Tag Archives: Jordan

Does Bibi really belong on this list of 21 world leaders who stifle free speech?

Daniel Wickham made recent headlines for contrasting the presence of 21 world leaders at Sunday’s march in Paris with their actual commitments to a free press. He kicked off the litany as follows —

Continue reading Does Bibi really belong on this list of 21 world leaders who stifle free speech?

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Kuwait might want to ask for its money back

Now that ISIS has declared the founding of an Islamic Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, I’d like to briefly review the extent to which its success has turned the Middle East upside down.

To wit: After years of embargoes and threats of war, the United States finds itself cozying up to Iran. Israel’s army might soon find itself taking up arms alongside Jordan. Meanwhile, “news” broke two weeks ago that ISIS received a substantial portion of its angel investment from putative American allies. So sayeth The Daily Beast:

As ISIS takes over town after town in Iraq, they are acquiring money and supplies including American made vehicles, arms, and ammunition. The group reportedly scored $430 million this week when they looted the main bank in Mosul. They reportedly now have a stream of steady income sources, including from selling oil in the Northern Syrian regions they control, sometimes directly to the Assad regime.

But in the years they were getting started, a key component of ISIS’s support came from wealthy individuals in the Arab Gulf States of Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Sometimes the support came with the tacit nod of approval from those regimes; often, it took advantage of poor money laundering protections in those states, according to officials, experts, and leaders of the Syrian opposition, which is fighting ISIS as well as the regime.

OK, so maybe not quite as egregious as the headline promised, “America’s Allies Are Funding ISIS“, but moderately disquieting nonetheless. Kuwait, the author noted, was an especially unlikely source of funds for ISIS:

Continue reading Kuwait might want to ask for its money back

The Daily Show, undermining journalistic integrity

As you may or may not be aware, Jon Stewart is currently in Jordan, filming a movie about Iranian dissidents. In his place, John Oliver is serving as the (hopefully-temporary) host of the Daily Show.

But you wouldn’t know anything had changed from following the show’s Twitter account. This is what the Daily Show with John Oliver looks like:

Continue reading The Daily Show, undermining journalistic integrity

On Israel trip, Obama picks up free lesson in carma

Obama last week announced a $2b federal investment in clean energy technologies to replace gasoline. I suppose he hoped the money would mollify buy environmentalist critics and convince them not to make a fuss when he inevitably decides to approve Keystone XL.

“Sure, the Canadians can harvest all the tar sands, but at least no one will be buying it because we all drive electric cars now,” concluded no pessimist realist environmentalist ever.

Now, $2 billion is a lot of money. Shouldn’t that kind of investment make the environmental community happy? Can anything make an environmentalist happy? Isn’t all this sour grapes just a little bit overboard?

Well, no. For one thing, $2b is not a lot of money — especially when it’s spread out over ten years. Compare that to the $800b bailout. Or more pertinently, compare that to $50b in “green spending” from the stimulus. Or the original $150b Obama promised for this kind of research. Or even more pertinently, the $133.8 billion to $280.8 billion annually from all sources of taxpayer aid that goes to the oil and gas industry. [OK, that last number’s probably a little too high — but it’s all going to what basically amounts to a poor investment.]

I could go on, but you get the idea: this is 2013. I don’t need to explain that $2b is chump change. With that money, Obama could have bought the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So because Obama failed to adequately provide adequate fuels, it was only appropriate when adequate fuels failed to provide for him. The first headline I spotted Wednesday morning when I woke up (hours after Obama had landed in Israel): Backup presidential limo on its way for Obama in Israel after fuel filling failure.

What exactly happened?

Continue reading On Israel trip, Obama picks up free lesson in carma

Please do take your sweet time coming home, Obama

For once, some good news out of Washington:

Marking a moment of almost unprecedented bipartisanship in Congress, the House today passed a short-term budget bill aimed at funding the government through the end of September – with a whole six days to go before the federal government is slated to shut down.

“It’s a good day for the American people,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a press conference shortly after the bill was approved.

Unprecedented bipartisanship. That’s basically unprecedented. Surely, there’s gotta be a catch — right?

In a bipartisan vote of 318-109, the bill, which originated in the House but was amended by the Senate, will now go to the president’s desk for a signature.

Just as I suspected, a minor hold-up!: The President is in Israel and won’t get back to his desk until Saturday, which means there are three whole days for something to go wrong before the bill can be signed.

Then again, maybe it’s not a coincidence that the day after the President leaves the country, Congress finally managed to get something done… on second thought, maybe Obama shouldn’t  rush back.

Mr. President, please consider extending your trip another three days — that is, once the shutdown has been officially averted — even if that means you have to sign that unprecedented bill with a precedented autopen.

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?

It appears Don Draper felt left out of Doppelganger Week celebrations

Last week, YLS hosted a screening of Prosecutor, a documentary about Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief (what else?) prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. This post is not about the substance of that movie. Suffice to say that the documentary did not inspire me to go hear Ocampo speak live when he subsequently turned up in person on Monday.

Instead, I’m hear to tell you of a discovery I made in the course of the film. As you may have surmised from the title of this post, it included a cameo by Don Draper’s long-lost (perhaps slightly-nebbier) brother — and I’m not talking about Jon Hamm [start watching at 1:13 – bonus cameo by Tom Hanks at 1:36]:

Continue reading It appears Don Draper felt left out of Doppelganger Week celebrations

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.

Classic New Yorker

In a New Yorker article dated January 16*, Hendrik Hertzberg took time out from ridiculing Mitt Romney to ridicule Rick Santorum (this was back when Rick Santorum was a thing):

And more: he calls global warming “junk science”; he wants to keep American troops in Afghanistan until they achieve “victory”; he believes that the West Bank is “Israeli land,” as Israeli as Arizona is American; he blames the rape of children by priests on “academic, political, and cultural liberalism in America.”

If it wasn’t clear from the tone, the context, or the ideas themselves, Hertzberg does not think very highly of Santorum’s politics. And to be honest, on most counts, I’m with Hendrik.

One exception.

I’m not here to make a moral or political argument about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Whatever you think of it, you think of it, and nothing I write is going to change your opinion. But I am going to take issue with Hertzberg’s specific example of land that is indisputably American. Let’s review:

he believes that the West Bank is “Israeli land,” as Israeli as Arizona is American

To Hertzberg, Santorum’s position is patently ridiculous: Arizona’s as American as Iced Tea.

But here’s my problem: try as I might, I can find few meaningful differences between Israeli ownership of the West Bank and American ownership of Arizona.

If anything, Israel might have a stronger claim to the West Bank than America does to Arizona: When Jews settled Yehuda and Shomron, at least they returned to land once occupied by their ancestors. When the United States took Arizona from Mexico (Jordan), who had in turn dispossessed the Native Mexican inhabitants (Palestinian Arabs), they did so solely out of an unbridled sense of Manifest Destiny. And I think one would be hard pressed to argue that Israelis have treated Palestinians worse – in any meaningful way – than the US has dealt with its own native population.

So next time Hendrik wants to condemn the Israeli occupation, I suggest he spend some time coming up with a better way to do it. Unless, of course, he’d be happy to just give the West Bank a tax-free casino and call it a day.

Jeri-casino? I hope they come up with a better name.

Continue reading Classic New Yorker