Links April 29th to April 30th

Links from my del.icio.us account for April 29th through April 30th:

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Links April 27th to April 29th

Links from my del.icio.us account for April 27th through April 29th:

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AJI: Focus on Gaza - Factional Violence

Part I of report on factional violence between Fatah and Hamas and Israel efforts to pressure Gazan fishermen into acting as informants. Part II: Link to HRW report on factional violence by Hamas in Gaza. One wonders: there is anti-Fatah action by Hamas, and there are punitive measures against people suspected of collaboration. Collaborators are never treated kindly anywhere.
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Links for April 27th

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Links April 25th to April 26th

Links from my del.icio.us account for April 25th through April 26th:

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Hillary Clinton in Lebanon

So Hillary Clinton made a surprise visit to Lebanon, where she called for elections to be free and fair, and without external interference. I hate to venture into the minefield of Lebanese politics, but it strikes me that elections there are relatively free, in the sense that the state does not rig them, dispatch police to prevent people from voting, or engage in campaigns of intimidation against opposition candidates. This is not the issue in Lebanon since after all there is barely a state there. (With the caveat, of course, that Syria still runs campaigns of destabilization against those politicians that oppose its lingering influence. But this is a wider problem, not per se an electoral issue.) The problem with Lebanon's electoral system lies more in that it is organized on sectarian lines (as the whole political system is), involves rampant vote-buying, and generally offers little in the way of surprise since the parties and confessional groups have an interest in coming to some sort of consensus on their outcome. Indeed, although seats are distributed by confession, some kind of cross-confessional alliance is needed to win individual seats (i.e. candidates have to reach beyond their community), which creates the shifting alliances of the Lebanese political system. So in the context of what's expected to be a narrow victory for Hizbullah and its allies that will return the same kind of national unity government that already exists, Clinton's statements is more of a partisan cry of support for March 14 and a signal to March 8 that the US is watching. But let's not turn this into an issue of elections being fair or unfair, especially in an electoral system designed to reproduce, give or take, the status-quo of the Taif Accords. Everyone knows what the system is - friend of Hillary Clinton or not. Now, ignore everything said above and go read much more informed people blogging about the Lebanese elections here. He (or she) says there are only 18 seats (out of 128) that are really up for grabs, the rest being evenly divided between March 8 and March 14. Personally, if I could vote, I'd go for these guys:
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The Green Party: "Because the Earth is not confessional." In the meantime, the Lebanese economy enjoyed 9% growth last year. P.S. Also read this on the video circulating showing Walid Jumblatt disparaging his March 14 partners and urging reconciliation with Shias, which Michael Young thinks may signal a future change of sides for the Druze weathervane.
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Links for April 25th

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Links for April 24th

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The Palestinian Archipelago

[Click for full size.] An amazing map of Palestine, if you replace all of the areas controlled by Israel (roads, settlements, etc.) by water. The best illustration of the unworkable Bantustan model imposed by Israel I've seen. From Strange Maps. Note: The original is from the excellent L'Atlas - Le Monde Diplomatique 2009. Update: I forgot to add how much this map reminds me of a story we highlighted in which a solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict is proposed: a Dubai-like creation of new islands to expand the landmass.
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Links April 23rd to April 24th

Links from my del.icio.us account for April 23rd through April 24th:

  • Dissent Magazine | After Gaza: The Road Ahead - Michael Walzer, a liberal supporter of Israel, starts talking about a three-state solution. But Israel and the PA alone won't even agree on a fair two-state solution!
  • LRB · Jeremy Harding: The Money that Prays - On Islamic finance.
  • Harman Wiretap Highlights Suspicions – Forward.com - "WASHINGTON — Leaks of wiretap transcripts involving a member of Congress and a “suspected Israeli agent” have shone a rare light on the scope of suspicion the American intelligence establishment harbors toward Israel and its supporters." You don't fucking say - could it be all the engaging in various kinds of espionage - notably industrial?
  • bitterlemons-international.org - Middle East Roundtable - "For all the verbal fireworks coming out of Cairo, Egypt's campaign against the Lebanese Hizballah movement may not amount to much in the end. We're talking after all about a country that cannot even exert significant influence over events in neighboring Gaza and that cannot rein in the Palestinian Hamas movement there to which it is ostensibly not well disposed either. To think that it can counter Hizballah in any meaningful way in its Lebanese home base or anywhere else in the region, beyond its own borders, seems farfetched."
  • Mubarak to Hezbollah: Beware of Egypt's wrath - Haaretz - Israel News - All of you LOTR fans out there, this is Mubarak-as-Sauron: "Hosni's wrath will be terrible, his retribution swift."
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Links for April 23rd

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Links for April 23rd

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Qatar has its own Gollum

From the Gulf Times:
Mysterious figure ‘spotted’
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A mysterious figure resembling a human being was sighted on the Doha Corniche’s parking lot, according to a report published in a local Arabic daily. The report is based on the statement of an Arab expatriate lady who said she had seen the strange figure near the Oryx statue while walking in the area. Quoting the woman, the daily said she took a picture of it in spite of being terribly frightened. “She was very soon surrounded by a large number of people who also attested to the fact of what she had seen . But it suddenly disappeared out of their sight when they tried to go near it,” the report added.
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Links for April 23rd

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IMF: Midde Eastern economies are buffering global shock

From the Transcript of a Press Conference on the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook, a bit on the outlook for the Middle East:
"QUESTION: We talked almost about all the world's economy. We did not talk about the Middle East. So what's the outlook for the Middle East? And what do you expect them--what kind of role you're expecting for them to play? And if you have time, also I would like to talk about the Lebanese example, because I think if not the only country, like one of the fewest country that was not--they were not affected by the financial crisis. So Mr. Blanchard or anyone. Thank you. MR. DECRESSIN: Yes, we see growth in the Middle East slowing from around 6 percent in 2008 to 2.5 percent in 2009 and 3.5 percent in 2010. So, this is a much better scenario than the one that we have for the euro area or the U.S., for example. So what's happening in the Middle East? You have first the oil price decline which is affecting the economies; and, second, the general decline in global trade. And then for some countries in the Middle East, also the financial crisis. There are some instabilities in some banking systems. Now, the governments have, in our view, reacted very forcefully. They had large fiscal surpluses during the oil price boom in 2008 and 2007 and so they've built up large asset positions. And what they are now doing is they are basically running large deficits to support the economies. And in that sense, they will soften the decline that is going to happen to non-oil activity, and we think that this is very important. Saudi Arabia, I think, among the G-20 is the country that gives the largest fiscal stimulus, and rightfully so. At the same time, countries have also pulled all the stops with respect to monetary easing that they can pull, lowering reserve requirements, for example, and so forth. They have also injected liquidity in their banking systems. Countries have put money on the table for recapitalization. So on the whole, it's a pretty strong policy response, and I think this validates our forecast of a decline in the growth rate, but still positive growth of around 2.5 percent this year. Now, as to Lebanon, Lebanon has been a financial center, and our reading is at least that the country will be quite heavily affected. They've had growth of around 8.5 percent in 2008, and they're going down to 3 percent. So they've been growing a little more than the average in the Middle East in 2008, and they are falling down to approximately the same level as theaverage in terms of growth rates. And there the financial sector is playing a big role as well because it's a big part of the economy, and with generally lower activity everywhere in the Middle East, that will also reduce the financial flows from other Middle Eastern countries to Lebanon, and it will reduce the profitability of the banking sector."
Since Lebanon is kept afloat by financial flows from elsewhere in the region and beyond, one should keep in mind how this will affect the political climate post-elections. When the pie shrinks, there's more fighting for a slice... Note that in chapter two of the IMF's report on the global crisis, there is a section called "Middle Eastern Economies Are Buffering Global Shocks". So basically Middle Eastern countries, esp. oil producers, are providing relief for the advanced economies of Europe and North America whose financial irresponsibility caused this crisis. And many of these countries, even when they have a lot of petrodollars, are poor. (Not to mention whatever kind of pressure is being put on major OPEC producers to keep oil prices low during the recession, beyond falling demand.)
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Links April 19th to April 22nd

Links from my del.icio.us account for April 19th through April 22nd:

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Harman: "I didn't need to cut some deal with AIPAC."

"I have a long friendship with AIPAC. I didn't need to cut some deal with AIPAC." So she would have accepted to put pressure on an espionage investigation not because of a political deal, but simply because of her "friendship with AIPAC." Of course you have to savor the irony of someone who backed the Bush wiretap program now complaining about being wiretapped. It still has to be seen what the grounds for her wiretap was, since it was a legal one, not part of the Bush programs. Was she being investigated about... her friendship with AIPAC?
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Heavy Metal Umm Kulthoum

Via AvantCaire via Fustat. Pretty impressive heavy metal rendition of the classic Umm Kulthoum song "Enta Omri" considering this is an amateur recording of a live gig. The studio version could be quite polished, and the song lends itself quite well to melodic metal. They would have to shorten considerable to the ultimate original version, which lasts about an hour (but it's an hour extraordinarily well-spent.) Umm Kulthoum's Enta Omri [61.2MB]
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Prominent Democrat Rep. sought influence for AIPAC in Rosen affair

Great story from Congressional Quarterly on a secret probe into Congresswoman Jane Harman, a Democrat with longstanding interests in intelligence issues, who promised a suspected Israeli agent involved in the Steve Rosen AIPAC scandal that she would try to intervene on AIPAC's behalf:
Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington. Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript. In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win. Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.” . . . But according to the former officials familiar with the transcripts, the alleged Israeli agent asked Harman if she could use any influence she had with Gonzales, who became attorney general in 2005, to get the charges against the AIPAC officials reduced to lesser felonies. Rosen had been charged with two counts of conspiring to communicate, and commnicating national defense information to people not entitled to receive it. Weissman was charged with conspiracy. AIPAC dismissed the two in May 2005, about five months before the events here unfolded. . . . But that’s when, according to knowledgeable officials, Attorney General Gonzales intervened. According to two officials privy to the events, Gonzales said he “needed Jane” to help support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the New York Times. Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program He was right. On Dec. 21, 2005, in the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the wiretaps, Harman issued a statement defending the operation and slamming the Times, saying, “I believe it essential to U.S. national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.” Pelosi and Hastert never did get the briefing. And thanks to grateful Bush administration officials, the investigation of Harman was effectively dead. Many people want to keep it that way. . . . Harman dodged a bullet, say disgusted former officials who have pursued the AIPAC case for years. She was protected by an administration desperate for help. “It’s the deepest kind of corruption,” said a recently retired longtime national security official who was closely involved in AIPAC investigation, “which was years in the making. “It’s a story about the corruption of government — not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.”
In other words, deep infiltration of the US political system by Israel and a supine Bush administration who could not take this on because it needed the AIPAC bunch's support.
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