spirit of Michael Davitt, demonstrators were besieging Parliaments in Greece, Spain and Romania.

Ireland rejected two previous European treaties, only to pass them in a second round of voting. However, under the new rules, it no longer has veto power. If 12 out of the 17 Euro Zone countries endorse—pretty much considered a slam-dunk—then the new treaty goes into effect.

A number of commentators are saying that the 12-country threshold makes the Irish referendum irrelevant, but a “no” vote will be a blow to the Euro currency, and it might eventually encourage similar “no” votes in other countries. In that sense, the Irish tail could end up wagging the European dog.

Since Irish stories always include parallels, there is certainly one to be made between the first land war and the current debt crisis. The 1761 effort by English landlords to apply the Enclosure Acts to Ireland ignited resistance, first in Limerick, then spreading to Munster, Connacht and Leinster. Crowds of Irish tenants dressed in linen masks and coats—hence their generic name, the” Whiteboys”— burned hayricks, knocked down enclosure walls, and hamstrung cattle. On occasion they pitched land agents into the local bog.

The Irish resistance to the Enclosure Acts was not unique, but a very odd thing happened in Ireland: they won. A combination of population growth and war had driven up the price of food, so even the small-scale agriculture practiced by the Irish was profitable. Plus the rent capital skimmed off the Irish peasantry was playing an important role in helping to capitalize the English industrial revolution. Add to this the resistance, and the English decided that it was in their best interests to back off.

The average Irish tenant knew nothing about international finance or capital accumulation, but they got the idea that if you dug in your heels and went toe-to-toe with the buggers, you could beat them. It was a momentous experience, and a collective memory that would help fuel more than 150 years of rebellion.

Can the current Irish resistance movement turn the tide against the austerity madness that has gripped the European continent? Well, the Left is on the rise (in some places, so is the Right). Sinn Fein’s support in the most recent opinion polls shows a 25 percent approval rating, up 4 percent. In comparison, Fianna Fail—the party that ushered in the current crisis—has dropped from 20 percent to 16 percent. Labor has fallen to 10 percent, and Fine Gael is at 32 percent. Other Left parties are also doing well.

Indeed, the Left seems to be resurging in other countries as well. A center-left party in Slovakia ousted a right-wing government, and France seems posted to vote socialist. The Greek Left is fractious, but its various stripes now make up a majority.

Weirdness. Remember weirdness? For starters, an 832-year-old heart is pretty strange. And it wasn’t just the heart that was snatched. Someone also stole a splinter of the “true cross” (if one added up all the splinters in all the Cathedrals of Europe you end up with a fair size forest). And then there is the matter of the cheekbone of St. Brigid that just missed getting lifted from a church in North Dublin.

In the end, saints will not preserve Ireland from an invasion of the austerity snakes. The Irish people will have to do that. But they sport an impressive track record of overturning imperial designs, and they have long memories: put enough people into the streets of Castlebar (Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Galway, Limerick, etc.) and the bastards will back off.

As Adams said in Castlebar, “Stand together, stand united, and there is nothing we cannot achieve.”

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

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