Focal Points Blog

Scientists Support Seymour Hersh

Tom Stoddart Collection

On April 15, we wrote about the controversy sparked by Seymour Hersh’s latest article in the London Review of Books, The Red Line and the Rat Line. As in his earlier LRB article, Whose Sarin?, he maintains that the Obama administration knew that the extremist Islamist rebel group, al-Nusra, possessed chemical weapons capabilities and mounted the attack on Damascus suburb Ghouta which spurred President Obama to take the United States to the brink of mounting a massive attack on Syria. Of course, at the last minute he elected to seek the approval of Congress first and then Russian Prime Minister Putin saw Secretary of State John Kerry’s offer to refrain from attacking Syria if it liquidated its chemical weapons and raised it.

Compounding the controversy, Hersh also maintained that Turkey helped al-Nusra with the attack on Ghouta to implicate Syria in a false flag operation and lure the West into attacking Syria.
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Seymour Hersh Draws Even More Criticism at LRB Than at New Yorker

Free Syrian Army fighters

The London Review of Books has again published venerable journalist Seymour Hersh’s latest piece, The Red Line and the Rat Line. Before exploring the controversy swirling around it, let’s briefly address a question that may have occurred to you. Why doesn’t the New Yorker  publish Hersh anymore? After his first LRB piece in December of 2013 about the use of chemical gas in Syria titled Whose sarin?, Michael Calderone of the Huffington Post wrote:

Hersh is a freelancer, but he’s best known these days for his work in The New Yorker, where he helped break the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. While Hersh is not a New Yorker staff writer, it was notable that his 5,500-word investigative piece landed in the London Review of Books, a London literary and intellectual magazine, rather than the publication with which he’s most closely associated.
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An Open Letter to Aung San Suu Kyi

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Aung San Suu Kyi

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Aung San Suu Kyi

Respected Ms Aung San Suu Kyi,

Thanks to the internet, I have the luxury of putting together this open letter for you (though of course, a busy Nobel Laureate such as yourself must be having better things to do than reading this letter).

Last month, at the third Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), you met the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. Both of you discussed various issues, such as the importance of providing micro-loans to rural women and the need to restrict the trafficking of meth pills in the region. It was good to hear that steps were being taken for the betterment of the entire region.

However, something was missing. Yes, the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. Did you forget about them? Of course you did! You are a busy lady, after all!
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Tripping on the Czech Jewish Fantastic: From the Golem to Kafka to Daniel Kumermann

Daniel Kumermann

Daniel Kumermann

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

We met in 1990 at the oldest active Jewish synagogue in Europe, the Old-New Synagogue in Prague. Daniel Kumermann gave me a brief tour of the 13th-century structure, along with the adjacent cemetery. The synagogue is one of the few remaining structures of the old Jewish quarter, a place rich in tales of the fantastic, from the golem of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel to the stories of Franz Kafka, who was born and raised in the area.

Kumermann fit right into this tradition of fantastic stories. He had been a teenager when he learned that his father was Jewish, and later he himself converted to Orthodox Judaism. He had written his master’s thesis on American comic books. As a signatory of Charter 77, he’d been forced to work as a window-washer, the same occupation as the protagonist in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He collected gum wrappers. He was about to be the subject of a New Yorker profile.
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Is U.S. Nuclear Energy or Isn’t It Dependent on Russian Enriched Uranium? (Part 2)

Uranium Enrichment

Read Part 1 of the series, too.

There is little danger that U.S. energy security could be affected by a cut-off of Russian enriched uranium, and thus little reason to be concerned about a potential retaliatory action if the U.S. imposed sanctions against the Russian energy sector.

In recent years, the U.S. nuclear power fleet has indeed relied on an influx of Russian uranium, through a program called Megatons to Megawatts in which highly enriched uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons has been downblended – - mostly in Tennessee — to low-enriched uranium suitable for use in nuclear reactors. In 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (August 28, 2013), this program accounted for 13% of the enriched uranium purchased by U.S. reactor operators. Because of contracts signed in prior years, the amount of Russian uranium actually used in U.S. reactors was higher.
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Is U.S. Nuclear Energy or Isn’t It Dependent on Russian Enriched Uranium? (Part 1)

Russian Nuclear Energy

On March 26, we ran a blog post by Sufyan bin Uzayr subtitled: “The U.S., hooked on Russian enriched uranium, is in no position to impose long-term sanctions on Russia.” In other words, collateral damage from sanctions might include an end to Russia supplying the United States with enriched uranium. Bin Uzayr had linked to an article on the U.S. Energy Administration Information website that begins:

Owners and operators of U.S. commercial nuclear power reactors buy uranium in various forms as well as enrichment services from other countries. U.S. nuclear plants purchased 58 million pounds of uranium in 2012 from both domestic and foreign suppliers; 83% of this total was of foreign origin.
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Why Did the Palestinian-Israeli Negotiations Collapse?

Diplomats extraordinaire Kim Jong Un and Dennis Rodman

Diplomats extraordinaire Kim Jong Un and Dennis Rodman

Rivers of commentary and analysis will flow on every conceivable media platform over the coming days, featuring experts, “Arabists,” politicians and other pundits. They will spend hours grinding their way around one essential question: Why did the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations collapse?

Well, there are several answers to this question:

The first reason, and the one directly responsible for the current crisis, is that the Israelis reneged on their obligation to release Arab prisoners from Israeli prisons on March 28. This was part of the agreement that launched the current process eight months ago. The Israelis were supposed to release Palestinian prisoners in four installments; they carried out three installments and reneged on the last installment.
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A Tortured Twist on Ethics

Guantanamo

Yosef Brody is a clinical psychologist and president-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

George Orwell wisely observed that our understanding of the past, and the meaning associated with it, directly influences the future. And as the unprecedented public feud between the CIA and Congress makes clear, there are still significant aspects of our recent history of state-sponsored torture that need examination before we put this national disgrace behind us.

Important questions remain unresolved about the U.S. torture program in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And the four-year, $40 million Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture is unlikely to provide sufficient answers, even if it’s ever declassified and released.
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Funding Roma Autonomy

Anna Csongor

Anna Csongor

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Between 1990 and 2010, according to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide was cut in half. This dramatic achievement, which was actually a major Millennium Development Goal, happened several years ahead of schedule. The reduction in extreme poverty varied from region to region, with great gains made in Asia and not much progress achieved in Africa. In East-Central Europe, the drop was roughly comparable to the global average.

There is, however, a statistical anomaly in the data for East-Central Europe. For the 10-12 million Roma living in the region, the overall economic situation has gotten worse over this period of time. Since 1990, Roma have experienced catastrophic increases in unemployment and discrimination. In Serbia, for instance, 60 percent of the Roma population lives in extreme poverty, in Albania 40 percent. In Romania and Hungary, the poverty rates for Roma are far higher than the majority population. There has been little if any improvement in the last decade.
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Rumsfeld’s Biggest Unknown: Himself

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in 1975

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in 1975

The New York Times recently ran a four-part post in its Opinionator section by filmmaker and blogger extraordinaire Errol Morris titled The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld. Complete with interviews with those present, including Rumsfeld himself, about which Morris has just made a documentary titled The Unknown Known, it’s a meditation on what George W. Bush’s infamous first secretary of defense expounded on at a 2002 press conference about the lack of evidence that Iraq had a nuclear-weapons program.

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Which, common sense would seem to dictate, is what 99.9% of the universe is composed of, in relation to us anyway.
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