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Grasping the third rail of administration and Christian censorship


Part 2

Touching administration and Christian censorship invites attack from those who are all too ready to condemn Muslim censorship, but failure to address censorship at home while condemning it abroad is hypocrisy.

Bob Barr, former Republican congressman and former Clinton impeachment manager, is enduring just such hypocrisy at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where he is being ostracized by fellow conservatives for stating that "President Bush is breaking the law by eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without warrants." ("Whether it's a sitting president when I was an impeachment manager, or a Republican president who has taken liberties with adherence to the law, to me the standard is the same." Barr's issue was essential, "whether or not we will remain a nation subject to and governed by the rule of law or the whim of men." Barr then proceeded to force one of the authors of the USA Patriot Act, Viet Dinh, to admit that the administration's argument rested on faith.)

Readers should not presume to position me leftward of my center-right position. My issue is accurate, free flows of information, constrained and distorted by none.

The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond states that a president controls "over 6,400 appointments to the executive and judicial branches… 1,800 of whom will be subject to scrutiny and confirmation by the Senate." Beyond that, the White House staff will "oversee closely the choice of some or all of the 2,148 full-time, noncareer jobholders appointed by his cabinet and agency heads. By vetting the candidates, balancing the pluses and minuses, the Office of Presidential Personnel helps prepare the chief for his decisions."

The White House Appointments page states, in part, that:

One of President Bush's top priorities is to select men and women of the greatest ability and highest ethical and professional integrity to serve in policymaking and key administrative positions in his administration... "I will look for people who are willing to work hard to do what is best for America, who examine the facts and do what is right whether or not it is popular. I will look for people from across the country and from every walk of life..."

The vetting process is excruciatingly detailed. One expects that an administration gets largely what it wants from its appointees. I am distressed by a pattern of administration shaping and shielding of information executed by these appointees that is an issue not of national security but of political party preference and advantage. (These actions have risen to the point that one wonders if the administration thinks of the quid pro quo of an eventual change in leadership.) This note is largely devoted to this form of censorship. In no particular order:

(1) Attacks upon the scientific base

[P]olitical action by scientists has not been so forceful since 1964, when Barry Goldwater's statements promoting the deployment of battlefield nuclear weapons spawned the creation of the 100,000-member group Scientists and Engineers for Johnson.

"Unlike previous administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, the Bush administration has ignored unbiased scientific advice in the policy making that is so important to our collective welfare," said 48 Nobel laureates in 2004. The critics include members of past Republican administrations.

Scientists in and out of federal service have criticized the administration with rising intensity, "saying it has selected or suppressed research findings to suit preset policies, skewed advisory panels or ignored unwelcome advice, and quashed discussion within federal research agencies." Complaints about the "administration's approach to scientific information are coming even from within the government. Many career scientists and officials have expressed frustration and anger privately but were unwilling to be identified for fear of losing their jobs."

I agree with the administration's position that the "executive branch has every right to sift for inconsistencies and adjust the tone to suit its policies, as long as the result remains factual." I also agree that medical and environmental issues face difficult trials in the policy arena due to the complexity of their disciplines. All sides agree that "the war between science and the administration is a culture clash." My opinion is that the pertinent facts are being subsumed by policy such that the facts put forward are 'policy friendly.'

Yes, there may be "unrealistic expectations" on the part of some researchers" while others may be bitter over "their being excluded from policy circles that were open to them under previous administrations," but I think that the latter condition is another symptom of a lack of interest on the part of the administration to reach out for legitimate dialog. Following are themes in the distortion of science:

  • Cherry picking data to suit policy

Dr. James E. Hansen, NASA's premier climate expert, has said that the "Bush administration [is] they're picking and choosing information according to the answer that they want to get, and they've appointed so many people who are just focused on this that they really are having an impact on the day-to-day flow of information."

Disputes between scientists and the administration have erupted over stem cell policy, population control and Iraq's nuclear weapons research. But nowhere has the clash been more intense or sustained than in the area of climate change. There the intensity of the disagreements has been stoked not only by disputes over claimed distortion or suppression of research findings, but on the other side by the enormous economic implications.

Several dozen interviews with administration officials and with scientists in and out of government, along with a variety of documents, show that the core of the clash is over instances in which scientists say that objective and relevant information is ignored or distorted in service of pre-established policy goals. Scientists were essentially locked out of important internal White House debates; candidates for advisory panels were asked about their politics as well as their scientific work; and the White House exerted broad control over how scientific findings were to be presented in public reports or news releases.

  • Touting bogus information

In March 2001, the White House used a single flawed Department of Energy (DoE) economic analysis to permit Bush43 to sidestep a campaign pledge to restrict power plant discharges of carbon dioxide. (Other branches of DoE drawing different conclusions were ignored as were Environmental Protection Agency climate experts at the was sought but also ignored.):

None of the authors was a scientist. The team consisted of Cesar Conda, an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and now a political consultant; Andrew Lundquist, the White House energy policy director, who is now an energy lobbyist; Kyle E. McSlarrow, the chairman of Dan Quayle's 2000 presidential campaign and now deputy secretary of energy; Robert C. McNally Jr., an energy and economic analyst who is now an investment banker; Karen Knutson, a deputy on energy policy and a former Republican Senate aide; and Marcus Peacock, an analyst on science and energy issues from the Office of Management and Budget. They concluded that Mr. Bush could continue to say he believed that global warming was occurring but make a case that ''any specific policy proposals or approaches aimed at addressing global warming must await further scientific inquiry.''

The administration has not changed its position despite subsequent reaffirmation of the "scientific consensus that recent warming has human causes and that significant risks lie ahead."

  • The shell game of assumptions

Critical differences exist between the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations in that while both "tried to skew information to favor [their climate] policies," the Clinton administration revealed all its underlying assumptions while the "Bush administration drew contorted conclusions but never revealed the details." Combine a dearth of assumptions with selected data and all manner of mischief is possible.

  • Sexing up the text

Political appointees incrementally remake fact to fit policy:

Political appointees have regularly revised news releases on climate from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, altering headlines and opening paragraphs to play down the continuing global warming trend. The changes are often subtle, but they consistently shift the meaning of statements away from a sense that things are growing warmer in unusual ways.

Titles such as "Cool Antarctica May Warm Rapidly This Century, Study Finds" are softened to "Study Shows Potential for Antarctic Climate Change;" "NOAA reports record and near-record July heat in the West, cooler than average in the East, global temperature much warmer than average" becomes "NOAA reports cooler, wetter than average in the East, hot in the West."

More significant than such changes has been the scope and depth of involvement by administration appointees in controlling information flowing through the farthest reaches of government on issues that could undermine policies.

Jeffrey Ruch, who runs Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a network for whistle-blowers who identify government actions that violate environmental laws or rules, said the Bush administration had taken information control to a level far beyond that of its predecessor... It's very controlled in the sense that almost no decision, even personnel decisions, can be made without clearance from the top. In the realm of science that becomes problematic, because science isn't neat like that."

  • Litmus tests/loyalty oaths for participation

Another area where the issue of scientific distortion keeps surfacing is in the composition of advisory panels. In a host of instances documented in news reports and by groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, candidates have been asked about their politics. In March 2003, the American Association for the Advancement of Science criticized those queries, saying in a statement that the practice ''compromises the integrity of the process of receiving advice and is inappropriate.'' Despite three years of charges that it is remaking scientific and medical advisory panels to favor the goals of industry or social conservatives, the White House has continued to ask some panel nominees not only about their political views, but explicitly whether they support Mr. Bush.

Nominated for the Arctic Research Commission, a panel of appointees dealing with Arctic issues "including the debate over oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," Sharon L. Smith was called by the White House office of presidential personnel. The first question was, "Do you support the president?" Never having been asked such a question in her career, Smith replied that she was not fond of the administration's economic and foreign policies. "That was the end of the interview. I was removed from consideration instantly."

  • Muzzling and censoring in-house scientists

James E. Hansen, a physicist and "longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies" and the "top climate scientist at NASA" has publicly stated that the "administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture… calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming."

Since 1988, he has been issuing public warnings about the long-term threat from heat-trapping emissions, dominated by carbon dioxide, that are an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels. He has had run-ins with politicians or their appointees in various administrations, including [Bush41 and Clinton]. Hansen was invited to brief "Cheney and other cabinet members on climate change [after officials voiced interest in his findings] showing that cleaning up soot [was] was an effective and far easier first step than curbing carbon dioxide."

[Hansen] fell out of favor with the White House in 2004 after giving a speech… before the presidential election, in which he complained that government climate scientists were being muzzled, and said he planned to vote for Senator John Kerry. But Dr. Hansen said that nothing in 30 years equaled the push made since early December [2005] to keep him from publicly discussing what he says are clear-cut dangers from further delay in curbing carbon dioxide. [Hansen] was particularly incensed that the directives affecting his statements had come through informal telephone conversations and not through formal channels, leaving no significant trails of documents."

After Hansen gave a 6 December speech stating that the "administration's policy [to] use voluntary measures [will] slow, but not reverse, the growth of emissions" but that "significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles," followed by his releasing data "that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be "dire consequences" if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews."

Hansen has stated that he will ignore the restrictions. Others are not so fortunate:

At climate laboratories of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, many scientists who routinely took calls from reporters five years ago can now do so only if the interview is approved by administration officials in Washington, and then only if a public affairs officer is present or on the phone.

  • Reverse the decision, or make the decision before analysis is complete

The FDA's "own nonprescription drugs advisory committee and its review staff recommended approval" of an "application by Barr Laboratories to sell its Plan B contraceptive over the counter [OTC] without restrictions." In May 2004, the FDA's former acting director, Dr. Steven Galson, rejected that application in an unusual decision process that the GAO described as "the Plan B decision was not typical of the other 67 proposed" changes from prescription to over-the-counter sales that the agency received from 1994 through 2004:

On May 6, 2004, the Acting Director of CDER [Center for Drug Evaluation and Research] rejected the recommendations of FDA’s joint advisory committee and FDA review officials by signing the not-approvable letter for the Plan B switch application. While FDA followed its general procedures for considering the application, four aspects of FDA’s review process were unusual.

Uncommon indeed:

  • FDA senior management was more involved in the review of Plan B than in other OTC switch applications.
  • Directors normally responsible for signing the Plan B action letter, including the Director of the Office of New Drugs, disagreed with the decision and did not sign the not-approvable letter for Plan B.
  • GAO "suggested that top F.D.A. officials had discussed turning down the application for over-the-counter sales of Plan B as early as December 2003, even though its advisory panels had not yet weighed in."
  • Rationale for the Acting Director’s decision was "novel and did not follow FDA’s traditional practices."

Plan B has "been available with a prescription since 1999, but over-the-counter status would increase access to this time-sensitive contraceptive. If available over the counter, Plan B could prevent half of the three million unwanted pregnancies that occur every year in the United States and significantly reduce the number of abortions." Detractors say that politics and religious sentiment weighed heavily in the rejection.

Part 4

Bob Barr, Bane of the Right?
By Dana Milbank
February 11, 2006
Washington Post

NASA Administrator Calls for Openness in Statement to Staff
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post
February 5, 2006

Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him
New York Times

January 29, 2006

F.D.A.'s Rejection of Contraceptive Is Questioned
New York Times
November 14, 2005

Decision Process to Deny Initial Application for Over-the-Counter Marketing of the Emergency Contraceptive Drug Plan B Was Unusual
General Accounting Office
November 2005

What Went Wrong: A Primer on How Vetting Is Supposed to Work
By Justin Rood, CQ Staff
CQ Homeland Security
Congressional Quarterly
December 13, 2004
Mirror on Page Fifteen

Bush vs. the Laureates: How Science Became a Partisan Issue
New York Times
October 19, 2004

Scientific Integrity in Policy Making [Update]
Investigation of the Bush administration's abuse of science
By The Union of Concerned Scientists
Update - July 2004

Scientific Integrity in Policy Making
Investigation of the Bush administration's abuse of science
By The Union of Concerned Scientists
March 2004

Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?
From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern
by Bruno Latour
Critical Inquiry
Volume 30, no. 2
Winter 2004

The White House Office of Presidential Personnel.(selecting presidential staff)
Article from: Presidential Studies Quarterly [HTML]
by Bradley H. Patterson, James P. Pfiffner
September 2001

The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond - Book Review
White House Studies, Fall, 2002 by Robert P. Watson

The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond
Bradley H. Patterson
Brookings Institution Press, 2000

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  


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Few clean hands in the Danish cartoons and Muslim response


Part 1

While the original thrust of this series is and remains my belief that strong external censorship can constrain domestic news flows, the circumstances surrounding the Danish cartoons and Muslim response leaves few hands clean. I will touch on threads that I've not seen drawn together. 

In order to understand the Danish context, or conditions "on the ground," that have been stripped as the cartoons commenced their trajectory, read Charles Cliff's The Politics of Race and Religion in Denmark and his talkback comments:

I [write] about the left/right spectrum in Danish politics because it is important. "Venstre" (lit. "Left") is referred to as the Liberal Party -- but it by no means "liberal" as used in American politics! Venstre is big on privatization and is quite to the right of the Danish Conservative Party. I know, it is accepted wisdom that all Danish politics is to the left of American -- but this is a "truth with many footnotes", as the Danes say. When I tell my friends that [Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen] is a sort of "Bush Light", they laugh and know what I mean...

The Venstre party of Mr. Fogh-Rasmussen is about as far right as you can get in Danish politics. The only party to the right of them represented in the Folketing is the Danske Folkeparti, run by Pia Kjærsgaard. The DF… is absolutely necessary for Fogh's gov't [to stand]. The DF is a right-wing populist party, which split off from the even more right Fremskridts (Progress) party some 10-15 years. Pia is a damn talented politician, sort of a Maggie Thatcher type. She and her party have been hammering away in particular using (and increasing) the tensions between the "Danes", the "new-Danes" and "second-generation immigrants" (these are of course all code words… ).

The Jyllandsposten is a right-wing paper -- but it's the two tabloids, BT and Ekstra Bladet, who along with the help of Pia K's DF who been stoking the fires of racial/ethnic tension. There among the Danes a perceived anxiety and mistrust because of murders, "honor" murders, general criminality, gang rapes, arranged marriages, female circumcision, sending youngsters to madrasses and so on. The fact is, of course is that entire Muslim community, to a certain degree, is getting tarred with the same brush because of a few.

There are approx. 180,000 Muslims in Denmark. A very small number, from congregations composing 2-3% have been very visible the past couple of years -- in particular a handful of imams, two of which I should name, Abu Laban and Mohammad Fouad Albarazi have been very visible. What can I say of them? Sort of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell wannabes, I guess. Anyway they sent delegations to the Middleeast -- and misrepresented the character of the drawings. Supposedly, Mohammed was shown in sexual encounters of some sort, and was shown with a pigs nose, among other things. Also, people in the M.E. were told that the Koran was being burned. (To be fair, there was some talk of it when the Danebrog (the Danish flag) was burned -- but nothing came of it…

[The] Imams I mention don't know Danish, some of this group, not even English… One of the parliament members here, Nasar Kharder, has made quite a stink about Abu Laban saying one thing to the Danish media and the complete opposite to Arab media. A concrete case is that he thought the boycott wrong (to the Danish media) but to the Arab press, that it was good and that he was very happy about it…

WaPo's Turmoil Over Cartoons Began Quietly Among Danes commences the chronology:

[Culture editor of the Jyllands-Posten, Flemming Rose became aware] that a Danish children's book author couldn't find illustrators who dared draw Muhammad for a new book on Islam. [Rose] suspected the art world was self-censoring out of fear of Islamic radicals. So he contacted 25 Danish newspaper cartoonists with a challenge: Draw Muhammad as you see him. Twelve responded, and the newspaper printed their submissions, including one that depicted Islam's holiest figure with a bomb in his turban. "We have a tradition of satire in Denmark."

At the Islamic Cultural Center in Copenhagen, Ahmed Abu Laban saw the cartoons. "We were astonished and extremely shocked," said Laban [who] saw the crude drawings as the latest smear against Muslims in Denmark, a nation whose long history of tolerance has been tested in recent years by rising anti-immigrant sentiment. Laban immediately called together 11 other Muslim leaders to plan a response. Eliciting no regrets from the newspaper or the Danish government, they sent envoys to the Middle East to seek support there…

[A] People's Party member of Parliament… blamed Laban and other Muslim immigrant clerics for escalating the conflict and refusing to integrate and accept "freedoms that have created our highly developed societies in the West."… But many Muslims in Denmark have disavowed the vehemence of the protests. "The majority of Muslims don't care about this," said Naser Khader, a Syrian-born member of Parliament. "This is an Islamist agenda," he said, using a word describing the philosophy of Islamic radicals. "We don't want those imams to talk for us."

People on all sides here -- including Laban -- agree that Laban is largely responsible for bringing the cartoons to the world's attention. Within a week of their publication, Laban said, he and the 11 other Muslim leaders wrote letters to the newspaper and to the Danish culture minister. He said the only response was a letter from the Culture Ministry last week referring the matter to Rasmussen. Next, ambassadors from 11 Muslim countries asked Rasmussen for a meeting, which he declined. Rasmussen on Tuesday said the envoys were demanding that he punish the newspaper, a step the prime minister has no power to take…

[Seeing the cartoons as] "the drop that made the cup overflow" [Laban's group] decided to send delegations to Egypt and Lebanon in early December to raise the matter with Islamic scholars and officials… Government officials and other critics here said Laban's delegations intentionally inflamed Islamic leaders in Egypt and Lebanon by passing off several obscene cartoons of Muhammad as among those published in the newspaper. Laban said those had been sent anonymously to Muslim leaders in Denmark and were shown to the Islamic officials as examples of anti-Muslim feeling in the country. He said no one suggested they had been published in the newspaper.

NYT's At Mecca Meeting, Cartoon Outrage Crystallized shifts to the apparent turning point of the summit meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC):

[An umbrella group of Danish Muslim organizations] put together a 43-page dossier, including the offending cartoons and three more shocking images that had been sent to Danish Muslims who had spoken out against the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. [Akkari] denied that the three other offending images had contributed to the violent reaction, saying the images, received in the mail by Muslims who had complained about the cartoons, were included to show the response that Muslims got when they spoke out in Denmark…

[The Danish] group also met with journalists from Egypt's media [where] they spoke about a proposal from the far-right Danish People's Party to ban the Koran in Denmark because of some 200 verses that are alleged to encourage violence…

After that [December] meeting, anger at the Danish caricatures, especially at an official government level, became more public. In some countries, like Syria and Iran, that meant heavy press coverage in official news media and virtual government approval of demonstrations that ended with Danish embassies in flames…

"It was no big deal until the Islamic conference when the O.I.C. took a stance against it." Sari Hanafi, an associate professor at the American University in Beirut, said that for Arab governments resentful of the Western push for democracy, the protests presented an opportunity to undercut the appeal of the West to Arab citizens. The freedom pushed by the West, they seemed to say, brought with it disrespect for Islam. He said the demonstrations "started as a visceral reaction of course they were offended and then you had regimes taking advantage saying, 'Look, this is the democracy they're talking about.' " The protests also allowed governments to outflank a growing challenge from Islamic opposition movements by defending Islam.

On Jan. 26, in a key move, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark, and Libya followed suit. Saudi clerics began sounding the call for a boycott, and within a day, most Danish products were pulled off supermarket shelves. "The Saudis did this because they have to score against Islamic fundamentalists… Strong showings by Islamists in elections in Egypt and the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections had given new momentum to Islamic movements in the region, and many economies, especially those in the Persian Gulf, realized their economic power as it pertained to Denmark.

E-Mail, Blogs, Text Messages Propel Anger Over Images paints the power of anonymous email and willing coconspirators:

[In February, Danish immigrant cleric Barazi] received [an anonymous] text message on his cell phone… warning that Danish people were planning to burn the Koran that Saturday in Copenhagen's City Hall Square out of anger over Muslim demonstrations against Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. [No Koran was burned.]

Barazi… said in an interview that he was inundated with calls [from] followers who had received the same text message on their phones. Later, he received a call from a reporter from al-Jazeera, the world's largest Arabic-language news channel, asking to interview him on the subject. In an on-air telephone interview, with perhaps millions of people watching across the Middle East, Barazi said, he related the threat to burn the Koran. "I said it might happen. I don't think so, but I don't know," said Barazi, who said he urged viewers to remain calm. Barazi strongly disagreed that repeating the message on al-Jazeera made the situation worse.

In Vengeful flash mobs: rural third world nationals demonstrate facile use of technology, I speak of the impact of the Flash mob and Smart mob who are part and parcel of the cartoon saga:

Sporadic protests about the cartoons in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were organized mainly by such traditional methods as mosques, word of mouth and Palestinian party organizations. But Arab satellite television, e-mail campaigns and text messages helped drive the protests, too, which appeared to be dwindling Wednesday…

Abdul-Rehman Malik, a contributing editor of Q-News, a popular Muslim magazine in Britain, said he had received hundreds of e-mails and dozens of text messages about the cartoons. He said some messages were computer-generated so that thousands of phones could be reached nearly instantly… "It's efficient and immediate -- the ultimate activists' dream."

Opportunists Make Use of Cartoon Protests points out the opportunity to hijack Muslim emotions over the cartoons:

Furor over the caricatures of Islam's most revered figure may have triggered the wave of recent demonstrations among Muslims worldwide. But as the protests escalate, they are morphing into an opportunity for individuals, groups and governments to push agendas that often have little or nothing to do with defending Islam. Rallies ostensibly held for religious reasons have become chances to vent economic frustrations, settle local scores or gain political leverage.

"There's a sincere feeling of being wounded" by the cartoons but "there's also the chance for certain forces to make mischief, to take advantage of a situation where people are upset." The list of suspected ringleaders using the controversy to their own benefit here is a long one, from al Qaeda and the Taliban to local militia commanders and former governors. All are believed to have something to gain by steering otherwise peaceful protests into melees.

Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are active leaders in state opportunism in the cartoon affair, but many governments and nonstate actors have inserted their own agendas atop Muslim feelings of insult. Yes, there is genuine Muslim distress against which Western arguments of freedom of the press have no effect. Similarly, western actors are unsympathic to Mulsim calls for a blanket embargoing of items insulting religion, rightly concerned to see this as the thin edge of a wedge from all comers.

Part 3

When a Muslim paints nude Hindu gods
By Siddharth Srivastava
Asia Times
Feb 11, 2006

Opportunists Make Use of Cartoon Protests
Individuals, Groups and Governments Vent Anger Over Issues Unrelated to Defense of Islam
By Griff Witte
Washington Post
February 9, 2006

E-Mail, Blogs, Text Messages Propel Anger Over Images
In Hours, Rumors in Denmark Galvanize Opinion Elsewhere
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post
February 9, 2006

At Mecca Meeting, Cartoon Outrage Crystallized
New York Times
February 9, 2006

Stoking the jihadi fires
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Asia Times
Feb 8, 2006

Anger in the Muslim World over Mohammed Cartoons
Hot Topic
Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
8 Feb 2006
[Registration & Approval required]

Turmoil Over Cartoons Began Quietly Among Danes
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post
February 8, 2006

The Politics of Race and Religion in Denmark
By Charles E. Cliff
Informed Comment
February 08, 2006
Cliff's talkback amplification in response to reader comments

Cartoons and the clash of 'freedoms'
By Ehsan Ahrari
Asia Times
Feb 4, 2006

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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Domestic impacts of external Muslim and secular authoritarian censorship


CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons out of respect for Islam.

On the contrary, I submit that CNN chose to self-sensor here and abroad in order to avoid the financial repercusions that a offshore backlash in Muslim regions would bring had it published the Danish cartoons depicting images of the prophet Mohammed.

Circumstances have overtaken what was to be the first in a series on the domestic impact of Muslim and secular authoritarian censorship abroad (without overlooking the impacts of administration and indigenous Christian groups). It is my contention that strong external censorship can constrain domestic news flows directly by threat against the firm or its personnel and indirectly by financial pressure against the news organ or through the parent that owns the news organ. In a global community of merging media interests, there are few news organs that are sufficiently independent to withstand a severe onslaught.

Matters have already transcended boycott to murder as an inhibitor to action. Hezbollah's chief Hassan Nasrallah said:

"If there had been a Muslim to carry out Imam Khomeini's fatwa against the renegade Salman Rushdie, this rabble who insult our Prophet Mohammed in Denmark, Norway and France would not have dared to do so... I am sure there are millions of Muslims who are ready to give their lives to defend our prophet's honour and we have to be ready to do anything for that."

This in reference to the fatwa (a legal pronouncement in Islam) issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 which condemned the author Salman Rushdie to death and was not "lifted" (since there is a theological question of the ability to lift a legally issued fatwa) until September 1998 by the Iranian government. (Despite which Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Guards renewed the fatwa as valid as late as 2003).

There are now limited citations to the first fatwa issued against the Danish cartoonist by the top cleric in southeast Iran, Yahia Jaafari, "This insult must be erased with blood." Rushdie's fatwa was for his apostasy as a Muslim in penning the Satanic Verses. The Danes are Christians outside the Muslim faith. One wonders if the fatwa against Rushdie might be renewed in earnest.

This comes atop a chorus of threats such as:

Slay those who insult Islam.
Butcher those who mock Islam.
Strike, strike, bin Laden.
Whoever defames our prophet should be executed.
Bin Laden our beloved, Denmark must be blown up.
Massacre those who insult Islam
Europe you will pay, your 9/11 will come
They want to know whether Muslims are extremists or not. Death to them and to their newspapers.

No wonder that US print and video media have been similarly and unusually circumspect:

Major American newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, did not publish the caricatures [stating that] the story could be told effectively without publishing images that many would find offensive... The Wall Street Journal "didn't want to publish anything that can be perceived as inflammatory to our readers' culture when it didn't add anything to the story."

Most television news executives made similar decisions... CNN ran a disguised version of a cartoon, and on an NBC News program [the] camera shot depicted only a fragment of the full cartoon. CBS banned the broadcast of the cartoons across the network... Only ABC showed a cartoon in its entirety, lingering over the image for several seconds during Thursday's evening news broadcast and on "Nightline." "We felt you couldn't really explain to the audience what the controversy was without showing what the controversy was."

"In contrast, some European media responded to the criticism against the Danish newspaper that originally printed the caricatures by reproducing the images and fueled anger that has led to boycotts of Danish products and widespread protests," this despite or because of the 2004 murder of the Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh,  after making Submission, a firm dealing "with violence against women in Islamic societies." The original Jyllands-Posten cartoons are here along with images of Mohammed back to the medieval period (where Shia were once far more willing to image the prophet than Sunni). It is interesting that Europeans had often represented Mohammed. While Gustave Doré's illustrations for Dante's Inferno XXVIII are not complementary, they were produced in an age when communications were far less rapid and Muslims less powerful. (It is interesting that Muslim cartoons critical of Israel and the West (sample here), many rising from Muslim states "regarded as moderate or allied to the West," would strike many in the West as offensive yet Muslims accept no linkage to desecration of the prophet.)

The firestorm has reached the proportion that the phrase "clash of civilizations" is gaining currency. One wonders if Muslims will dust off the implication of Europe's spurning of bin Laden's 2004 Euro-neutrality offer: "All Muslims of the West will be obliged [to] become his sword." In a April 2004 private note, in response to Sheik Abdel-Rahman Omar comment of "terrorism as the new norm of cultural conflict, "the fashion of the 21st century," I noted,  "That unfortunately sounds like the race wars that I fear as the logical outcome of this affair."

Part 2

Margaret Warner
February 6, 2006

Adnkronos International
03-Feb-06 16:07

Muslim cartoon fury claims lives
BBC News
Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 18:59 GMT

London protest: Calls for arrests
Signs calling for death denounced as 'disgraceful'
Monday, February 6, 2006; Posted: 7:54 a.m. EST (12:54 GMT)

Indonesia cartoon protests spread
BBC News
Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 11:06 GMT

If you get rid of the Danes, you'll have to keep paying the Danegeld
By Charles Moore
Telegraph (UK)
(Filed: 04 Feb, 2006)

Muslim Outrage Mounts Over Cartoons in EU
February 3, 2006

Tension Rises Over Cartoons of Muhammad
By Molly Moore and Faiza Saleh Ambah
Washington Post
February 3, 2006

Firms feel pain of people power
By Robert Plummer
BBC News
Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 14:08 GMT

Boycott costing Arla £1m per day
BBC News
"Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 10:12 GMT

World press eyes cartoon controversy
BBC Monitoring
Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 14:18 GMT

Jakarta joins cartoon protests
By Rachel Harvey
BBC News, Jakarta
Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 11:02 GMT

Rushdie execution would have stopped insults: Hezbollah
Feb 2, 10:32 AM ET

More European Papers Print Cartoons of Muhammad, Fueling Dispute With Muslims
New York Times
February 2, 2006

Offending Cartoons Reprinted
By Molly Moore
Washington Post
February 2, 2006

Attack threat as cartoon row escalates
Agencies/Al Jazeera
2 February 2006, 16:18 Makka Time, 13:18 GMT

French editor fired over cartoons
February 2, 2006; Posted: 8:02 a.m. EST (13:02 GMT)

Cartoon battle turns uglier
Gihan Shahine
Issue No. 780
2 - 8 February 2006

Cartoon outrage bemuses Denmark
By Michael Buchanan
BBC News, Copenhagen
Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 12:10 GMT

France enters Muslim cartoon row
BBC News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 12:55 GMT

Mohammed Image Archive

Cartoons from the Arab World
Tom Gross
Mideast Media Analysis

Danish paper apologizes over Prophet cartoons
By Per Bech Thomsen
Jan 30, 5:43 PM ET [2006]

Danish cartoons termed ‘cultural terrorism’
Khaleej Times Online (UAE)
30 January 2006

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


  • Note: As of 9 February, MSNBC Feb, MSNBC shows the Danish cartoons with this adm...more
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Commencing an autopsy on US pre and post-Palestinian election analysis


Part 2

While I cited Haaretz's Wave of democracy pits Israel against 'Arab street' in Trajectory of "the militant group Hamas" to merely "Hamas" as part of what I called "diplomatic medicine for Israelis," I'd withheld its diplomatic medicine for the US:

Israel saw in Bush's democratization initiative a pretension of naive Americans who had no idea of the reality in the region. Israel still remembers the Shah of Iran, who fell from power after America reprimanded him for the infringement of human rights, and was replaced by a hostile regime seeking to annihilate Zionism and make atom bombs.

The Israelis warned the Americans that that unsupervised Arab democracy will bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power, not pro-Western liberals. But Washington refused to listen and insisted on holding the elections on schedule. The new reality requires both Washington and Jerusalem to reevaluate the situation, before the Hamas effect hits Amman and Cairo. In any case, it will be hard to turn back democratic change and resume the comfortable relations with the old dictatorships.

Israel will have to formulate a new foreign policy and strive for peace between nations, not merely with their rulers. And that will be much more complicated.

I wager that part of that complication will be more of the "preciously misdirected" US policy.

Martin Indyk, twice US Ambassador to Israel around a stint as Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, and an observer whom I have felt been more right than not vis-à-vis the administration in offering useful options for the Palestinian Authority, was direct: 

"There is a lot of blame to go around [for Abbas and Fatah]… But on the American side, the conceptual failure that contributed to disaster was the president's belief that democracy and elections solve everything… You've got to hedge against the risk that elections are going to lead to precisely [a potentially unfriendly or non-Abbas] result. The hedge is to build civil society and democratic institutions first. But this administration doesn't listen to that."

My accumulated reading pointed more to US political lip service and aid monies (which brought no positive recognition to the US) rather than being more forceful with Israel. No wonder that:

Abbas is widely described as bitter that he failed to strengthen his hand by getting American help in persuading Israel to curb settlement growth, release prisoners and lift the checkpoints and roadblocks choking off livelihoods in the West Bank.

It is not enough for the US to express frustration that Abbas "was not doing enough to crack down on violence and root out corruption" as to this observer Abbas was prisoner to a corrupt, elder Tunisian PA faction and to a PA decentralized by Abbas' reforms:

The PA has countless centers of power, many of which benefit form the support of armed groups and external elements. In every Palestinian town, in addition to the governor and the mayor, there is the head of the military wing, mostly members of Fatah, which controls its territory…

As for the security apparatuses, Abbas' reforms have weakened the "classic" centers of power traditionally held by heads of the security apparatuses. Today, there are hardly any commanders with as much centralized power and authority as days of Mussa Arafat (who was killed), Mohammad Dahlan or Jibril Rajoub, when they were commanders of the apparatuses.

On the ground, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is the most problematic organization and the most difficult to control because it is subordinate to many people with vested interests, often contradictory and adversary… With the force of guns and protected by the unwillingness, or sometimes inability, to stop its people, the organization continues to operate and run wild. It acts as a true sovereign in many cases and places…

The older generation [of Fatah] is fighting a final battle for influence; some say it is a fight for their very survival. This group can be subdivided into people fighting to preserve benefits they have enjoyed since the Arafat days, and on the other side, elements that honestly believe that they are the future torch-bearers of the Palestinian revolution. The Fatah list proves that this group in weakening, but it is still too early to bury it. On the ground: We are talking mainly about a younger generation of Fatah leaders, including Marwan Barghouti, Muhammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub. The term "on the ground" is meant to distinguish them from the older leadership, which originates mostly from Tunisia. These are the three dominant and most powerful men in the territories. Their victory in the issue of the movement's general elections list only proves their rising power.

It should be understood that Fatah's [Marwan] Barghouti is one of the leading centers of control in the PA, despite his imprisonment in Israel. Barghouti is regarded as the engine behind both the al-Aqsa intifada and last year's truce. He is the axis which dictates the elections agenda, mainly with regard to Fatah. He also heads the Fatah list, after deposing the movement's elders, and is earmarked as Abbas' successor. The general assessments towards him are that sooner or later, and probably sooner, the issue of his release from the Israeli prison will come up, so he can "clean up" the PA…

While Abbas was certainly correct in telling the US that He could not disarm Hamas prior to an election, anyone - including the US Administration - who could read the above and then accept Abbas' plan "to avoid a civil war among Palestinians by winning the election and only then disarming Hamas and folding it into the mainstream" was on another astral plane. Yet, "an administration official said: "Our sense was that there was a certain logic to his presentation, and we did not see that we could force an alternative on him. But we were also skeptical.""

Skeptical is the understatement of the quarter century. Operating on presumably far less data than the administration, my opinion was that Abbas was not in control of particularly anything. I believe that his lack of control, or inability to exert control, was one of his attractive features to many Fatah members. In their twilight, the Tunisians could continue to extort bribes while the younger "insider" generation of Marwan Barghouti, Mohammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub that did not go into exile could continue to joust for power.

[An aside: Speaking to open source analysis, Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, believes that people who had access to more limited data, good or bad, often make better decisions. In World War II, readers not overburdened with data, reading only the news articles of the day, could clearly see the rising presence of a Japanese attack. Roberta Wohlstetter makes this point in PEARL HARBOR: Warning and Decision. Her detractors later noted that subsequent declassified cryptanalytic traffic provided ample evidence of imminent war between Japan and the US but that the intercepts pointed to an attack in Indochina rather than Pearl. Perhaps in a nod to Gladwell, all this added data pointed to the wrong conclusion, leaving Pearl in a stand-down condition at the time of the attack. Gladwell makes a point of describing how decision making can be improved "by taking information away from" the decision maker which is contrary to received wisdom. By taking information away, by taking all non-critical data off the table, we can see the distinctive pattern in a second. See Gladwell's audio address to SXSW Interactive 2005 as well as Blink.]

While SecState Rice could acknowledge that the US "failed to understand the depth of hostility among Palestinians toward their longtime leaders," saying in a moment of candor, "I've asked why nobody saw it coming. It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse," the administration quickly put aside its lapse of vision and discussion as to whether the "administration was so wedded to its belief in democracy that it could not see the dangers of holding elections in regions where Islamist groups were strong and democratic institutions weak."

In a painful and perhaps unconscious repetition of the failed search for WMD in Iraq in which the principal intelligence agencies of the US, UK, France, Russia et al believed that at least chembio stocks were present, Rice noted that "the election results surprised just about everyone" including Hamas. It is not enough to be wrong en mass. Let others be wrong. Perhaps we are now trying to back into the data that pointed to a Hamas victory; certainly there were many predictions calling for a strong showing for Hamas in the 30 to 40 % range, but the public stance is not good: Rigid defense of the decision to back Abbas while simultaneously proceeding to blame him, rebuffing Israel's warnings over the election timing, placating the EU so as to gain concurrence on Iran, and no less than Rice saying that the "American decisions were basically correct."

Returning to the issue of using continued funding as a weapon against Hamas, one wonders if the administration has read the Humanitarian Policy Group's 2005 Diversity in donorship: the changing landscape of official humanitarian aid which challenges "the notion that aid is a Western enterprise." Yes, the majority of humanitarian aid comes from the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but non-DAC donors "gave between one and 12 percent of total humanitarian aid between 1999 and 2004. The percentage isn’t huge, but their influence can be crucial, especially in spheres where they concentrate attention, such as North Korea and the Palestinian territories." No wonder then that Syria could "propose that Arab nations compensate the Palestinians for any aid Western powers might cut after the election victory of Islamist group Hamas" if the Quartet (US, EU, UN and Russia) suppress aid in the absence of Hamas rejecting violence and recognizing Israel. I'd previously asked how we would like Iran, China and other Gulf States to fund and thereby dispossess the US, EU and UN from leverage.  Could be closer than you think.

In what is one of the most painful indictments of US diplomacy by amateurs operating in parallel channels, I urge readers to shift their gaze a hemisphere closer, to Haiti, where Mixed U.S. Signals Helped Tilt Haiti Toward Chaos paints an impossible picture of achieving success. The drumbeat of an administration inner circle group, the International Republican Institute, is present throughout:

The Bush administration has said that while Mr. Aristide was deeply flawed, its policy was always to work with him as Haiti's democratically elected leader.

But the administration's actions in Haiti did not always match its words. Interviews and a review of government documents show that a democracy-building group close to the White House, and financed by American taxpayers, undercut the official United States policy and the ambassador assigned to carry it out.

As a result, the United States spoke with two sometimes contradictory voices in a country where its words carry enormous weight. That mixed message, the former American ambassador said, made efforts to foster political peace "immeasurably more difficult." Without a political agreement, a weak government was destabilized further, leaving it vulnerable to the rebels.

[Ambassador] Curran accused the democracy-building group, the International Republican Institute, of trying to undermine the reconciliation process after disputed 2000 Senate elections threw Haiti into a violent political crisis. The group's leader in Haiti, Stanley Lucas, an avowed Aristide opponent from the Haitian elite, counseled the opposition to stand firm, and not work with Mr. Aristide, as a way to cripple his government and drive him from power, said Mr. Curran, whose account is supported in crucial parts by other diplomats and opposition figures.

We are the gang that cannot shoot straight. If we do that elsewhere in the world, we are doomed.

Syria wants Arabs to step in if Palestinian aid cut
31 Jan 2006 16:14:40 GMT
Source: Reuters

Mideast Crises Reset Agenda For World Leaders
Iran, Palestinian Politics Take Center Stage at Talks On Afghanistan Planning
January 30, 2006

Rice Admits U.S. Underestimated Hamas Strength
New York Times
January 30, 2006

Mixed U.S. Signals Helped Tilt Haiti Toward Chaos
New York Times
January 29, 2006

Only the right can
By Gideon Levy
Last update - 16:53 29/01/2006

Analysis: Wave of democracy pits Israel against 'Arab street'
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent
Last update - 04:36 29/01/2006

Palestinian Authority: A guide for the perplexed
(01.13.06, 10:29)

Aid not just a Western enterprise, says report
By Ruth Gidley
Source: AlertNet
23 Nov 2005

Diversity in donorship: the changing landscape of official humanitarian aid
Adele Harmer and Lin Cotterrell
Humanitarian Policy Group
HPG Report 20, September 2005

Aid donorship in the Gulf States
Lin Cotterrell and Adele Harmer
Humanitarian Policy Group
HPG Background Paper, September 2005

Aid donorship in Central Europe
Sven Grimm and Adele Harmer
Humanitarian Policy Group
HPG Background Paper, September 2005

Aid donorship in Asia
Lin Cotterrell and Adele Harmer
Humanitarian Policy Group
HPG Background Paper, September 2005

Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown

"Getting the Arab-Israeli Peace Process Back on Track"
Testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee
By Martin Indyk
Director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, The Brookings Institution
February 24, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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Trajectory of "the militant group Hamas" to merely "Hamas"


Part 1

On 28 January, a Google search on "the militant group Hamas" returned 63,100 entries.

On 29 January, one day later, Google search returned 78,500 entries on "the militant group Hamas."

On 30 January, that same search returned 111,000 entries.

I do not believe that the apogee of this trajectory has been reached. It will be interesting to watch the bumpy flight of the phrase "the militant group Hamas" as it shortens over time to just "Hamas". There are seeds of possibility on both sides. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said:

Hamas has been acting responsibly… since its victory in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Commission… that it is believed that in the short term, Hamas will try to curb terror… Hamas is trying to appoint professional candidates to government posts rather than candidates with a high political profile [and] in taking its initial steps in power, Hamas will try to rein in Islamic Jihad, which is expected to continue its policy of terror attacks.

Mofaz goes on to say that "the main question now is how Hamas will choose to act. Other questions are who the Palestinian security forces will report to, and who will head the Palestinian diplomatic mission," which is a bit more realistic than Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert comments that:

Israel demands three principles from the Palestinian Authority: Dismantling Hamas' and other armed faction, annulling Hamas' charter calling for Israel's destruction and honoring all previous agreements and understanding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Some no doubt believe this, but it is unworkable on its face, no more effective than demanding that the Haganah (underground military organization) and the Palmach disarm back in the 1920s - 1940s. I will go so far as to say that Hamas, however, will invoke its own "Hunting Season" on Islamic Jihad and other militants as the Haganah did against the Begin's Irgun in order to smooth its relations with the British Mandate in Palestine in 1945. Were I in the position of Hamas, I would move to form a Palestinian Army while committing to abide by "existing agreements" without boxing myself in, an approach that Hamas seems to be taking.

Money is already on the table with the transfer of the monthly tax money that Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority (PA):

Mofaz and the security establishment support transferring the money, mostly due to fears that the PA will collapse and will not be able to provide services, which will result on Israel having to deal with those matters.

It also makes the PA look immediately weaker than Hamas which is not in Israel's best interest, yet some believe that Israel should present a wall against Hamas regardless of cost. Notable among those is Netanyahu who said, "The transfer of money to Hamas must be halted immediately, and all Hamas funds should be frozen. Olmert is transferring money to terror, which will result in Israel's destruction."

Disclaimer: I had the opportunity to know Binyamin Netanyahu's second wife - the forgotten wife, Fleur Cates, while he was Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations 1984-88. A bright and polite person, it was only through friends that I became aware that Netanyahu transferred his assets back to Israel to place them beyond the scope of divorce proceedings. That and other details left me with the opinion of a self-absorbed opportunist which subsequent events have yet to dispel.

But not all Israeli voices are reactionary as Haaretz points out in Only the right can:

[These] are very authentic results, achieved through elections that were respectably democratic, even though they took place under the least democratic circumstances imaginable, the occupation. As usual, we were threatened by our experts with "anarchy," and, as usual, the Palestinians did not meet those expectations. There was no shooting and no rioting; the Palestinian nation had its say with admirable order… The religious issue was set aside: Most of the Palestinians, it can be safely said, don't want a religious state; they want a free state.

[Both] Israelis and Palestinians can learn important lessons from the results of the election. The Israelis have to finally learn that applying force will not get the desired results. On the contrary. In recent years, until the tahadiyeh, the lull, there wasn't a month that went by in which we did not hear about the elimination of another "senior" Hamas official… The Palestinians also have to learn that it was the moderation of the movement that led them to victory. Hamas did not win because of terror attacks, it largely won despite the terror. It has been moderating in recent months, changing its skin, agreeing to a lull that has lasted since November 2004. During all that, its power only grew…

A peace deal with Hamas will be a lot more stable and viable than any agreement we sign with the PLO, if Hamas were to oppose it. Hamas can make concessions where Fatah would never dare. In any case, the Hamas that forms the government won't be the Hamas that sends suicide bombers. The comparison to international terror organizations is also nonsense: Hamas is a movement fighting for limited national goals. If Israel were to reach out to the extremists among its enemies, then maybe it can reach a real agreement that would put an end to the tumor of the occupation and the curse of terror.

[Both] sides, Israel and Hamas, must free themselves of the slogans of the past. Those who pose preconditions, like disarming Hamas, will miss the chance. It is impossible to expect that Hamas will disarm, just as it is impossible to expect that Israel would disarm. In Palestinian eyes, Hamas' weapons are meant to fight the occupation, and, as is well-known, the occupation is not over. Practically, and indeed morally, the armed are armed if they are equipped with F-16s or Qassam launchers. If Israel were to commit to an end to killing Hamas operatives, there is reason to assume that Hamas would agree, at least for a while, to lay down its arms…

Now is the time to reach out to Hamas, which is desperate for international, and particularly American, recognition, and knows that such recognition goes through Israel. If Israel were to be friendly toward Hamas, it could benefit. Not that Hamas will all at once give up its extremist demands and its unrealistic dreams, but it will know, as some of its leaders have already declared, to set them aside if it serves their interests…

We've already seen the achievements of the hand that assassinates and demolishes, uproots and jails, we've already seen those policies fulfilled in front of our eyes: Hamas won the elections.

Haaretz continues its diplomatic medicine for Israelis in Wave of democracy pits Israel against 'Arab street':

The Palestinian Authority election marks the beginning of a new period in the region that could be termed "the era of the masses." Henceforth Israel will have to factor into its foreign policy something it has always ignored - Arab public opinion.

Israel has always based its regional policy on arrangements and terror-balances with the Arab dictators. They understood force and Israel could do business with them. Their authority was seen as a barrier protecting Israel from the rage of the hostile rabble in the "Arab street." That was the basis of the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, Yasser Arafat and his heirs and the game rules vis-a-vis Syria and Lebanon.

But those days are over. The democratization process that [Bush43] has triggered and the open debate promoted by Arab satellite networks are causing the old frameworks to crumble. The mass demonstrations that led to the Syrians being driven from Lebanon, the elections in Iraq and those in the territories are merely the beginning. As far as Israel is concerned, the worst stage will come when the democratic wave washes over Jordan, its strategic ally; Egypt with its modern army and F-16 squadrons, and Syria and its Scud and chemical warhead stores…

Granted, Hamas is an armed terror organization. But the international community agreed to its participation in the elections and respects its results… Israel will have to formulate a new foreign policy and strive for peace between nations, not merely with their rulers. And that will be much more complicated.

Unfortunately, the US has, I believe, been of preciously misdirected aid in this process. To be continued in Part 3.

Mofaz: At this stage Hamas is behaving responsibly
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service
Last update - 19:02 29/01/2006

Hamas leader wants Palestinian army
Agencies/al Jazeera
29 January 2006, 6:10 Makka Time, 3:10 GMT

Abbas demands loyalty from PA security chiefs
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondent, and AP
Last update - 11:45 29/01/2006

Only the right can
By Gideon Levy
Last update - 16:53 29/01/2006

Analysis: Wave of democracy pits Israel against 'Arab street'
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent
Last update - 04:36 29/01/2006

Hamas Is Resolute On Fighting Israel
Militants to Form Army, Leader Says
By Rhonda Roumani and Scott Wilson
Washington Post
January 29, 2006

Hamas demands to meet German chancellor arriving in Israel
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service
Last update - 13:16 29/01/2006

Palestinian refugees hope Hamas will lead them home
The Independent (Bangladesh)
January 28, 2006

Who'll Be A Jew
David Horovitz, Leslie Susser, Vince Beiser
Jersusalem Report
10th Anniversary Issue
Article presently offline
Google's cache

Gordon Housworth

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Negotiate with Hamas as with Sinn Féin: Like it or not, both are legitimate political arms


What is everyone railing about in Palestine vis-à-vis the victory of Hamas (also here)? How can so many US pundits be blind to the political and economic realities on the ground? The only glitch in my forecast on Hamas is that they are perhaps two election cycles early in their victory. Only timing, and every politician would like to see it pushed off onto someone else's watch. But a triumphant Hamas is now on our watch, yet I see few intelligent views on dealing with Hamas among much useless reactionary prattle.

Hamas' position is no different than Sinn Féin, the political branch of the Irish Republican Army, with whom the UK, US and Europe found no end of 'look the other way' steps to deal with them while politely overlooking the continued presence of the IRA.

Hamas is moving into what passes for the political mainstream in the middle east. It will move in fits and starts. It will carry baggage, both verbal and military. Hamas leadership will not be able to control all factions, but I submit that they will do a better job of it than Fatah. We will not like the images and the rhetoric, but we are not the primary audience. We can recognize reality and engage positively or be further marked for hypocrisy in only supporting democratic movements of which we approve. We should remember that, save for Israel political parties and Jordan, Hamas has more political legitimacy than any other US ally in the region.

Does it help to note that we have few options other than to engage? Hamas has funding sources independent of the PLO and Fatah (also here and here). Funding freeze efforts were not successful in 2003. The International Crisis Group offers pointed recommendations to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement), the Government of Israel, the European Union and its Member States, and the United States. Israpundit points out the limited options of business as usual, yet we have the National Review offering virtually this same policy of "Three No's" no recognition, no negotiations, and no funding. The Jordan Times captured the issue of interference nicely:

[S]uch statements constitute an unprecedented level of meddling in internal Palestinian affairs, spreading, as they do, apprehension among Palestinian voters of the consequences of voting for Hamas. Having adopted the Israeli line that Hamas is a terrorist group, and having pressured the Palestinian Authority to press ahead with overdue parliamentary elections, the West must now choose between standing behind its democratic principles or allowing short-sighted, populist policies win the day.

Palestinians are now aware that US Agency for International Development (USAID) "discreetly funded a number of projects in the Palestinian territories... for which Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority took credit... to boost the Palestinian Authority’s popularity ahead of parliamentary elections." Predictably, Hamas "called for an investigation into whether the $2 million program violated the prohibition against parties receiving funds from foreign sources." USAID field reports promising "a constant stream of announcements and public outreach about positive happenings all over Palestinian areas in the critical week before the elections," coupled with the fact that the aid was not "identified as being connected to the" US, put the lie to US denials of interference. Further charges of hypocrisy await us if we now summarily refuse to fund on-going pan-Palestinian humanitarian aid.

Arabs seem more realisitic in anticipating accommodation by the US and EU, being joined by Jimmy Carter in his prescription for "potential donors [to] find alternative means to be generous to the Palestinian people [even] if the donor decides to bypass the Palestinian government completely." We may very well need to fund the PLO in order to keep the better elements of Fatah in business and in opposition to Hamas. Also consider the implications of Iran increasing its aid or China stepping in to offer aid or both.

Hamas' victory has already had a salutary effect: Fatah activists are already calling for the resignation of its corrupt administration. That never happened under Arafat or the brief PLO interregnum prior to this election.

Hamas is tracking the rise of the Israeli Irgun and Stern Gang into mainstream national politics. From Hamas will produce a Prime Minister faster than the Irgun, January 2005:

Menachem Begin headed the Irgun (The National Military Organization) by 1943, was leader of Israel's opposition by 1948, and Prime Minister by 1977. The Irgun had rejected the Haganah's "restraint" policy, carried out armed reprisals against Arabs, was condemned by the Jewish Agency, later turning those same skills on the British Mandate in Palestine. The Irgun's actions then are what Israel now attacks Hamas today. It will not take a Hamas leader 34 years to gain a Palestinian prime ministership or presidency…

Officially known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas won 78 of 118 municipal council seats, while Fatah, Abbas' party, won 38. Independents and minor parties won the remainder. Hamas took control of 7 councils to Fatah's 3. While Hamas had boycotted the Presidential election of Mahmoud Abbas (9 January, 2005), all Palestinian factions, save for Islamic Jihad (Holy War), joined the Gaza elections held in ten cities. The Central Elections Committee (CEC) Palestine said that 90,000 Palestinians over age 18 in Gaza were eligible to vote for a total of 414 candidates, including 68 women, contesting those 118 seats…

While this election may well be a "staggering blow to the Fatah organization" a "consensus on the choice of jihad and resistance," and a repudiation of Abbas' "platform of ending violence to allow talks with the Jewish state on Palestinian statehood," it can just as easily be a vote for reform and the ability of Hamas to deliver it as Hamas won support in non-Hamas areas. (It would appear that the Israeli military is not too upset as they see local issues and the influence of local clans supporting slates of candidates as more important than national policy.)… And Fatah was corrupt top to bottom. In contrast, Hamas provided "welfare, health services, schools and kindergartens" free of corruption and nepotism to the impoverished Gaza citizens…

Hamas is the beneficiary of an astonishing well of Arab and Palestinian distress that seems only to interest the World Bank (also here) and NGOs. From Hamas moves into electoral legitimacy, December 2004:

No surprise, Palestinians would like a state of their own, a functional state and not a gelded Paltustan, a viable economic state able to lift the extraordinary poverty and lack of opportunity available to most Palestinians, a state that ends a fifty year diaspora from Jew and fellow Arab alike, a state that functions a state that dispenses appropriate services to its citizens, and a state than ends the kleptocracy of its governing elite.

Then certainly no surprise that "Hamas militants defeated the mainstream Palestinian movement Fatah in nine of 26 local elections [in] a foretaste of challenges confronting emerging moderate leader Mahmoud Abbas. (While no student of local Palestinian elections, I am pleasantly surprised that Hamas won only a third.)

In Palestine for dummies, I noted:

And lets not forget Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, and Hezbollah, both rivals of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. In reviewing the dispute over whether the Al-Aqsa Intifada was a product of Palestinian strategy, or a product of its absence (I favor the latter), Hillel Frisch notes that the consequent unraveling of the Palestinian political center was going to hamper development and implementation of such strategies in the future. He now predicts "a tremendous crisis in the Palestinian political center" upon Arafat's death as politicians and security officials jockey for influence…

Hamas and Hezbollah, both rivals of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, have long taken up the provision of public services, functional administration, and hospital care that Fatah had abrogated and, in the process, became the de facto governor in their areas of control. Just as members of the then extreme Irgun and the Stern Gang rose into the political elite of Israel, I predict the same for Hamas and Hezbollah in Palestine.

Without immediate and demonstrative action by Abbas, the success of Hamas in the first "Palestinian ballot since militants launched a revolt in 2000" will only be magnified in 2005 when additional voting in "scores more municipalities along with elections for the Palestinian legislature" occurs. If the US supports all, we have a chance to deflect Iranian inroads in the Levant.

The Palestinians will have their state. If the US is seen by Arab eyes to have facilitated, even accelerated, that process, we buy a tiny but useful reduction in Arab animas.

The depth of Palestinian distress and their anger at Israel and the US also seems to escape notice in the US. From Controlled failure is not generally acceptable foreign policy: attrition is not victory, August 2004:

The flaw in my forecast [for the rate of growth in Palestinian/Muslim resistance] was underestimating how little time it would take. Multiply that anger by hundreds of thousands and one begins to get a flavor of the hatred, hopelessness, and opportunity void that marks Palestinians and has seeped into the fabric of Arabs and a goodly number of Muslims. Go to the (tame by comparison) English al Jazeera and look at The Sharon Land-Grab Segregation Wall. Look at the maps of proscribed land, the walls, the isolation adjacent to relative plenty, and ask yourself what would you do in their place. I believe that the Security Wall is a failure of imagination, and will not bring Israel long term security as it will insure the economic collapse of what I call "Paltustan," the Palestinian Bantustan on its doorstep.

[Israelis and Americans are] chained to Israeli action in the minds of Arabs who perceive Israel as a US client state but vastly overestimate our control over it. Abu Ghraib was the toxic icing on the cake which in Arab eyes showed them that we were as duplicitous and base as the Israelis. Leave aside what they do among and to themselves; a completely different yardstick is used against us whether we like it or not.

Current US policy to the Middle East is less [than] effective... I caution readers not to brand me anti-Bush as it not clear that a Clinton or other Democratic administration would have done better, but while Democratic performance is an unknown, we have prima facia evidence that the policy on offer is merely controlled failure that our weapons and technology will not overcome in isolation from cooperative diplomacy and a sustained multi-administration, multi-generational hearts-and-minds campaign that should have a Marshall Plan level of focus and commitment…

As I believe that we have no mechanism for, or even see a need for, trust building [with Arabs]; no chance of a Marshall Plan option; and that US opinion will not shift; then we must continue both our failure to win the war of ideas and our robust attrition -- where we are the force being attritted -- until we are forced to withdraw.

Terrorist bombing has its own cycle of attenuation, just as it did in Israeli resistance to the British Mandate. From Iraq replaces Palestine as militant Islam's crie de guerre, November 2005:

It becomes especially evident when Ghosh and Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, discuss motivators. More arrestingly, religion is NOT the important criterion for a suicide volunteer. The principal stimulus to volunteering IS foreign occupation which increases nationalist resistance. (Religion is, however, a multiplier when the foreign occupying power has a religion different from the local community which the terrorists can exploit to their benefit. We needlessly play into their hands when POTUS speaks carelessly of 'crusades' as the jihadists, and adopting Baathists, refer to us as [Christian] Crusaders to be repulsed a second time.)

Suicide terrorism is a quintessential asymmetrical attack tool in that suicide coercion is the inverse of the military coercion of the larger, ostensibly stronger power. The "presence of foreign combat troops on territory that the terrorists prize" cuts across all other drivers, be it religion, social status, revenge, poverty, or low education. Following the success of Hezbollah and its Iranian handlers in dissuading the US, France and Israel to remain in Lebanon, other asymmetric groups adopted the strategy (although much of the technical advances have been made by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka). Of the terrorist campaigns since 1980 that Pape has studied, 13 have concluded while 5 are still ongoing. Of the 13, 7 resulted in territorial gains for the terrorists while 6 did not. Pape writes:

"The main purpose of suicide terrorism is to use the threat of punishment to compel a target government to change policy and most especially to cause democratic states to withdraw forces from land the terrorists perceive as their national homeland."

Having long staked myself out as a Palmerston disciple, we must look to our "perpetual and eternal" interests in the Middle East and the Arab world, remembering that we have "no eternal allies [or] perpetual enemies."

We have another brief window to craft an improved opinion in Arab minds and position in the Levant.

Part 2

Protecting free elections for Palestinians
The Monitor's View
from the January 27, 2006 edition

Palestinian Leader to Ask Hamas to Form a New Government
New York Times
January 27, 2006

Hamas Sweeps Palestinian Elections, Complicating Peace Efforts in Mideast
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
January 27, 2006

Victory Ends 40 Years of Political Domination by Arafat's Party
New York Times
January 26, 2006

Who are Hamas? [BBC News]
BBC News
Last Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006, 10:29 GMT

Who are Hamas? [Al Jazeera]
Al Jazeera
1/26/2006 9:00:00 PM GMT

Welcome to Hamastan
A new terrorist state has been born.
By Joel C. Rosenberg
National Review
January 26, 2006, 1:59 p.m.

Carter calls for funding Palestinians
By Etgar Lefkovits
Jerusalem Post
Jan. 26, 2006 18:34 | Updated Jan. 26, 2006 21:43

Arabs see US changing stance on Hamas
By Jonathan Wright
January 26, 2006; 9:32 AM

Analysis: A step forward for Palestinian democracy
By Danny Rubinstein
Last update - 07:10 25/01/2006

Palestinian Candidates Condemn U.S. Program
Events Boosted Government
By Scott Wilson and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
January 24, 2006

US and Hamas: If You Can't Beat'em...
Posted by Daled Amos
 January 24, 2006 07:08 PM

Report: USAID funding Fatah campaign
01.22.06, 12:38

Hamas poised to shatter the political mould
By Ed O'Loughlin, Jerusalem
The Age (Australia)
January 21, 2006

Palestinians May Boost Hamas In Vote, Challenging U.S., Israel
January 21, 2006

Enter Hamas: The Challenges of Political Integration
International Crisis Group
Middle East Report N°49
18 January 2006
PDF of full report

Palestinians receptive to Hamas' modified stance
By Matthew Gutman
Posted 1/18/2006 9:04 PM Updated 1/18/2006 10:14 PM

HAMAS Funding

Where Does Funding for Hamas Come From?
Aired June 21, 2003 - 13:00 ET

The Financial Sources of the Hamas Terror Organization
(Communicated by Israel Security Sources)
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
July 30, 2003

Gordon Housworth

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Prediction without accountability, Part 3


Part 2

Tetlock's attack on "Thinking the Right Way" is no less demanding, dispensing with the easy assumption of "close ties between correspondence and coherence/process indicators of good judgment, between getting it right and thinking the right way," believing that investigators must begin to "array coherence/ process indicators along a rough controversy continuum anchored at one end by widely accepted tests and at the other by bitterly contested ones":

  1. At the close-to-slam-dunk end, we find violations of logical consistency so flagrant that few rise to their defense. The prototypic tests involve breaches of axiomatic identities within probability theory.
  2. In the middle of the continuum, we encounter consensus on what it means to fail coherence/process tests but divisions on where to locate the pass-fail cutoffs.
  3. At the controversial end of the continuum, competing schools of thought offer unapologetically opposing views on the standards for judging judgment.

No wonder that various sides (note I'd not said opposing sides as large issues have many protagonists) continue to claim victory and that forecaster and evaluator alike have difficulty in assessing accuracy within their field of study and in the court of public opinion:

To qualify as a good judge within a Bayesian framework [those who predict] must own up to one's reputational bets. [The] core idea is a refinement of common sense. Good judges are good belief updaters who follow through on the logical implications of reputational bets that pit their favorite explanations against alternatives: if I declare that x is .2 likely if my "theory" is right and .8 likely if yours is right, and x occurs, I "owe" some belief change.

In principle, no one disputes we should change our minds when we make mistakes. In practice, however, outcomes do not come stamped with labels indicating whose forecasts have been disconfirmed.

Tetlock spends much time outlining how forecasters rewrite or justify their predictions in order to continue to claim victory, starting with their "frequency and self-serving selectivity" of bet rewriting bets and the revisionist scale of the rewrites:

A balanced assessment [concedes] that Bayesians can no more purge subjectivity from coherence assessments of good judgment than correspondence theorists can ignore complaints about the scoring rules for forecasting accuracy. But that does not mean we cannot distinguish desperate patch-up rewrites that delay the day of reckoning for bankrupt ideas from creative rewrites that stop us from abandoning good ideas…

Shifting from forward-in-time reasoning to backward-in-time reasoning, we relied on turnabout thought experiments to assess the willingness of analysts to change their opinions on historical counterfactuals. The core idea is, again, simple. Good judges should resist the temptation to engage in self-serving reasoning when policy stakes are high and reality constraints are weak. And temptation is ubiquitous. Underlying all judgments of whether a policy was shrewd or foolish are hidden layers of speculative judgments about how history would have unfolded had we pursued different policies. We have warrant to praise a policy as great when we can think only of ways things could have worked out far worse, and warrant to call a policy disastrous when we can think only of ways things could have worked out far better. Whenever someone judges something a failure or success, a reasonable rejoinder is: "Within what distribution of possible worlds?"

From my systems point of view, "success" depends upon how the problem space is bounded in both time and effects. Apply too short a time span or too few parameters for measuring success, and one will drive for - and too often achieve - suboptimal results when measured in the longer term. I habitually see the failure to anticipate secondary and tertiary effects as one of the greatest errors in both event planning and forecasting, the results of which are 'unintended consequences' called blowback.

Turnabout thought experiments gauge the consistency of the standards that we apply to counterfactual claims. We fail turnabout tests when we apply laxer standards to evidence that reinforces as opposed to undercuts our favorite what-if scenarios… A balanced assessment here requires confronting a dilemma: if we only accept evidence that confirms our worldview, we will become prisoners of our preconceptions, but if we subject all evidence, agreeable or disagreeable, to the same scrutiny, we will be overwhelmed. As with reputational bets, the question becomes how much special treatment of favorite hypotheses is too much. And, as with reputational bets, the bigger the double standard, the greater are the grounds for concern.

Problems with hedgehogs:

Hedgehogs are typically embedded in political movements or theoretical movements and they typically have people who will back them up. They can fall back on a base of supporters who will help them generate various types of excuses or belief system defenses that will neutralize the unexpected evidence. So they'll be able to argue, "Well, what I predicted didn't happen, but it will happen soon," or, "I predicted that country X had weapons of mass destruction, and, well, it appears that it didn't, but it was the right mistake to have made."

It is true that if you wanted to identify the experts who have made the most spectacularly far-sighted predictions over the last 50 years, the hedgehogs would be disproportionately represented. But if you were computing batting averages, the hedgehogs would be clearly statistically inferior to the foxes.

Tetlock's conclusion:

The dominant danger remains hubris, the mostly hedgehog vice of closed-mindedness, of dismissing dissonant possibilities too quickly. But there is also the danger of cognitive chaos, the mostly fox vice of excessive open-mindedness, of seeing too much merit in too many stories. Good judgment now becomes a metacognitive skill--akin to "the art of self-overhearing." Good judges need to eavesdrop on the mental conversations they have with themselves as they decide how to decide, and determine whether they approve of the trade-offs they are striking in the classic exploitation-exploration balancing act, that between exploiting existing knowledge and exploring new possibilities… From a policy perspective, there is value in using publicly verifiable correspondence and coherence benchmarks to gauge the quality of public debates. The more people know about pundits' track records, the stronger the pundits' incentives to compete by improving the epistemic (truth) value of their products, not just by pandering to communities of co-believers.

Tetlock's call for monitoring:

I think on balance, it would be a good idea to give some serious thought to systematically monitoring political punditry. I think we monitor professionals in many other spheres of life. I think we monitor weather forecasters, we increasingly monitor stock market analysts, we sometimes monitor doctors. I don't think it's unreasonable to suppose that when people offer opinions on extremely consequential issues, like whether or not to go to war or whether or not to have welfare reform, or tax policy, trade policy, it's not unreasonable to ask what are their predictive track records in the past as a guide for how much credibility to attach to what they're saying in the present.

I agree with Tetlock's closing wish that "we as a society would be better off if participants in policy debates stated their beliefs in testable forms"—that is, as probabilities—"monitored their forecasting performance, and honored their reputational bets." I would augment this rating mechanism with something akin to a "wisdom of crowds" virtual stock market (VSM) tracker where the educated everyman can make their wager against the experts.

All bibliography citations in Part 1

Gordon Housworth

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Prediction without accountability, Part 2


Part 1

Tetlock put his pundits to unaccustomed test by phrasing the majority of his forecasting questions into a "three possible futures" form:

The respondents were asked to rate the probability of three alternative outcomes: the persistence of the status quo, more of something (political freedom, economic growth), or less of something (repression, recession). And he measured his experts on two dimensions: how good they were at guessing probabilities (did all the things they said had an x per cent chance of happening happen x per cent of the time?), and how accurate they were at predicting specific outcomes. The results were unimpressive. On the first scale, the experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned an equal probability to all three outcomes—if they had given each possible future a thirty-three-per-cent chance of occurring. Human beings who spend their lives studying the state of the world, in other words, are poorer forecasters than dart-throwing monkeys, who would have distributed their picks evenly over the three choices.

I do not agree with Bryan Caplan's Tackling Tetlock in which he admits that his research "between economists and the general public… defends the simple "The experts are right, the public is wrong"" by proceeding to indict Tetlock:

Tetlock's sample suffers from severe selection bias. He deliberately asked relatively difficult and controversial questions. As his methodological appendix explains, questions had to "Pass the 'don't bother me too often with dumb questions' test." Dumb according to who? The implicit answer is "Dumb according to the typical expert in the field." What Tetlock really shows is that experts are overconfident if you exclude the questions where they have reached a solid consensus. [Emphasis by author]

Being (presumed) right about a broad theme is not solid forecasting in my book. Caplan's opinion that "Experts really do make overconfident predictions about controversial questions… However, this does not show that experts are overconfident about their core findings" evades the point that when the chips are down and specificity is high, that forecasters fall very short.

It is that specificity that moves Tetlock forward. In an interview with Carl Bialik, Evaluating Political Pundits, WSJ:

Tetlock's innovation was to elicit numerical predictions. As he noted in an interview with me, political punditry tends toward the oracular: statements vague enough to encompass all eventualities. [He] was able to get pundits to provide probability estimates for such questions as whether certain countries' legislatures would see shifts in their ruling parties, whether inflation or unemployment would rise and whether nations would go to war.

Without numerical predictions, "it's much easier to fudge," Prof. Tetlock told me. "When you move from words to numbers, it's a really critical transition." What he found is that people with expertise in explaining events that have happened aren't very successful at predicting what will happen.

Bialik's interview also tempers Menand's conclusion in Everybody's an Expert to "Think for yourself," ignoring any and all forecasting, by citing Tetlock's distancing from such a broad brush statement:

[Tetlock] pointed out an exercise he conducted in the course of his research, in which he gave Berkeley undergraduates brief reports from Facts on File about political hot spots, then asked them to make forecasts. Their predictions -- based on far less background knowledge than his pundits called upon -- were the worst he encountered, even less accurate than the worst hedgehogs. "Unassisted human intuition is a bomb here."

We have seen the prediction/decision making problem even among those of presumed 'assisted human intuition' such as commercial business managers. In When clients for risk assessment/risk pricing take on a risk of their own , we catalog five common characteristics:

  • Believe that they are well informed even when they are ill informed
  • Not invented here (NIH)
  • Arrogance
  • Inability to distill
  • Competitive bad advice

The client is often no better, or worse, condition than the pundits who advises them. Part two of that same risk series, The merger of Inability to distill, Not invented here, and Competitive bad advice, refers "readers to the Berlin Wisdom Model as an intelligence analysis mindset and tool for its introduction to an approach to wisdom containing five broad areas without which I do not believe good analysis and prediction can occur." Those are:

  • A fund of general knowledge
  • Procedural knowledge
  • An understanding of the relativity of values
  • An understanding that meaning is contextual
  • Acceptance of change

Pundits of all stripes would benefit by its adoption.

While it may be more entertaining to read what other say about Tetlock, it is valuable to consult Expert Political Judgment directly:

This book is predicated on the assumption that, even if we cannot capture all of the subtle counterfactual and moral facets of good judgment, we can advance the cause of holding political observers accountable to independent standards of empirical accuracy and logical rigor. Whatever their allegiances, good judges should pass two types of tests:

  • Correspondence tests rooted in empiricism. How well do their private beliefs map onto the publicly observable world?
  • Coherence and process tests rooted in logic. Are their beliefs internally consistent? And do they update those beliefs in response to evidence?

In plain language, good judges should both "get it right" and "think the right way."

Many have pursued these goals (with tools no better than the forecast under examination), but few with the rigor that Tetlock employs, believing that confidence "in specific claims should rise with the quality of converging evidence… from diverse sources" just as confidence "in the overall architecture of our argument should be linked to the sturdiness of the interlocking patterns of converging evidence." Once again, it is the rigor that Tetlock employs that creates a testable base open to further refinement.

Tetlock rightly defines "Getting It Right" as an elusive construct that can be approached with "correspondence theories of truth" that pair good judgment with the "goodness of fit between our internal mental representations and corresponding properties of the external world":

We should therefore credit good judgment to those who see the world as it is--or soon will be [the corollaries of which are] we should bestow bonus credit on those farsighted souls who saw things well before the rest of us [and] penalize those misguided souls who failed to see things long after they became obvious to the rest of us.

Tetlock describes a "gauntlet of five challenges" that is needed to assess the "superficially straightforward conception of good judgment" (Emphasis mine for clarity):

  1. Challenging whether the playing fields are level. We risk making false attributions of good judgment if some forecasters have been dealt easier tasks than others...
  2. Challenging whether forecasters' "hits" have been purchased at a steep price in "false alarms." We risk making false attributions of good judgment if we fixate solely on success stories--crediting forecasters for spectacular hits (say, predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union) but not debiting them for false alarms (predicting the disintegration of nation-states--e.g., Nigeria, Canada--still with us)...
  3. Challenging the equal weighting of hits and false alarms. We risk making false attributions of good judgment if we treat political reasoning as a passionless exercise of maximizing aggregate accuracy...
  4. Challenges of scoring subjective probability forecasts. We cannot assess the accuracy of experts' predictions if we cannot figure out what they predicted...
  5. Challenging reality. We risk making false attributions of good judgment if we fail to recognize the existence of legitimate ambiguity about either what happened or the implications of what happened for the truth or falsity of particular points of view...

Part 3 Conclusion

All bibliography citations in Part 1

Gordon Housworth

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Prediction without accountability: calling the expertise and honesty of expert predictors into question


Philip Tetlock's Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It? How Can We Know? is yet another reminder that my practice of periodically sweeping earlier through material, mine and others, to see how the forecast played out or was the tone too shrill is an exceedingly uncommon practice:

It is my want to revisit projections and forecasts, mine and others, to look for accuracy in both substance and timing; are assumptions still accurate and if not, why not; what new players and tools have entered the market; and what has shifted. The assumptions and the development process are more interesting than the answer as too many people treat a situation in time as something fixed, instead of seeing it as a still frame in a motion picture (where the trick is to predict the next scene).

What I have found from many engagements is how rare is such introspection, and even more so when the review of prediction is made public. Yet I am pulled up short as I may not measure up to Tetlock's current findings in predictive failure. He has certainly put me on guard both for what I do and for those whom I read. Expert Political Judgment nicely integrates Tetlock's four research areas:

  • Accountability, "strategies people use to cope with social pressures to justify their views or conduct to others"
  • Value conflict/taboo trade-offs/protecting the sacred, "the boundaries people often place on the range of the "thinkable""
  • The concept of good judgment, defined as "styles of reasoning in individuals and groups"
  • Political versus politicized psychology, "criteria [to] gauge the impact of moral and political objectives [on works] ostensibly dedicated [to] truth"

While too rigorous to be dismissed as a crossover work, Expert Political Judgment puts front and center in the public eye that:

people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either.

(Many readers may end their knowledge of Tetlock with Louis Menand's hagiographic Everybody's an Expert in the New Yorker but they should read on.)

I believe that Tetlock's claim of an utter lack of accountability in political prediction applies to virtually all areas of forecasting, notably its handmaidens of economic and strategic forecasting. I agree that "Our system of expertise is completely inside out: it rewards bad judgments over good ones." We regularly have to put aside the 'received wisdom' of earlier advisors in order to affect a solution.

Tetlock steps out (with his own great sound bite) to divide his pundits into two groups, hedgehogs and foxes:

  • Hedgehogs ""know one big thing," aggressively [extending] the explanatory reach of that one big thing into new domains, display bristly impatience with those who "do not get it," and express considerable confidence that they are already pretty proficient forecasters, at least in the long term"
  • Foxes "know many small things (tricks of their trade), are skeptical of grand schemes, see explanation and prediction not as deductive exercises but rather as exercises in flexible "ad hocery" that require stitching together diverse sources of information, and are rather diffident about their own forecasting prowess."

Foxes score better than hedgehogs (although hedgehogs do very well on the chance hole-in-one), yet our "primitive attraction" is to "deterministic, overconfident hedgehogs":

A hedgehog is a person who sees international affairs to be ultimately determined by a single bottom-line force: balance-of-power considerations, or the clash of civilizations, or globalization and the spread of free markets. A hedgehog is the kind of person who holds a great-man theory of history [or] he or she might adhere to the "actor-dispensability thesis"… Whatever it is, the big idea, and that idea alone, dictates the probable outcome of events. For the hedgehog, therefore, predictions that fail are only "off on timing," or are "almost right," derailed by an unforeseeable accident. There are always little swerves in the short run, but the long run irons them out.

Foxes… don’t see a single determining explanation in history. They tend to "see the world as a shifting mixture of self-fulfilling and self-negating prophecies: self-fulfilling ones in which success breeds success, and failure, failure but only up to a point, and then self-negating prophecies kick in as people recognize that things have gone too far."

Disclaimer: I place myself among the foxes.

Even a work as potent as Expert Political Judgment may not penetrate the public's assumption of expertise among pundits (especially one's own favorite pundits). Yet in the field of the psychology of expertise, Tetlock's work brings no great surprise as it "is just one of more than a hundred studies that have pitted experts against statistical or actuarial formulas, and in almost all of those studies the people either do no better than the formulas or do worse." Relatively common assumptions in the field:

  • People, experts included, "fall in love with our hunches [and] really, really hate to be wrong"
  • Experts are no different from ordinary people in tending to "dismiss new information that doesn’t fit with what they already believe"
  • The future is seen "as indeterminate and the past as inevitable"
  • Double standards abound, "tougher in assessing the validity of information that undercut their theory than [in] crediting information that supported it
  • Intellectuals too often deal in "solidarity goods" rather than "credence goods," tailoring predictions to fit those of their ideological brethren
  • Most, experts included, tend to "find scenarios with more variables more likely" thus creating forecasts that require separate events to occur in order to be true
  • "Plausible detail" clouds decision making and promotes selection of complex outcomes
  • Hyperspecialization robs people, experts included, of a rounded basis for decision making
  • The more "ingenious," the more "arresting" forecasts achieve greater cachet and fit the sound bite window of attention span

Part 2

Following are all bibliography citations for parts 1, 2 and 3

Think you can beat the analysts in predicting 2006?
Readers have topped experts in last 5 years
By David Lieberman
01/11/2006 - Updated 08:48 PM ET

Evaluating Political Pundits
Wall Street Journal
January 6, 2006

A Psychology Talk and Interview Show
Shrink Rap Radio
Podcast Net

#19 - Philip Tetlock, Ph.D. on the Predictive Errors of Political Experts
Podcast Date: Dec 27, 2005 22:29:59

Tackling Tetlock
Bryan Caplan
December 26, 2005

On the Media
December 9, 2005

Foxes, hedgehogs, and the study of international relations
Daniel W. Drezner
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Who needs experts?
Daniel W. Drezner
November 29, 2005

by Louis Menand
New Yorker
Issue of 2005-12-05
Posted 2005-11-28

China - Thunder From The Silent Zone
Paul Monk and Rowan Callick
Background Briefing on ABC Radio National (Australia)
18 September 2005

The New Neuromorality
W. H. Brady Program in Culture and Freedom Conference
AEI, Washington, D.C. 20036
June 1, 2005

Tetlock's presentation

The Implicit Prejudice Exchange: Islands of Consensus in a Sea of Controversy
Philip E. Tetlock and Hal R. Arkes
Psychological Inquiry
2004, Vol. 15, No.4, 311-321

Making Unconscious Decisions Properly
Aired May 6, 2005 - 19:00 ET

Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It? How Can We Know?
Philip E. Tetlock
ISBN: 0-691-12302-0
Princeton, 2005
CHAPTER 1: Quantifying the Unquantifiable

Blink and The Wisdom of Crowds
Book review in the form of an exchange between James Surowiecki and Malcolm Gladwell
Jan. 10, 2005, at 5:23 PM ET

Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown

If you want good information, ask around - a lot
Large groups are more accurate that any expert
By John Freeman
from the May 25, 2004 edition

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations
By James Surowiecki

Gordon Housworth

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Rethinking biological warfare at a human scale


The report in the Sunday Mirror (UK) regarding the possible recruitment of AIDS infected individuals as suicide bombers is not a new idea as it occurred as early as 2002 in Palestine when rat poison was intentionally placed in suicide vests and by happenstance when postmortems of suicide bombers revealed Hepatitis B infections. The only curiosity is why expansion would take so long and how the process will morph.

Citing UK MOD documents released in the aftermath of the July 2005 London bombings:

Terror chiefs are also targeting fanatics who suffer other lethal blood diseases such as hepatitis and dengue fever in order to increase their "kill rate" from an explosion. "There is evidence that terrorists might be deliberately recruiting volunteers with diseases that are spread by blood transference." Experts have found that bones and other blood-spattered fragments from a suicide bomber could penetrate the skin of a victim 50 metres away and infect them…

Compare this June 2002 description of "human shrapnel" from Death is a Master from Palestine:

"We see here things you don't usually see in civilian hospitals," observed Dr. Avi Rivkind, director of the trauma unit at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem.

For example, he said that nails, ball bearings and other penetrating objects carried by suicide bombers had on occasion been laced with rat poison, which promotes internal bleeding in those wounded victims who are not killed immediately. To combat the effects of the poison, Israeli physicians have used Factor VII, a coagulation protein used to treat hemophilia. Factor VII is contra-indicated for trauma, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Dr. Rivkind, but "it works, so we use it anyway."

But rat poison is "insignificant relative to other blast effects," said Dr. Michael Stein, trauma director at the Rabin Medical Center near Tel Aviv. In addition to hundreds of Israeli fatalities, thousands of non-combatants have suffered penetrating wounds and burns since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000. Over 1,700 Palestinians have died.

Suicide bombers do not simply transport the explosive weapon that they use to murder their targets. In several respects, the bombers themselves become the weapon...

Another novel development is the role of communicable disease in terrorist attacks. Several Palestinian suicide bombers were found to be positive for Hepatitis B, according to Dr. Stein. As a result, all survivors of such attacks who are admitted to the trauma ward are now routinely vaccinated against Hepatitis B, he said.

In one case, tissue pathology studies conducted several weeks after a terrorist attack revealed that a terrorist was HIV positive. "We haven't figured out what to do about that," Dr. Stein said on June 4.

A Palestinian suicide bomber who struck June 17 [2002] was HIV positive, according to al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic news channel. The al Jazeera report, noted by the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, was not mentioned in U.S. coverage of the incident.

From Bombs and Bioterror in August 2002:

While it is unclear if the bomber who was infected with hepatitis B was intentionally sent out to cause additional harm, the inclusion of rat poison in bombs would be a sign of malicious intent.

However, the effect of rat poison is apparently more psychological than physical.

Israeli officials allege rat poison was used in the Dec. 1 suicide bombing of the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem, where 11 people were killed and 188 were injured, but they also said the chemicals had little effect because they were largely consumed by the blast.

Shortly after the blast, Israeli Health Ministry spokesman Ido Hadari told The Associated Press that Palestinian militants have used pesticides in four bombings since 1995 but the substances have all been incinerated in the blasts, and no victim of a bomb has been harmed by chemicals.

Returning to the present, it is obvious that there is much misinformation (and little data) on the number of infected Muslims, the manner of infection, and the prevalence of homosexuality (as if it were the only infection vector).

I advise readers that Jihad Watch can be a bracing read as it is not politically correct, but it has useful content for the careful reader. A recent article, Al-Qaeda's plot to infect troops with AIDS virus, which is mainly a citation of the Sunday Mirror article, is more interesting for the talk back comments that amply demonstrate the misinformation noted above. Some of the more useful posts are here, here, here and here.

All these discussions overlook the potential for a prospective suicide bomber to voluntarily permit infection thereby sidestepping the "search" for a willing infected. I can see the process as an early and easy commitment to martyrdom. Once the presence of AIDS is confirmed, the martyr can proceed to carry out his or her suicide mission. There are other diseases, natural and bioweapon, that can lend themselves to infection and dispersal by "human shrapnel."

In all cases, the psychological aspects of a 'human dirty bomb' are as valuable as the direct blast effects. returning to the Sunday Mirror, consider the distancing that is recommended for UK personnel. If nothing else, the jihadists succeed in driving yet another wedge between the locals and the military:

soldiers are warned to wear special protective clothing when on guard duty or if they have to deal with casualties in the event of an attack. All bases must also have snipers hidden behind blast-proof defences ready to take out would-be suicide bombers...

While I agree with Henry Crumpton, "the newly-appointed head of counter-terrorism at the US State Department, [that] it is simply a matter of time before international terrorist groups such as al-Qa'eda acquire weapons of mass destruction and use them in attacks," I submit that the attack can come quickly, cheaply and in mass on a human scale.

'Only a matter of time before terrorists use weapons of mass destruction'
By Con Coughlin
Telegraph (UK)
(Filed: 17/01/2006)

Al-Qaeda's plot to infect troops with AIDS virus
Jihad Watch
January 09, 2006

EXCLUSIVE Al-Qaeda's plot to infect troops with AIDS virus
By Rupert Hamer Defence Correspondent
Sunday Mirror (UK)
Jan 8 2006

Bombs and Bioterror
Rat Poison, Biological Agents Could Make Suicide Attacks Even Deadlier
By Andrew Chang
ABC News
Aug. 6, 2002
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from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 54
June 18, 2002

PA Intelligence Chief Rejects Attacks on Civilians, Views Reforms, Ties With CIA
May 2002
Jerusalem Al-Quds (Internet Version-WWW) in Arabic
27 May 02

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Terrorism Public  


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