Archive for the ‘ International Affairs ’ Category

Raise My Taxes, Mr. President!

Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek:

For the last few months, we have heard powerful, passionate arguments about the need to cut America’s massive budget deficit. Republican senators have claimed that we are in danger of permanently crippling the economy. Conservative economists and pundits warn of a Greece-like crisis, when America can borrow only at exorbitant interest rates. So when an opportunity presents itself to cut those deficits by about a third—more than $300 billion!—permanently and relatively easily, you would think that these very people would be in the lead. Far from it.

The Bush tax cuts remain the single largest cause of America’s structural deficit—that is, the deficit not caused by the collapse in tax revenues when the economy goes into recession. The Bush administration inherited budget surpluses from the Clinton administration. What turned these into deficits, even before the recession? There were three fundamental new costs—the tax cuts, the prescription-drug bill, and post-9/11 security spending (including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars). Of these the tax cuts were by far the largest, adding up to $2.3 trillion over 10 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly half the cost of all legislation enacted from 2001 to 2007 can be attributed to the tax cuts.

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He impersonated a human

Gideon Levy in Haaretz:

Sabbar Kashur wanted to be a person, a person like everybody else. But as luck would have it, he was born Palestinian. It happens. His chances of being accepted as a human being in Israel are nil. Married and a father of two, he wanted to work in Jerusalem, his city, and maybe also have an affair or a quickie on the side. That happens too.

He knew that he had no chance with the Jews, so he adopted another name for himself, Dudu. He didn’t have curly hair, but he went by Dudu just the same. That’s how everyone knew him. That’s how you know a few other Arabs too: the car-wash guy you call Rafi, the stairwell cleaner who goes by Yossi, the supermarket deliveryman you know as Moshe.

What’s wrong? Is it only fearsome Shin Bet interrogators like “Capt. George” and “Abu Faraj” who are allowed to adopt names from other peoples? Are only Israelis who emigrate allowed to invent new identities? Only the Yossi from Hadera who became Joe in Miami, the Avraham from Bat Yam who became Abe in Los Angeles?

No longer a youth, Sabbar/Dudu worked as a deliveryman for a lawyer’s office, rode his scooter around Jerusalem and delivered documents, affidavits and sworn testimonies, swearing to everyone that he was Dudu. Two years ago he met a woman by chance. Nice to meet you, my name is Dudu. He claims that she came on to him, but let’s leave the details aside. Soon enough they went where they went and what happened happened, all by consent of the parties concerned. One fine day, a month and a half after an afternoon quickie, he was summoned to the police on suspicion of rape.

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War in the fifth domain

From The Economist:

Are the mouse and keyboard the new weapons of conflict?

AT THE height of the cold war, in June 1982, an American early-warning satellite detected a large blast in Siberia. A missile being fired? A nuclear test? It was, it seems, an explosion on a Soviet gas pipeline. The cause was a malfunction in the computer-control system that Soviet spies had stolen from a firm in Canada. They did not know that the CIA had tampered with the software so that it would “go haywire, after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds,” according to the memoirs of Thomas Reed, a former air force secretary. The result, he said, “was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.”

This was one of the earliest demonstrations of the power of a “logic bomb”. Three decades later, with more and more vital computer systems linked up to the internet, could enemies use logic bombs to, say, turn off the electricity from the other side of the world? Could terrorists or hackers cause financial chaos by tampering with Wall Street’s computerised trading systems? And given that computer chips and software are produced globally, could a foreign power infect high-tech military equipment with computer bugs? “It scares me to death,” says one senior military source. “The destructive potential is so great.”

After land, sea, air and space, warfare has entered the fifth domain: cyberspace. President Barack Obama has declared America’s digital infrastructure to be a “strategic national asset” and appointed Howard Schmidt, the former head of security at Microsoft, as his cyber-security tsar. In May the Pentagon set up its new Cyber Command (Cybercom) headed by General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency (NSA). His mandate is to conduct “full-spectrum” operations—to defend American military networks and attack other countries’ systems. Precisely how, and by what rules, is secret.

Britain, too, has set up a cyber-security policy outfit, and an “operations centre” based in GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA. China talks of “winning informationised wars by the mid-21st century”. Many other countries are organising for cyberwar, among them Russia, Israel and North Korea. Iran boasts of having the world’s second-largest cyber-army.

What will cyberwar look like? In a new book Richard Clarke, a former White House staffer in charge of counter-terrorism and cyber-security, envisages a catastrophic breakdown within 15 minutes. Computer bugs bring down military e-mail systems; oil refineries and pipelines explode; air-traffic-control systems collapse; freight and metro trains derail; financial data are scrambled; the electrical grid goes down in the eastern United States; orbiting satellites spin out of control. Society soon breaks down as food becomes scarce and money runs out. Worst of all, the identity of the attacker may remain a mystery.

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Does Israel suffer from ‘Iranophobia’?

Some Israelis argue that an ‘Iranophobia’ holds unnecessary sway over Israeli thinking about a wide range of problems, from rearming of Hezbollah to the ‘terrorist’ activists aboard the Gaza flotilla. Should Israel see less of a threat in Iran?

Scott Peterson in The Christian Science Monitor:

Barely a day goes by without a strident warning from a top Israeli official, politician, or general about the nature of the “threat” Iran poses to the Jewish state. It’s unprecedented. Or it’s imminent. Or it’s existential. And it is declared to be behind every Israeli problem, from the rearming of Hezbollah in Lebanon to the “terrorist” humanitarian activists aboard the Gaza flotilla.

How powerful is that anti-Iran mindset in Israel? How is fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon heightened by the blasts of anti-Israel invective from the neoconservative government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran?

“We are making them stronger than they are,” says David Menashri, the director of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University. “To refer to Iran as an ‘existential threat’ – I refuse to use this term – you give Iran greater credit than they deserve…. What signal does it send to our own people, that the day Iran should have nuclear weapons you should leave the country, because your existence is threatened?”

Dr. Menashri says Israeli politicians should “speak less” about Iran, and not make exaggerated historical comparisons. He points to a conference in 2006, at which then-opposition leader and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned repeatedly: “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs.”

Menashri says the analogy is a mistake. “Because if Ahmadinejad is Hitler, if Nasser was Hitler, Saddam was Hitler, Arafat was Hitler – what can I tell my children about the unique character of the Holocaust? If I want to keep the memory, I am downgrading the historical significance of the Holocaust by repeating that every crazy thing is Hitler.”

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The People’s Capsule

How a clunky old Soviet rocket outlasted the space shuttle.

When Michael Barratt, a NASA flight surgeon, arrived at the Russian cosmonaut training facility at Star City in 1993, the space program that once lofted Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin into orbit was at its lowest ebb since the U.S. moon landing. The storefronts in the enclave nestled in the boreal forest 20 miles outside Moscow were mostly closed, their shelves empty of food. The soldiers guarding the compound, Barratt recalls, were for a time receiving their paychecks in the form of surplus canned salmon. “A lot of our Russian co-workers hadn’t been paid in months,” he recalls.

It seemed an ignominious end for what had once been the most advanced space agency in the world. But if Russia lost the space race during the Cold War, today the country is about to take the lead, however temporarily, in the space marathon. When the last U.S. space shuttle touches down in Florida this year, it will leave behind in orbit the International Space Station, an 11-year, almost-completed construction project that the United States — which has paid $48.5 billion of the expected $100 billion tab so far — and other countries hope to keep using for at least another decade. But how to get there? U.S. President Barack Obama wants to pour $6 billion over the next five years into commercial transportation to and from orbit, bankrolling companies he claims will be “competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable.” But whether they can pull it off remains an open question, and in any case their rockets are years away from being astronaut-ready. The Chinese have launched a few manned test flights, and India hopes to do so by 2016, but for now both are strictly minor league.

That leaves just one option: an unglamorous rocket and capsule called the Soyuz — “Union” — that the Russians have been using to blast cosmonauts into space for nearly half a century. Starting next year, U.S. astronauts trying to reach the space station will have to book a flight to Star City first.

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