Tag Archives: CIA

Just what is Haaretz desperately trying to hide in Elisheva Goldberg’s murky past?

Last week, Haaretz published a report about a minor trend that sees some Birthright students who become more critical of Israel’s policies after visiting. The piece devotes extensive coverage to notorious anti-Israel advocate Elisheva Goldberg* (who did not come to Israel through Birthright, but does volunteer with Extend, an organization that takes Birthright participants on follow-up tours of the West Bank). The article even refers to the incident that the first link in this paragraph is about (this one, if that’s confusing).

*If you don’t know why, you should probably read the link.

Though on the surface, the piece goes into great detail concerning Ms. Goldberg’s interests and activities — listing pretty much every trip she has taken abroad over the past decade or so — Haaretz appears to have gone to great lengths to actually obscure the true nature of Elisheva’s past. Because this blog has devoted a great deal of space (that’s three separate links) to the task of thoroughly exposing that past, it shall continue to do so now.

Continue reading Just what is Haaretz desperately trying to hide in Elisheva Goldberg’s murky past?

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Susan Rice’s response to events in the Middle East could not be more telling

I hate to do this, as I’ve expended many a post attempting to dispel the notion that Obama and members of his administration hate Israel and are “bad for the Jews”. I don’t believe there is a secret Kenyan Muslim conspiracy to promote the establishment of an Islamic caliphate across the Middle East spearheaded by sleeper agent Barack Hussein Obama. I don’t even believe that there was some vast left-wing CIA/State Department conspiracy to cover up unforgivable incompetence and nincompoopery in Benghazi.

I still don’t. But though the following documentation gives me no great pleasure, I must admit I find myself wondering about the borderline-absurd discrepancy in Susan Rice’s reaction to recent and current events in Israel and the West Bank.

First, nearly two weeks after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped:

Continue reading Susan Rice’s response to events in the Middle East could not be more telling

How to improve the CIA’s Osama bin Laden action figure

Via The Washington Post:

Beginning in about 2005, the CIA began secretly developing a ­custom-made Osama bin Laden ­action figure, according to people familiar with the project. The face of the figure was painted with a heat-dissolving material, designed to peel off and reveal a red-faced bin Laden who looked like a demon, with piercing green eyes and black facial markings.

The goal of the short-lived project was simple: spook children and their parents, causing them to turn away from the actual bin Laden.

The code-name for the bin Laden figures was “Devil Eyes,” and to create them the CIA turned to one of the best minds in the toy business, said those familiar with the project.

Unsurprisingly, the operation seems to have fallen somewhat short of success:

Continue reading How to improve the CIA’s Osama bin Laden action figure

Now we can all see those photos of bin Laden

In 2011, I met an American diplomat of some sort attending Chabad’s seder in Kathmandu. I have his card somewhere — assuming it’s his real card — but the one fact about him I remember without even looking at it is where he was stationed: in Pakistan. He traveled all the way to Kathmandu to celebrate Passover presumably because he didn’t trust the kashrus in Isalamabad.

One week after Passover 2011 drew to a close, Osama bin Laden was caught and killed by the United States. I like to imagine my new acquaintance, and the interesting week/month/year/[however much longer he was in Pakistan] he had for himself.

I was probably among the last Americans on this planet to find out about the strike. Living in a remote Nepali village, without electricity, without television, and without the internet made keeping up with the outside world somewhat difficult. Apparently, the passal (where we took all our meals twenty minutes up the road) carried Obama’s speech live — but it was a cold and rainy night, and the volunteers all stayed home. All that was reported to us the next day was that President Obama had been on television — which was actually impressive, given that many of the people in our village did not recognize the name Obama (or find Nepal on a map of the world).

Being so far away from the United States at such a tumultuous time was interesting for another reason as well: rather than celebrate the event with my American friends (firing AK-47s into the air and handing out candy, I’m sure), I experienced it in the company of Nepalis. To them, it was something that happened. Whatever. And as I recounted in my blog, they weren’t entirely clear on the details of what had gone down with the body.

As it turns out, neither was the rest of the world. The military reportedly disposed of Osama’s body over the side of a ship, and the Obama administration refused to release photographs in an effort to prevent the image from inciting riots that would put Americans abroad at risk (just look at what happened in Benghazi! – and all from one little movie ;-)):

Continue reading Now we can all see those photos of bin Laden

Rick Perry’s latest “oops” moment may not have actually been all that mistaken

When he accidentally referred to Libya as Lebanon on Saturday, Rick Perry was putting himself in good company — he’s now the second 2012 Republican Presidential primary candidate who can’t keep the country straight, after Herman Cain famously self-immolated when asked to comment on Obama’s policy there. Here’s one account of Perry’s speech:

Continue reading Rick Perry’s latest “oops” moment may not have actually been all that mistaken

It’s useful in a pinch (pun intended), but is all that salt a good idea?

Continue reading It’s useful in a pinch (pun intended), but is all that salt a good idea?

My book club has some seriously good timing

I don’t often use this space to write about the books I read IRL.

When I do, it’s typically because of some fun coincidence. Once, my experiences in Nepal helped me appreciate a passage about an erotic Indian temple (How much Sutra is too much? — this is a Hebrew pun). Twice, two passages in a single book reminded me of a memorable phrase in one of my favorite TV shows (This obscenely tasteless post goes out to all you Arrested Development fans ).

But those ones were easy. To truly appreciate the coincidence described in the present post, you’ll have to take yourself back a month and a half or so. I had been inexplicably granted a week off school leading up to Thanksgiving, and was resolved to use that time really productively.

That didn’t happen.

I spent the week with my brother in Queens, and aside from one brief excursion (Book of Mormon!), kept mostly to the inside of his house. At one point while he was out the door on his way to class, I asked if he had any recommendations for something to do nearby. He suggested the cheap, local movie theater that was showing Argo, which had been in theaters for about a month, and which he strongly recommended.

All I knew about Argo was that Ben Affleck had recently visited Jon Stewart to promote it (an event that seemed to me quite recent because — as recently noted — I fall chronically behind on my TV-watching while school is in session), and I confused the movie with Cloud Atlas, because Tom Hanks had visited Stephen Colbert to push that at around the same time.

I never made it to the theater, but I did manage to do my brother’s suggestion one better. At exactly that time, I was in the middle of a novel by Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light, which won the Hugo in 1968. As I read, it occurred to me that the book would make a great movie, so when I finally finished it, I checked out the Wikipedia page to see if that had ever happened. It turned out I was not the first person to get that idea:

In 1979 it was announced that Lord of Light would be made into a 50 million dollar film. It was planned that the sets for the movie would be made permanent and become the core of a science fiction theme park to be built in Aurora, Colorado. Famed comic-book artist Jack Kirby was even contracted to produce artwork for set design. However, due to legal problems the project was never completed.

[Editor’s note: You can see Kirby’s design for Science Fiction Land by scrolling back up.]

But as I read on, things started to get a little weird:

Continue reading My book club has some seriously good timing

Mr. Ahmadinejad goes to Walgreens

Welcome to national security amateur hour.

I’m almost a month behind on this one (or six years, depending on your count) but that shouldn’t come as a surprise, since I’m almost a month behind on everything… including The Colbert Report, through which the following information — first broadcast on October 1 — was brought to my attention earlier this week.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited New York in late September, delivering a speech to the UN on Yom Kippur wasn’t the only item on his to-do list. The Iranian President’s 140-person entourage was also spotted “at Payless Shoesource, Costco, Walgreens and Duane Reade [stocking] up on items ranging from wholesale shampoo to a pair of $40 kids’ shoes.”

The only more delicious list of shopping destinations would have included B&H Photo and H&H Bagels.

But where Colbert focused on radioactive yellowcake mix at Costco, the real aim of the shopping spree has gone unreported — even while the clues hide in the open. Specifically, in that quote from the Huffington Post: the Iranian delegation hit the town, and came back with a large quantity of shampoo.

This purchase begs the obvious: how did they plan to transport it all back to Iran? Traveling with liquids in your checked bag is just asking for them to explode and ruin those $40 kids’ shoes. And getting more than 3 ounces of shampoo past TSA ‘security’ is obviously a fool’s errand.

Then again, I haven’t heard about any big shampoo bust out of JFK over the past month. Which brings me to a sobering reality: if Iranian agents have tested the limits of US airport security and come away victorious — that is, managed to smuggle shampoo aboard a plane — who knows what they’ll manage to carry-on next time? In this post-9/11 world, you have to be ready for anything.

Sadly, it is readily apparent that the TSA is not.

All this is to say that New York Times reports indicating Iran may finally be ready to sit down and negotiate — reports denied first by the White House, then by Barack Obama — might make some sense: Armed with the ability to evade TSA, Iran may have come to the realization that further development of nuclear technology is not only damaging to its economy, but an unnecessary step in the neverending war against Big Satan.

After all, just how big can a Satan be if you can threaten it with a bottle of wholesale shampoo?

Mitt Romney’s comments on Palestinian culture are not so crazy, but do have some surprising implications

[Disclaimer: If you follow the news, a lot of this recap will feel old hat. If you don’t need or want a blow-by-blow review, feel free to skip ahead to “Personally, I’m not sure that GDP is…”, or for those following by email, below the jump.]

Mitt Romney waded into some trouble last week while on vacation in Israel:

Mitt Romney offended Palestinian leaders on Monday by suggesting that cultural differences explain why the Israelis are so much more economically successful than Palestinians, thrusting himself again into a volatile issue while on his high-profile overseas trip. – Romney Trip Raises Sparks at a 2nd Stop

Once he realized drumming up an international diplomatic incident while in an unofficial capacity was not his best idea, Mitt wasted no time rescinding his statement:

Mitt Romney insisted Tuesday he was not specifically talking about Palestinian culture at a fundraiser in Israel on Monday when he was quoted suggesting culture was the reason for the economic disparity between Israel and the Palestinian territories. – Romney denies criticizing Palestinian culture

Romney later reversed his position a second time, in a statement I’m quite frankly too lazy to dig up and quote.

Momentarily leaving aside the diplomatic implications of Romney’s impolitic remarks, I will note in Willard’s defense that he has more of a point than he is given credit for. Here is his original statement:

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.”

As has been widely noted, the economic disparity between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors is wider than the figures cited by Romney. I seem to be quoting every other line of this post, so why not this one? The accurate numbers are these:

Israel had a per capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500, according to the World Bank.

The comments seem to have been controversial primarily because Romney failed to mention the effect of Israeli occupation and trade restrictions. Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority:

It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation. It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.

Personally, I’m not sure that GDP is a reliable indicator of anything, nor do I think that Romney’s failure to account for Israeli occupation is really at the heart of what’s wrong with his statement. In other words, as usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

I’m not going to take up the case on behalf of Mr. Romney, as it is one that has been made in a number of books – including his own – online and in print, and probably elsewhere. But in his defense, it is also worth noting that, in the absence of the occupation, it is unlikely that Palestinian GDP would approach the level achieved by Israel’s economy. Here are the 2011 GDPs of the countries with which Israel shares a border, but with which Palestinians do not share an occupation [as measured by the IMF, as related in this Wikipedia article]:

Lebanon: 15,523
Syria: 5,041
Jordan: 5,900
Saudi Arabia: 24,237
Egypt: 6,540

According to the IMF, Israel’s GDP per capita is 30,975, or – as stated in the article – “about $31,000.” As you can see, the only nearby country that comes even close to matching Israel’s economic output is Saudi Arabia, and I don’t think the source of that country’s relative wealth is any great mystery.

Of course, no two countries are exactly alike, and each country listed has its own serious issues, but I think it’s safe to conclude that even had the West Bank and Gaza constituted an independent Palestinian state for the past 64 years, its GDP would be unlikely to match that of Israel. There’s simply no reason to believe it would be anything other than just another country in that part of the world. Using a broad definition of ‘culture’, Romney is in many respects correct.

But all of this discussion is silly and hypothetical. The primary takeaway – if you’ve stuck with me this far – should be that Romney has outed himself as someone to whom economic indicators, like GDP, matter a great deal – indeed, the Wealth and Poverty of a nation’s culture depend on them.

And to me, that sounds downright un-American.

As it happens, the United States is not the world’s most productive country on a per capita basis. According to the CIA Factbook, the IMF, and the World Bank [all cited in the aforequoted Wikipedia article], the US ranked 9th, 7th, and 6th, respectively in 2011. The logical end-point of Romney’s thinking is that our culture is inferior to those ranked higher in per-capita GDP.

But to be fair to Romney, none of the higher-ranked countries are located in the Western hemisphere, and he was quite clearly speaking about countries that are close neighbors:

“And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”

But where Mitt looked to the land of his father’s birth for a convenient disparity to assure the United States would out on top, according to his formula – in which wealth translates to cultural superiority across short distances – our culture is currently inferior to a bunch of beaverskin-wearing hosers freezing to the north. You see, according to the World Bank, Canada’s GDP per capita exceeds that same metric in the United States:

United States: 48,442
Canada: 50,345

And it’s not just a fluke of GDP. According to a report released just last month:

For the first time in recent history, the average Canadian is richer than the average American.

And not just by a little. Currently, the average Canadian household is more than $40,000 richer than the average American household. The net worth of the average Canadian household in 2011 was $363,202, compared to around $320,000 for Americans. – For the First Time, Canadians Now Richer Than Americans

So between his praise for Israeli socialized medicine and now, his claims of Canadian cultural superiority, I think it’s time to ask the obvious: of which country does Mitt Romney hope to be President, anyway?

You probably think I’m going to say ‘Canada’, but my money’s on the Cayman Islands – right next to Mitt Romney’s.