Last week, a senior Yemeni Houthi official was buried in Beirut. Mohammed Abdel Malik al-Shami, the spiritual leader of the Houthis, had been critically wounded in the March 20 Islamic State suicide bombing of Al Hashahush mosque in Sanaa. He was airlifted to Tehran for medical treatment, but eventually succumbed to his injuries. On April 13, Shami was interred at Hezbollah’s heroes graveyard in Dahyia, where he will spend eternity in the company of erstwhile military commander Imad Mugniy3h and Hadi Nasrallah, the slain son of the organization’s secretary general.
At first glance, Shami’s journey from Yemen to the Lebanese Shiite militia’s equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery would seem odd. While the Houthis are Zaydi Muslims—a nominally Shiite branch of Islam—Lebanon is far from home and unlike Najaf and Karbala, Iraq, Beirut has little religious burial appeal for Shiites. But to Hezbollah and Iran, Shami was a towering figure, deserving in death of a spot among the pantheon of Shiite martyrs serving the theocratic regime in Tehran.
Shami’s life and death highlight the ongoing challenge posed by the aggressive and destabilizing regional posture of Iran. The problems for Washington—and its local Sunni allies in the Middle East—are likely to be exacerbated should the nuclear deal be concluded.
In many ways, Shami’s story is the archetype for Iranian-style regional “resistance.” It all started seventeen years ago when Shami moved to Syria to study at one of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini’s religious schools. On his return to Yemen, he joined Ansar Allah, the Houthi militia, eventually rising to prominence as the Houthi leader’s special envoy to Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
According to press reports, Shami’s mission was to proselytize with an eye toward establishing a Shiite state in Yemen. To this end, he established a university of Shiite jurisprudence in Sanaa, and special Shiite elementary schools throughout Yemen affiliated with Lebanon’s Mustafa schools. The Lebanese schools were founded in 1974 by Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s current deputy secretary general.
But Shami and the Houthis’ ties with Hezbollah and Iran extended well beyond education. Although Zaydis, who comprise about 35 percent of Yemenis, are quite different from Shiites—many scholars say they are closer to Sunni Muslims in doctrine and practice—the Houthis identify closely with, and openly declare their allegiance to the clerical establishment in Iran. Houthis call their philosophy “pure Shia,” and the group’s clerics have compared their leader Hussein al-Houthi to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.
In 2009, the Houthis launched an offensive against Saudi Arabia, seizing a parcel of the kingdom’s territory. At the time, press reports—and Yemeni officials—indicated that “high ranking officials” from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah advisers were helping the Houthis coordinate military operations. Then-CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petreaus also suggested an Iranian role in the conflict.
Late-night TV host Seth Meyers spent a segment of his program Thursday knocking Peter Schweizer's new book Clinton Cash. The Schweizer book documents the web of conflicts of interest and secretive cash flows that surround the foundations and initiatives of Bill and Hillary Clinton. News outlets as diverse as the New York Times and Fox News have covered aspects of the book.
Meyers uses this coverage to point out to his audience on NBC's Late Night that Schweizer and others who write books about Clinton scandals suffer from bias against, well, the Clintons. Watch the video below:
"Clinton Cash comes out on May 5, and it will be interesting to see if any of the allegations hold up under scrutiny," says the former Saturday Night Live writer and performer. "If they do, the question will be, will they affect Hillary's campaign? They might not. She's been attacked for 25 years. It's possible she's built up an immunity to everything."
It's a remarkably friendly monologue toward the Clintons, and Twitter user BT suggests there may be a reason why: Meyers hosted last year's Clinton Global Initiative Awards. Check out the tweet below:
The day President Obama believes relevant history began. Rather like the French revolutionaries who decreed that the establishment of their Republic be dated Year I of the French Republic. August 4, 1961 was the day on which Barack Hussein Obama arrived on this earth in Honolulu, Hawaii. Anything occurring before the world received this blessing is irrelevant, the President told the gathering of heads of state at The Summit of the Americas. Not directly, but in effect. “The Cold War has been over for a very long time. And I am not interested in having battles that frankly started before I was born.” So because these battles pre-dated, he has no interest in either the Great War or WWII, much less the Civil War and the war that established this nation he is so determined to “transform.”
In any event, we are in the here and now, approaching the end of 53 AO. Relations with Cuba are to be normalized to provide “more opportunities and resources for the Cuban people.” Obama has the Castro Brothers’ word for that, although architects have not yet filed plans to convert the islands’ prisons into hotels for visiting America tourists, whose cash will enable the Cuban government to open the Internet to all, allow free travel from Cuba, and otherwise retire the guardians of the omnipresent state.
Vladimir Putin was not invited to the Summit of the Americas despite his country’s expanding interests in the region -- hardly the “near abroad” he covets, allegedly only to ensure Russia’ security. Putin has always believed that the Cold War was merely on hold between the death of Stalin and his own rise to power, and that the era BO contained battles in which he, at least, is interested in re-fighting. A view shared by literate Americans of all stripes in our own War of Independence, Civil War, the World Wars, even though of no interest to our current president. And by NATO commanders who increasingly liken current provocations to those practiced by Russia in the Cold War, which having started before the President was born, are of no interest to him. And, by extension, of no interest to “my cabinet”, “my State Department”, “my national security team”, or other institutions like the cabinet, the State Department, and the national security team that have been, well, privatized in a funny kind of way.
The Daily Caller's Kerry Picket reports that likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said in a speech on Thursday in New York that religious beliefs about abortion "have to be changed."
“Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care," Clinton said. “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will," she added. "And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed." You can watch video of Clinton's remarks here.
Clinton's spokesman Nick Merrill still has not replied.
Update: A reader suggests that Clinton might not have been talking about abortion when she mentioned "reproductive health care." Like almost every other politician who supports legalized abortion, Hillary Clinton has long used the phrase "reproductive health care" as a euphemism for abortion. She was specifically asked during a 2009 congressional hearing if reproductive rights meant abortion. "Reproductive health includes access to abortion," Clinton replied.
It is not certain that Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, actually said, “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them,” but if he didn’t, he certainly thought it, and if still around would like to claim that prophesy as his own. IBM has announced plans “to help a little-known Chinese company (Teamsun) absorb and build upon key technologies” that IBM licenses, according to the New York Times. The buyer knows what to do with that intellectual property: its advisor, Shen Changxiang, is the former supervisor of the cybersecurity of China’s strategic missile arsenal, was in charge of computer security research for China’s increasingly potent navy, and is a long-time critic of his nation’s reliance on U.S. technology. Teamsun makes no secret of its goal: eliminating the need to buy American products. IBM wants access to China’s market for its “rope”, and the price it is willing to pay is teaching China how to make its own. Perhaps that technology will help the regime to improve its already formidable Great Firewall of China, the web-filtering infrastructure that blocks content the leadership prefers to make unavailable to the masses.
There is more, and worse. Teamsun announced that it plans to “absorb” this intellectual property and technology from other companies such as Google [which should know better, given past dealing with the People’s Republic, unenthusiastic about an open Internet], and Oracle, and replace those companies’ products in world markets. And IBM will also be licensing advanced chip technology and other stuff to Chinese companies. The goal, according to IBM CEO, desperate to reduce the 10% slide in her shares in the three years of her reign, is to “create a new and vibrant system of Chinese companies producing homegrown computer systems for the local and international markets.” Thanks. Whether that is Mr. Shen’s sole interest is unclear, but it seems unwise to assume that he has no uses for this technology other than marketing computer systems. Cyberwarfare, his specialty, leaps to mind.
Then, in an act of whatever the Chinese word is for chutzpah, Premier Li Keqiang informed a U.S. delegation led by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker that China’s ability to cooperate with President Obama’s battle against climate change, ranked by some in the administration as far more important than the battle against ISIL, would depend on the willingness of GE and others to turn over their cutting edge intellectual property to China. This, say the Chinese negotiators according to the Financial Times, would be “part of richer countries’ commitments to a climate change summit this year in Paris”. Li Keqiang undoubtedly is a student of Lenin’s handling of relations with the “richer countries”, but student exceeds teacher when it comes to turning capitalists’ quest for short-term profits to a communist regime’s advantage.
I have come back to you from thorny uncertainty. I want you as straight as the sword or the road. But you insist on keeping a nook of shadow I do not want.
Good poets do not always write for their time, but this fragment from Pablo Neruda’s The Question repays some meditation by Chile-watchers.
Chilean history has been, of course, filled with thorny—or shaky, if you prefer a more apt but depressing metaphor—uncertainty. From its earliest modern beginnings, Chilean politics has proceeded in lock step with the country’s motto: Por la razon o la fuerza (“by right or might”), oscillating between both modes of governance, much to the peril of the Chilean people. And, while many of the country’s modern leaders—starting with Bernardo O’Higgins all the way up to Michelle Bachelet—have spearheaded salubrious economic and social initiatives, the nook of shadow persists, and its recent manifestation, under the Bachelet regime, is cause for some concern.
Let’s begin with the Chilean economy, long a model of Latin American inspiration. While Chile remains the most competitive economy in Latin America, inflation continues to color economic forecasts. Recovering only recently from a five-year low in 2014, Finance Minister Alberto Arenas was quoted in a Reuters article as saying that the economic “data confirms that the Chilean economy is going to grow around 3 percent” during 2015. Some of this success will require Bachelet to face the economic challenges head-on, from the perspective of the government. Her recent comment that “it is not enough with what we (the government) do…the private sector must invest and make the economy work. Because we have a budget investments,” sounds odd and somewhat misguided.
The Education System
Last month, in an interview with Lally Weymouth of the Washington post, Michelle Bachelet, on point of starting her second term as president, was asked how she would ensure access to quality education, one of her platform priorities. Bachelet responded by saying:
Now that it’s been reported the Comcast-TimeWarner merger talks have collapsed, there will be much ad time to be filled on television and radio (as well as print). At least if you live in the D.C. area, radio commercials are often about impending legislation and a voiceover urging listeners to “vote no” or “vote yes.” The ads are usually paid for by lobbying groups and aimed at lawmakers.
On the radio, the Comcast-TimeWarner campaign ran a series of ads featuring two men having a friendly conversation. One guy asks his friend what he thinks of the possible merger. The other guy is not so well-informed. He thinks it sounds like an awfully big company and isn’t sure if that’s a good thing. At which point the other man lays out the case for the $45-billion merger (the companies actually preferred the term "transaction"). He talks about better bandwidth, better choices, freedom, and Internet access to disadvantaged children. It’s never revealed where the pro-merger fellow works, but I assume it’s at Comcast.
In any event, now that the deal has fallen through, we won’t ever hear another conversation between these two men. Which is a shame, for with each ad, the conversations seemed to get more and more compelling—a harder sell each time. I imagined the next ad running as follows:
First Guy: So, have you given more thought to this Comcast-TimeWarner transaction?
Second Guy: Yeah, but it’s sort of hard to wrap my head around. It sounds so big.
First Guy: I told you how it makes good business sense, didn’t I?
Second Guy: Yeah, but—
First Guy: And that your aunt who’s a teacher, she’d like it, too, since it means more Internet access for her students.
Second Guy: Absolutely. I just—
First Guy: So what the (expletive) is your problem?
Second Guy: I’m sorry, but is that a giant seed pod you’re carrying?
First Guy: We came here from a dying world. We drift through the universe, from planet to planet, pushed on by the solar winds. We adapt and we survive. The function of life is survival.
The Hillary Clinton campaign is fundraising off new reporting in the Peter Schweizer book Clinton Cash.
"There's a new book out -- written by a former Republican operative with ties to a Koch-funded organization -- that uses allegations and conspiracy theories to stitch together a false narrative about Hillary without producing a single shred of evidence," writes Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in an email to supporters.
Here's what you need to know from some of the reviews so far:
TIME magazine says one of the book's primary accusations "is based on little evidence" with allegations "presented as questions rather than proof."
Yahoo News points out that the author "marshals circumstantial evidence" only to find "no smoking gun."
We're only two weeks into the election and we're already up against these baseless attacks.
If we don't fight back now, we send a signal to our opponents that we'll shrivel in the face of whatever will follow.
This is an important moment in this campaign.
Podesta asks the supporters join the campaign and ask others to do so, too. And then, at the bottom of the email, is a Donate button:
The stakes for the 2016 presidential election are high. Consider this: four Supreme Court justices are 76 or older.
"It’s very much at stake in the 2016 election. Four justices are 76 or older. Two, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (82) and Stephen Breyer (76), are liberals. Antonin Scalia (79) is a conservative. And Anthony Kennedy (78) is a swing vote. The next president’s nominees, assuming there are several, will be pivotal," writes Fred Barnes in the Wall Street Journal.
The importance of a presidential election depends on what’s at stake. In 1980, a lot was. The economy was stuck with double-digit inflation and interest rates, and Soviet communism was advancing in Africa, Asia and South America. Ronald Reagan was elected president.
Now, as the 2016 presidential race unfolds, the stakes are even higher than 36 years ago. Not only is the economy unsteady but threats to American power and influence around the world are more pronounced and widespread. And those problems are only part of what makes next year’s election so critical.
Like it or not, the next president must deal with the world President Obama leaves behind. It won’t be easy. A Republican president will be committed to reversing a significant chunk of Mr. Obama’s legacy, as most GOP candidates already are. That’s a gigantic undertaking. A Democratic president, presumably Hillary Clinton, will be forced to defend Mr. Obama’s policies, since they reflect the views of her party. That will leave little time for fresh Democratic initiatives.
The most immediate issues confronting the new president are strategic and military. The U.S. role in the world is in retreat. Allies such as Israel and Poland have been alienated. American leadership against Russian intervention in Ukraine and Iran’s dominance of neighboring countries in the Middle East was fleeting. Mr. Obama’s promise of a foreign-policy “pivot” toward Asia turned out to be merely rhetorical.
Fox News reported this morning on the latest news to come from the Clinton Cashbook:
"Another bombshell set to drop on the growing scandal surrounding the Clintons. Fox News now learning about a direct connection between money flowing to the Clinton Foundation and the effort to rebuild a devastated Haiti in 2010," said host Bill Hemmer.
"So both Hillary and Bill Clinton were on the ground in Haiti just days after that massive earthquake rocked that country. But the author of Clinton Cash is now claiming that to get one of the lucrative contracts to rebuild the country, you just had to have a 'relationship with the Clintons," host Martha MacCallum added.
Despite issuing statements commemorating the National Days or Independence Days of nearly 170 countries in the past twelve months, Secretary of State John Kerry allowed the 67th anniversary of the establishment of the nation of Israel to pass without comment. This is the third year in a row Kerry has failed to officially recognize Israel's Independence Day. Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, issued statements noting the occasion during the last two years of her tenure, 2011 and 2012.
At the White House, President Obama this year missed marking the day with a statement for only the second time in his presidency. Vice President Biden, however, did attend an Israeli Independence Day Celebration at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington Thursday night. (President Obama was at the Ritz Carlton Hotel to deliver remarks and answers questions at an Organizing for Action dinner.)
Earlier this month, THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported that during Kerry's tenure, the State Department has tended to overlook Christian and Jewish occasions in favor of Islamic holidays and those of other faiths. (In the meantime, Kerry did recognize Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, this year on April 16.) For that story, a senior State Department official commented that the "State Department and White House work together to address national days and religious holidays to share the sentiments and best wishes of the American people." It is unclear why neither the State Department nor the White House marked Israel's 67th anniversary with official statements.
“Oh, Khatcher agha, the killers have come.” Those words were spoken to my grandfather, Khatcher Matosian, with a tap on the back so that he would redirect his gaze. He and relatives had been peering from the rooftops of their Armenian village in central Turkey after hearing about the Ottoman government’s orders to deport Armenians from neighboring villages.
The scene from that summer of 1915 continues in my grandfather’s memoirs:
“I looked and saw that a group of horsemen had turned from the Yenije road and were coming south toward us . . . The horses were black, and the police were dressed in black, moving in a column of twos, moving slowly. It seemed as though they were pulling a hearse . . .The call to agony had been sounded.”
Before sunrise, all Armenians in my grandfather’s village were assembled in a chaotic, mournful caravan and driven out of their ancestral homes forever.
It was but one event in the first genocide of the 20th century, which took place exactly one hundred years ago. By the time it was all over, up to 1.5 million unarmed Armenian children, women, and men perished from wholesale massacres and death marches of unspeakable barbarity. And 25 years later, Adolf Hitler was on record commenting on the ease with which people forget about mass murder: “Who, after all, speaks today about the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Why? And How?
Mass exterminations generally involve two prerequisites: 1) a mandated program by a centralized state power, and 2) a well-coordinated, aggressive propaganda campaign that enlists public support in vilifying the targeted group. It’s also worth noting that war often serves as cover for genocide; the Armenian Genocide took place during the total war conditions of World War I.
Propaganda campaigns to dehumanize the victims are central to virtually every mass killing in history. Generally, the targeted group -- in this case, Armenian Christians -- is vilified and ostracized by the rest of society. Such messages saturate the media and mobilize the culture until the groupthink emerges and takes on a life of its own. Opposing opinions are easily suppressed under the weight of groupthink.
Once they’ve cultivated an us-versus-them mentality, perpetrators feel justified and enabled to commit acts of violence. This seems to be a human default position to which most people succumb – whether as culprits, victims, or silent bystanders.
Perhaps most fascinating about this phenomenon is how often the perpetrators actually project onto the victims their own intentions. Consider that the Jews in Nazi Germany were exterminated for being a “threat” to the German nation. Likewise, the genocide of up to a million Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 was accompanied by a massive propaganda campaign in which the Hutus totally demonized the Tutsis, for having wild designs against the Hutus.
Today is Shakespeare’s 451st birthday. Around the world, performances and recitals will be put on in a host of languages, and in a multitude of countries. There is something in Shakespeare’s art wherein everyone tends to find a positive reflection of their community and values, which explains the ease with which various cultures claim the poet as their own.
As Americans, what, if anything, is our special relationship with Shakespeare? Do we even have one? If so, what is the nerve of his particular appeal?
In honor of his birthday, and in quest for an answer, I spoke with Dr. Michael Witmore, current Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection.
The first thing to observe, Witmore notes, is that “Shakespeare’s language made us who we are.” The men who shaped this country were great lovers of the Bard. According to Abigail Adams, when Jefferson and Adams reached Stratford-upon-Avon in 1786, Jefferson “fell upon the ground and kissed it.” George Washington, in a letter written as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, parallels the British defeat to a scene in The Tempest. Tocqueville, surveying the American experiment in 1831 noted “there is hardly a pioneer’s hut which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare,” adding, “I remember reading the feudal drama Henry V. for the first time in a log house.” Lincoln, who may aptly be described as a second “Founder,” had a (now) well-publicized love of Shakespeare. The list goes on.
But what accounts for Shakespeare’s popularity over, say, Milton or Marlowe? Witmore believes the answers are tied to values that are central to all Americans. Two stand out above the rest. First, Shakespeare’s characters exhibit ”exuberance in daring,” which appeals to Americans who pride themselves in their “abilities to invent the world they want.” Prospero fits right in line with the “American Dream” when he take charge of his island; Romeo and Juliet, when they defy their parents to follow their hearts; and even Richard III, in his own dark way, did not let his “rudely stamp’d” appearance keep him from chasing his dreams!” Second, Witmore makes the case that the Bard, for all his use of the aristocracy, really was a “democratic writer in scope [who] felt there was drama in the mixing of the classes.” (Prince Hal did not spend his formative years at prep school.) This does not necessitate that Shakespeare be a democrat, but it does suggest that he considered life much improved—and much explained—through the interplay of a variety of human types. He would have been right at home in America.
Finally, and with the Beltway milieu in mind, I could not resist the temptation to ask Dr. Whitmore which play would benefit presidential candidates to study for success. His answer was quick—Richard II—a play above all others in the corpus that “shows [the] mechanics of how political power is lost and won.” Of course, many of Shakespeare’s works portray this dynamic, so to understand what Whitmore means we might treat ourselves to a re-reading. Today seems like as good a day as any.
Growing up blind and poor in rural China, Chen Guangcheng had few prospects. Yet before he turned 40, Chen was one of China’s most famous human rights activists, known around the world after he became the subject of a dramatic standoff between the American and Chinese governments. Chen's new autobiography,The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man's Fight for Justice and Freedom in China, recounts his 2012 journey from rural Shandong province to the U.S. embassy in Beijing -- to him, the only “absolutely safe” place in China.
The title of Chen’s book alludes to the “barefoot doctors” that China’s Communist Party sent out into the countryside to deliver basic healthcare during the Cultural Revolution. The title is a not-so-subtle dig at the regime that has crushed efforts by self-taught lawyers to use the law to advance individual rights in a one-party communist state.
Even before he chose a career in law, Chen defied the odds confronting disabled people in China, marrying the woman of his choice and graduating with a degree in Chinese medicine. Gravitating to law, Chen took on local corruption and the One Child Policy, which uses forced abortions and violence against women to limit family size.
Inevitably, Chen went to jail. Like political prisoners everywhere, he found support from the U.S. -- or the lack of it -- extremely important. When congressmen sent a letter of support, he writes, his condition in prison improved. President George W. Bush’s decision to attend the Beijing Summer Olympic Games in 2008, says Chen, undermined the effort to use China’s pride in the games as leverage for rights improvements.
Chen’s life illuminates some persistent truths that western policies out to take into account. For one: The system is rotten, but there are some decent people in it nevertheless. “I know you haven’t done anything wrong,” a prison warden named Wang Guijin told Chen, whose acute sense of hearing is a survival tool. “From the gentle rhythms in the depths of his voice I could tell he meant it.”
Indeed, the warden delivered extra coal burners to enable prisoners to boil water for safe drinking. The U.S. Congress, which is now considering adopting legislation to enable sanctions against human rights abusers around the world, might find ways to quietly recognize people like the warden and other “soldiers of the enemy” (in Vaclav Havel’s phrase) whose acts of defiance and humanity are vital to decisive political change.
For now, the incentives work the other way. After four years in jail, Chen was released into illegal and nightmarish house arrest. The Party’s repression has spawned a “miniature security economy” around Chen’s home.
This nightmare seemed to be about us, but it also had a lot to do with the 100 Yuan daily salaries paid to the guards,” he says. Expensive surveillance equipment generated kickbacks to corrupt officials. Chen estimates more than $9 million was spent on his house arrest. At least, Chen notes some of the guards quit after Chen discussed the law with them.