United States presidential election, 2008: Herbert Hoover’s Ghost Haunts Markets

March 31, 2008

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In a her Bloomberg column, Amity Shlaes finds that Bear Stearns evokes the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed it.

“Within 24 hours, Representative Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat, was weighing in with his own 1930s comparison. Roosevelt had pulled a country out of Depression and united it; President George W. Bush was doing the opposite, he said.

You get the picture: Bush is like Hoover, the do-nothing. Democrats are like Roosevelt, the activist. It’s worthwhile to go back to that Depression period to see what people actually did or didn’t do and who resembles whom. The reality differs from the cartoon.”

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Asia’s Achilles Heel

March 31, 2008

In a article for Newsweek, David Victor argues that the big challenge in the coming century may not be the strength of Asia’s emerging economic powers but rather their weakness.

Victor shows how China’s recent power crisis was caused by the tensions between China’s burgeoning free-market sector and its residual state-owned and regulated industries. India faces a similar problem: Its state-owned power utilities are supposed to be run for a profit, but incessant political meddling with electricity prices has pushed most into bankruptcy. In both China and India, dynamic economic growth has masked these governance problems. But the power sector conveys a warning: Vestiges of the statist tradition can still obstruct progress.

“Market reforms are making Beijing less and less relevant to what’s really going on in the economy, threatening to turn China into a ‘weak state.’ And it’s not just China – India, too, is having trouble regulating its industry and economy. The phenomenon is a dark cloud on the Asian century.”

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Geert Wilders’s anti-Koran movie and the freedom of speech

March 31, 2008

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch women’s rights activist and a prominent critic of Islam, criticizes the Dutch government’s response to Geert Wilders’s provocative film.

Fitna Is an Embarrassment for the Dutch Cabinet

by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, resident fellow at The American Enterprise Institute
De Volkskrant (The Netherlands)
Publication Date: March 28, 2008

The central thesis of Fitna is: the Koran commands Muslims to spread their faith throughout the entire world, by means of jihad and indoctrination. To show that some Muslims take these edicts literally, viewers are shown images of terror attacks in New York and Madrid. In the movie, you hear excerpts of sermons filled with hatred and Muslim crowds that cheer on the preachers.

In one scene, a girl of three is taught by rote that the Koran reveals that Jews are pigs and monkeys. At the end of the movie, suddenly one hears the sound of a page being ripped from a book followed by a message that this is a page from a telephone book, not the Qur’an, and that it is up to Muslims to deal with the intolerance in their Holy Book.

Fitna is polite, but Fitna is a severe embarrassment for the Dutch cabinet. First, because almost all of the publicity for the movie originated from the cabinet. If, last year, the prime minister had given a reaction along the lines of: “we cannot respond to a movie that has not yet been shown and until such a time a cabinet position will not be provided,” there would have been no worldwide, festering controversy.

Savages

A second reason for which the cabinet is suffering a severe loss of face is that it has shown that freedom of speech is not safe in its hands. By acting as if it was a worthwhile endeavor to investigate whether the movie should be banned (either before or after its release), the cabinet improperly reversed its constitutional position with regard to the Second Chamber of Parliament.

In the Netherlands, the cabinet governs, and Parliament controls the cabinet. In relation to MP Wilders, however, the cabinet has improperly set itself up as the controller. The Dutch cabinet has actively sought to silence an elected member of parliament. That the parliamentary opposition did not intervene against this appalling attempt at censorship, is more distressing than any possible movie about Islam could be. Fitna laid bare just what a distrustful image this Social-Christian cabinet has of Muslims. It considers Muslims as half-savage beasts, [a bit like Bokito, Holland’s most famous gorilla] who will jump over the fence of reason at the slightest provocation and who in a collective frenzy disrupt the public peace.

They can only be kept in check by not engaging them as mature reasonable adults, by not contradicting them, not presenting them with difficult questions about their religion, by talking positively about it; all the while creating myriad emergency response plans through full crisis scenarios, because a film happens to be made about their holy book. It is just as in the case of Bokito the gorilla, who was put behind high bars in a zoo but was feverishly petted. This attitude is called “respect”, towards Muslims. I wonder what Muslims think of being regarded in this way?

Hypocritical Respect

Who actually insults Muslims here? The democratically elected MP who engages them by presenting them with painful, but highly relevant questions about their religion, or the Dutch cabinet that is suspicious of them while confessing to being respectful of their religion?

Mr. Wilders promised to start a nationwide campaign of debate with Muslims after launching his film. That is more respectful towards Muslims than all the predictions of catastrophe over their heads. Of the Dutch Muslim it can be assumed that he is reasonable. He lives in a free country, where he can choose whether or not to read, listen or view texts, sounds and images that are displeasing or distressing to him.

The fact that there are individuals in the Netherlands such as Mohammed Bouyeri who reach for the dagger, does not mean that all Muslims in the Netherlands do this as a matter of course. The cabinet may not prematurely confuse the 6 percent of Muslims, who are characterized as dangerous, with the other 94 percent.

Rather, the cabinet should put to Muslims the words that deputy minister Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Muslim, enunciated clearly in the television program Pauw & Witteman: “Muslims must think about the fear generated by their religion. The majority [of Muslims] remains silent and that is not good. We have chosen for the Netherlands, precisely because of the freedom here. This has to be said. I miss the [Muslim] voice that distances itself from extremism.” This is the fitting reaction to the core question of Fitna.

Counter-Movie

The official declaration of the cabinet, that the movie Fitna makes no contribution whatsoever to the social debate, is therefore factually inaccurate. Fitna has already proven its value. And the value goes beyond the wise words of Aboutaleb; other Islamic groups in the Netherlands are already busy with the creation of a counter-movie. A counter-movie, not blood baths! Words versus words, images versus images. Provocation, therefore, works to initiate a real dialogue.

Six years ago Aboutaleb found that asking critical questions about Islam was tantamount to “pissing in one’s own nest.” And now he is the only in this cabinet who responded sensibly. Without asking provocative questions, we would never have reached this point.

The official reaction of the Dutch cabinet to Fitna is a confession of weakness. It is bizarre that the prime minister says “just wait, very bad things will happen.” It almost seems as if he hopes this will happen, in order for him to save face. It is just as bizarre as people who now say that they are disappointed. To them the question: what were they actually hoping for?

Let us hope, in any case, that the entire cabinet will put itself behind the elegant point of view of deputy minister Ahmed Aboutaleb.

Reprinted with kindly permission of The American Enterprise Institute.


Switzerland’s shabby deal with Iran

March 31, 2008

In an opinion piece, the president of the World Jewish Congress criticizes Switzerland’s recent gas deal with Iran.

Switzerland’s shabby deal with Iran

by Ronald S. Lauder

The ejection of the populist politician Christoph Blocher from the Swiss government in December 2007 gave rise to hope that Switzerland could restore its tainted image and that the country’s “splendid isolation” on the international stage might soon be over.

In an opinion piece for the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag on 30 December 2007 I wrote: “Switzerland will not have a glorious future by isolating itself from the European Union and the wider world. In our globalized world (…) you cannot isolate yourself if you want to be heard. Swiss diplomacy can only return to its former strength if the Federal Council and the parties supporting it once again represent an open-minded Switzerland.”

Who would have thought that this call would be heeded so quickly? Two weeks ago, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey appeared, veiled in a headscarf, at the side of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to seal an enormous deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company. She did so on behalf of a private Swiss company, “to safeguard Switzerland’s own strategic interests,” as she put it.

Back home, Calmy-Rey said that she had pressed Tehran on issues such as human rights or the nuclear program. The Iranian newspaper Tehran Times phrased it somewhat differently: “Calmy-Rey appreciated Iran for its cooperation with the IAEA. She also called for the continued Iran-Switzerland dialogue on human rights.” It became clear immediately that the visit by the Swiss foreign minister was a propagandistic triumph for the mullahs.

A few days after the Iranian gas deal, Calmy-Rey’s Foreign Affairs Department secured the election of Jean Ziegler as special adviser of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Ziegler, a self-declared human rights activist, is best known as campaigner for dictators such as Colonel Khaddafi of Libya, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Fidel Castro of Cuba.

Brushing aside all criticism leveled against Ziegler by respected international personalities and organizations, Calmy-Rey got her preferred candidate elected by forging alliances with the many Asians and Africans represented on the council – the same countries that rarely miss an opportunity to bash Israel for defending itself against the attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Incidentally, it was Jean Ziegler who in 2006 claimed that Hezbollah in Lebanon was not a terrorist group, but a “national resistance movement”. He even expressed understanding for the kidnapping by Hezbollah of the two Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who have not been released until this day.

In early March, Micheline Calmy-Rey personally appeared before the Human Rights Council to advocate a one-sided resolution, sponsored by Islamic countries, condemning Israel for its operations in the Palestinian territories – operations that are aimed at protecting Israel’s citizens from the constant rocket attacks by Hamas supporters. While all European Union countries on the council abstained, Switzerland voted in favor of the one-sided resolution, yet the Human Rights Council failed to condemn the deadly terrorist attack at a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary which had occurred shortly before.

There is nothing wrong with governments defending their national interests, but such actions should be centered around certain basic principles, i.e. those of democracy, peace and human liberties.

There is nothing wrong with criticizing Israel, provided equal measures of judgment and criticism are being applied to all countries.

What is horribly wrong, though, is Mrs. Calmy-Rey’s flawed foreign policy. It makes Switzerland a hostage to countries that, rather than respect human rights, pay merely lip service to them. This is especially true of international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council that has lost its credibility in the record-breaking time of 18 months.

Only days after the manipulated parliamentary election in Iran, Mrs. Calmy-Rey chose to lend public support to the Islamist regime in Tehran, whose declared aim is the eradication of Israel, while at the same time strengthening Israel’s (hypo-)critics at the United Nations in Geneva. But beware: placating the mullahs in Tehran comes with a heavy political price tag.

Micheline Calmy-Rey has gravely undermined the efforts of the international community, in particular the five permanent members on the UN Security Council and Switzerland’s neighbor Germany, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power eventually capable of wreaking havoc on Israel and the entire Middle East. How on earth can we expect the sanctions regime to achieve results if a UN member – host country to many UN bodies – makes a mockery of the United Nations?

The current Swiss government has chosen to reduce the country’s natural gas dependence on Russia by helping a Swiss company to clinch a deal with another (the Islamic Republic of Iran).

The Swiss Jewish Community Federation is right to point out that Mrs. Calmy-Rey’s trip to Tehran sends out all the wrong signals. The US government is correct in criticizing Switzerland for setting a bad example for the rest of Europe.

It would be naïve to believe that Micheline Calmy-Rey’s announcement of a “human rights dialogue” with the rulers in Tehran will lead to any concrete improvements of the situation in Iran. The hanging and stoning of dissidents, students, homosexuals and other regime critics; the rigging of elections; the anti-Israel campaign sponsored by Tehran and its allies Hamas and Hezbollah that is violent both in words and in action; the denial of the Holocaust; the apparent quest for nuclear weapons: all that will continue, not only in spite of, but perhaps also because of the gas deal.

The concept of Swiss neutrality has a long tradition, but Switzerland’s credibility as an honest broker in international diplomacy has been badly bruised. Mrs. Calmy-Rey has sold out her government’s international credibility in return for 5.5 billion cubic meters of Iranian natural gas and perhaps for some new friends in the radical Muslim world – definitely not a good investment!

The next months will show if this Swiss diplomacy will be able to undo the damage that has been done.


United States presidential election, 2008: The Smart Way Out of a Foolish War

March 31, 2008

Top strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, now foreign policy adviser to Senator Barack Obama, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that a “sensibly conducted disengagement will actually make Iraq more stable over the long term.”

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Paulson plan to combat credit market problems

March 31, 2008

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson today will announce a broad proposal to overhaul regulation of U.S. financial markets. The article says the reforms could eliminate or merge major institutions – including the Securities and Exchange Commission – and might seek to strengthen the authority of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

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CIA director believes Iran still pursuing nuclear bomb

March 31, 2008
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Michael V. Hayden, has said that he believes Iran is still pursuing nuclear weapons, even though a US intelligence report had reached a different assessment last year.

Asked on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ whether he thought Iran was trying to develop a nuclear weapon, Hayden answered “yes,” adding that his assessment was not based on “court-of-law stuff. . . . This is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence.”

He said his conviction stemmed largely from Iran’s willingness to endure international sanctions rather than comply with demands for nuclear inspections and abandon its efforts to develop technologies that can produce fissile material.

“Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum … the desire to keep the option open to develop a nuclear weapon and, perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that?” he said.

A report last December by the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), also signed off by the CIA, concluded that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons work in 2003, soon after the United States invaded Iraq, and appeared not to have restarted it. Hayden is the latest senior Bush administration official to question the findings of the NIE.