Diversity’s Failing Grades

March 29, 2010

When I first came to the United States 26 years ago to undertake some post-graduate work, I lived with a group of Jewish students in a large dormitory near UCLA.    After about a year, I became acquainted with a startling fact about my fellow lodgers – their level of academic achievement was well below what I had experienced among my fellow students in Australia.  Many could not spell simple words; their grammar was atrocious; their conversation was filled with non- sequiturs and was riven with an over-dependence on the word “like.”

I was part of the U.C. system then and have been associated with UCLA in one way or another, ever since.

During that time, I have seen not only seen academic standards fall, but the rise of a campus culture which places cultural sensitivity training above all other priorities, including academic distinction.

I wasn’t aware of  it when I arrived in 1984, but only six years had then passed since the landmark law suit Regents of the University of California vs Bakke,  which had gone all the way to the U.S.  Supreme Court. The case involved one Allan Bakke, who had applied to U.C. Davis Medical School but was denied, despite an impressive academic record.

The U.C. Davis Medical School claimed that its affirmative action/ diversity policies prevented it from increasing the number of white males who could be admitted.   However after he was denied a second time, Bakke filed suit for mandatory injunctive relief, demanding that the school allow his admission and to render its restrictive policies unconstitutional.  The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court with Bakke eventually gaining the right to attend U.C. Davis but with no conclusive majority opinion on the constitutionality of its affirmative action policies.

Yet Justice Lewis F. Powell’s lone opinion in the case was consequential.   It concluded that though race could not be the basis for excluding a candidate, race could certainly be one of many factor in admission’s considerations.   That opinion was seized upon by affirmative action enthusiasts and became part of the U.C. admissions policies thereafter.

Ten years ago, after having read The Tyranny of Diversity, a book on the state of universities in an age of affirmative action, I launched my own inquiry into how universities, committed to integration of minorities through affirmative action policies and a commitment to diversity, were coping with the changes to their student populations.

The results of that inquiry were sobering:  a rapid fall in academic standards; an increase in reports of date rape and sexual assault and the decrease of civil discourse on campus.

The system had become a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while shutting the door on whites. Not only that, but in a country that prized the values of self-reliance and meritocratic achievement,  it had imported into our educational system ideals which were foreign  to it, providing opportunity that had not been earned and eroding rather than encouraging respect, tolerance and openness.

Recognizing that affirmative action policies had, appallingly, become a means of engineering reverse discrimination, California voters in 1996 therefore soundly approved Proposition 209, which  amended the California State Constitution to prohibit public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity for the purposes of admissions or public employment.

But that was not the end of affirmative action.  Not by a long shot.  Chameleon-like, it merely morphed into “diversity” as a new expression of its determination to integrate multiple cultures, lifestyles, sexual preferences and points of view into the wider campus community.

I was reminded of all this last Thursday when the U.C. Regents decided, in a public meeting, to apologize to the black community of U.C. San Diego for an off campus party that had mocked Black History Month. The Regents promised  to help create campus environments in which minority students would feel more comfortable.

In fact, U.C . President, Mark Yudof, declared that he would seek changes in admissions policies as well as the creation of scholarships for underrepresented minorities “in order to improve diversity.”

Hmmm…. so, here we are  again – 50 years after John F. Kennedy introduced the term ‘affirmative action’ into our vocabulary, 32 years after Powell’ s opinion in Bakke and 14 years after Proposition 209  –  and we find that not only is there an outright denial of diversity’s failure, but a general agreement among our academic leaders that our universities are not quite diverse enough.

For Yudof was not only referring to the offense to black students.  His remarks were made against a backdrop of racial slurs and near rioting which interrupted a speech by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, at a speech at U.C. Irvine on February 12th.   The outrageous behavior of Muslim students there, in which 11 were arrested for disorderly conduct, drew public attention to the fact that Muslim students on campuses throughout the West often do not feel bound by the same rules as non-Muslims, particularly when it comes to the expression of their views on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Yudof, of course, would not admit it, but the riots at places like U.C. Irvine and  U.C Berkeley, are as much a result of the diversity policies in the U.C.  system as they are the capstone of  a half century of attempted integration policies, which focus on freedom of expression and the promotion of cultural identity at the expense of  educational advancement.

For administrations are increasingly loathe to clamp down on hate speech on campus for fear of tripping the wires of cultural sensitivity.  So professors and students alike can compare Israelis to Nazis, the War in Gaza to the Holocaust or call for the murder of an ambassador – and university administrations can barely bring themselves to blink an eyelid.

Meanwhile, affirmative action lives on in its diversity disguise, as pernicious an ideology as ever.  In the same forum where Yudof debased himself by begging forgiveness from the black community for not making the U.C. system diverse enough, U.C. Regent Eddie Island added:

“It is our own standards and slavish adherence to grade point averages and SAT scores that have put us in this dilemma.  We value those things higher than we value other human qualities that are just as important and that can make a contribution within the UC environment.”

How ironic, for the truth, of course, is quite the opposite.  It is affirmative action and diversity which have put us in this dilemma  – and the problems that they encourage, are only growing.

“We stand in solidarity with the Irvine 11,” declared Victor Sanchez, president of the University of California Student Association in his opening remarks to the regents during the meeting.  This was a  sly reference to the Chicago 7 – essentially making the case that screaming racial epithets and encouraging incitement to murder constitute protected speech, as long as it is are attached to  a cause to which the U.C. students are popularly aligned.

Did any of the U.C. Regents rebut this hateful notion?  None.  For to do so would to be contravene diversity’s golden rule:  all opinions and viewpoints  are equally valid, no matter how viciously expressed.

And how is the new found meritocratic emphasis of our universities faring in all of  this?  Well just ask Jocelyn Devault of Newbury Park, whose 18-year-old senior, despite possessing a 4.1 GPA, all Advance Placement, International Baccalaureate course work and high SAT scores, could not manage to get into even one of the U.C.s  she applied to for the Fall of 2010.

Why would any thoughtful parent wish to send their child to a tertiary institution where hate speech is given such protective cover, where academic achievement is devalued and where the leaders are weak, supine sychophants who bend in the direction of  whatever multicultural wind  is blowing their way?

Perhaps we should all be asking these hard questions as the U.C. Regents get to work on strengthening their diversity agenda.


Next Year in Occupied East Jerusalem!

March 28, 2010

Over the weekend I was a victim of a hoax.  An internet scenario played out a scene in which Barack Obama tells a visiting Israeli delegation to the White House, headed by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that he believes the cause of peace would be advanced if the words “Next Year in Jerusalem” were excised from the Passover Haggadah.

The prime minister, squirming uncomfortably in his seat, looks from aide to aide before finally offering to remove the words from the Yom Kippur service but not the Haggadah.  Not satisfied with the response, Obama stands up to excuse himself for dinner, indicating that he will be back later. ” I’ll give you some time to think about it and will return to have you sign the new edict.”

I believed it for a moment because, like all parody, it possesses an inkling of truth.  Given this administration’s impatience with the Netanyahu government’s obduracy in attaching itself to a united Jerusalem, one would think that there is indeed some substance to the idea that the Obama administration not only wants to sever East Jerusalem from West, but the Jewish people’s attachment to the city in general.

Maybe that is why an unconfirmed rumor circulating the Internet,  that the Obama White House seder will not conclude with the traditional words ” Next Year in Jerusalem” for fear of offending Palestinian sensibilities, has gained such currency.

It may all be nonsense but still it leaves many with the sense that things seem to have gone very wrong.  During his electoral campaign, Obama’s own platform called for a united Jerusalem and the U.S. Congress itself has been behind that very notion since at least 1995  when it passed The Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act.

Is Obama not aware that no Israeli government which accepts the division of Jerusalem can hope to survive very long, as evidenced by the collapse of  Ehud Barak’s coalition  in late 2000?   Can the President of the United States and his counselors not fathom that a united Jerusalem is, for the Jewish people, more than just bricks and mortar, roads and traffic lights, but a focus of national aspirations, a transcendent longing that has kept hope burning in the hearts of a people for two millennia?

It is in fact, the very idea around which the Jewish people’s national liberation movement, ” Zionism” is woven, Mt. Zion itself being situated in the very heart of what Mr. Obama refers to as East Jerusalem.

There is nothing that even remotely parallels this in the Arab, Muslim or Palestinian narratives.

Not mentioned even once in the Koran, Jerusalem was never a focus of Muslim attachment and was essentially neglected by its Ottoman overlords for seven centuries.   It did not stir any Arab or Muslim  interest until Jewish immigration in the early 20th century spurred an economic revival.  For a brief movement, following the Jordanian Legion’s capture of the Old City in 1948, it gained Muslim attention.  But the  Hashemites had little affection for Jerusalem, where some of their most devoted enemies lived and where the Jordanian king, Abdallah,  was  himself was shot dead in 1951.   In fact, the Hashemites did little to bring attention to the city, leaving its abandoned Jewish Quarter an utter ruin and moving the city’s officials to Amman.  As a result, for nineteen years, Arab Jerusalem became an isolated backwater, second to even dingy Nablus.   The economy stagnated and many thousands left the city.

Only with its capture by the IDF in the Six Day War, did Muslim and Arab historians begin to remember the centrality of Jerusalem to Muslim (and, of course, Palestinian) tradition.

This rather sordid history has no impact on those who vaunt Jerusalem today as ” a city sacred to three religions.”

Perhaps Barack  Obama   –  and those court Jews  who surround  him –  believe, as did the Romantic poets, that the word ” Jerusalem”  is more an abstract  symbol than a physical location and it is better for Jews to cement the idea of such unity in heart and mind than in reality.  For the Romantics, the Crusader notion of raising an army to liberate the city was anathema. “The New Jerusalem” could be better regained  through contemplation and spiritual relocation rather than under arms.

Jews, however, have never accepted  Jerusalem as a mere theoretical construct that requires no physical attachment.

For example, the centrality of Jerusalem is embedded in Jewish liturgy and has been so for at least 1800 years.  One of the 19 blessings of the Amidah ( the silent prayer pivotal to all Jewish prayer services) reads: “Return to Your city Jerusalem in mercy, and establish Yourself there as you promised…Blessed are you Lord, builder of Jerusalem.”   This prayer is traditionally recited three times a day, while facing Jerusalem.

For the generation that witnessed the rise of the first Jewish state in two thousand years and then the unification of the city 19 years later, with the holiest shrine in Judaism along with it, there can be no talk of such surrender.  For to give up sovereignty to the Old City, the Mount of  Olives and Mt. Zion, all located in the proverbial “East” Jerusalem,  would feel like an amputation.   Not for nothing  do Jews recite the line from Psalms:  ” If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand whither……” as a reminder of their attachment to their ancestral home.

It is was therefore no accident that those were the exact words emblazoned on the first lorry to break through the Arab blockade of Jerusalem in 1948, as it reached the  starving Jerusalem residents who had begun to give up hope of ever being relieved.  The story is powerfully recounted by Amos Ben Ami:

“Within an hour the whole city knew. On this Sabbath morning, cheering people lined the convoy’s route. People came, with tears in their eyes, to see the wonderful sight. It gave them the feeling that Jerusalem is not isolated; we are united with the rest of Israel!”

That event took place exactly 62 years ago in the days immediately preceding Passover. The unification of Jerusalem with the rest of  Israel gave the fledgling Jewish state the will to defeat the five Arab armies that only a month later would invade on four borders.

For many Jews there is no longer a “East” or “West” Jerusalem, but a united, indivisible city for whom hundreds of thousands, even in this deeply cynical age, would give their lives to defend.  The Israeli prime minister seems to understand this.  But it is apparent that the leader of the world’s most powerful nation and the country’s foremost ally, does not.

Perhaps, then, it might well be fitting for the President to end the White House seder this year with the words “Next Year in Occupied East Jerusalem!”

Then there could be no doubt  about his sensitivity to Palestinian rights and demands, nor of his outright rejection of the Jews’ claim or attachment to their eternal capital.


The Catholic Church’s Old Boy’s Club

March 28, 2010

You don’t need to be a social scientist to appreciate that a catastrophe is about to envelop the Roman Catholic Church.

In just the past week, three major scandals have erupted, focusing the world’s attention again on the pedophilic proclivities of Catholic priests.

In Ireland, Bishop John McGee who served as secretary to the current Pope’s  three papal predecessors before returning to Ireland in 1987 — resigned after admitting that pedophile priests were kept in parish posts during his 23 years overseeing the southwest Irish diocese of Cloyne.

In Mexico, the Legionnaires of Christ, the largest order of Catholics in the country, declared that  it was repudiating its founder Marcial Maciel after finally acknowledging that the priest, who died two years ago at the age of 87, ” could not be taken as a model of Christian or priestly life.” for his life long molestation of young seminarians and his indisputable fathering of children.

In Germany,  Pope Benedict  himself has come under scrutiny for his role, as the younger Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,  for allowing one Father Peter Hullerman, an admitted pedophile, to continue his pastoral work in another diocese.  Hullerman was later  convicted of molesting boys.

The recent rash of revelations will come as something of a surprise to the American branch of the Catholic Church, which for decades has endured bad press and lawsuits from victims of pedophile priests.  High officials of the Church, including the most powerful among them, Archbishop Bernard Law of Boston, were forced to resign in the wake of the scandals.

Why, then, did it take so long for the same revelations to sprout in Europe?

Part of the answer lies in the code of silence on this subject among Catholic priests.  Well aware of the debilitating public relations damage  that can result from such exposure, the priesthood, like any old boys club, closes ranks around its offenders when they are exposed and seeks to address the complaints internally.

Another part lies in the realities of the Church’s political and financial structure.  A man like Maciel had built the Catholic Church’s prestige to an extraordinary level in Mexico and  had become one of the country’s richest landowners.  Through his work, Mexico had become a great source of  funding for the Vatican.    Dismissing  Maciel, despite his well known extra-clerical activities, would have been extremely damaging, not only to the Church’s political connections but also to its finances.

The third part of the answer, one that does not receive too much audible expression, is that although pledged to a life of celibacy, priests are nevertheless human beings who are officially expected to tame their sexual appetites but unofficially will be given latitude for finding outlets for their carnal desires.  Young boys are easy targets, both for the fact of their vulnerability and the likelihood that their continued  trust in religious authorities provides a fairly fail safe means of ensuring their silence.

This reality is well recognized throughout the Church hierarchy, with Church elders looking askance at such behavior and doing the best they can to cover it up when it is brought to public attention.

The rampant use of young boys in this way does not go back decades but centuries – and that should not shock  anyone.  Sexual license was a hallmark of the early Papacy with more than 40 Popes, according to the Vatican’s own archives, siring children with mistresses both before and during their Papacy.  At least four popes were known pedophiles.   Today it is apparently well known in Rome and the Vatican City that there are cardinals who live quite openly with de facto wives and mistresses in the height of luxury.

That is not to say that all Catholic priests are either potential pedophiles or wanton libertines.  But the conspiracy of silence that has mushroomed like a tumor around priestly sexual adventurism is a reality that the Church would be foolish to deny.

In its former efforts to make this all go away,  the Catholic Church has only delayed  the day of reckoning.   Yet the fall out this time will not be felt only by the Church.  It will be felt by all religious groups who will be tarrred with the same brush of hypocrisy and will share in the shame.

In an age of growing atheism and the boundless attraction of what we once might have called pagan cults, the irresponsibility of the Catholic Church in failing to police its priesthood and set zero tolerance policies in place for sexual deviance, could have devastating consequences for general religious observance world wide.

That is not a legacy I am sure the current Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI,  will want to leave his flock.  But if the Pope does not harshly and assertively end the conspiracy of silence on this most deadly of sclerotic diseases,  he will inevitably face a backlash that could not only cripple the Church, but endanger the very values and beliefs which form the bedrock of the civilization of which he is one of the most visible symbols.


A Greek Tragedy

March 28, 2010

Germany’s decision yesterday to impose tough measures in order to bring the Greek economy into line, was one more statement about the difficulties Europe is finding in cementing its Union.

Since the Greek economy began to tank in October, the other members of the European Union have expressed extreme nervousness about what this might mean for the future of the Euro.  For if the Greeks default on their debt, the Euro’s value will plummet, taking with it the economies of many weaker member states and having a decisive impact on the economies of the stronger nations. For default could have a debilitating effect, sparking sharp swings in the euro and investor panic in other hard-hit nations.

Greece is one sick baby.  The Greek national debt, put at €300 billion ($413.6 billion), is larger than the country’s economy, with some estimates predicting it will reach 120% of gross domestic product by the end of 2010. The country’s deficit — how much more it spends than it takes in — is 12.7 percent which is almost four times what is allowed by the strict Euro-zone rules.

Desperate to stave off economic collapse, the Greeks have looked to their European partners for a plan to emerge from potential   bankruptcy.

Although Greece saw a long economic boom during the 2000s, analysts say successive governments failed to tackle an inefficient public sector in which wages and benefits ballooned. When the Socialist government came to power in October, its leaders discovered that their predecessors had doctored Greek financial data and that the deficit actually was 12.7 percent of the gross domestic product, double earlier figures. The realization sparked downgrades by rating agencies that triggered the sell-off in Greek bonds, as well as a sharp drop in the euro.

Add to this severe institutional problems – such as the fact that a third of the country doesn’t pay tax and a quarter of the economy operates under the table and you have a recipe for economic catastrophe.  Corruption, venality of office, an over loaded and under-worked bureaucracy and the fact that there is no history of accommodation between the political class and labor unions at all, have all added to the sense of hopelessness.

Greece is already in major breach of euro-zone rules on deficit management and with the financial markets betting the country will default on its debts, this reflects badly on the credibility of the euro. There are also fears that financial doubts will infect other nations of lesser economic worth.  These smaller economies  – Portugal,  Italy, Ireland , Greece and Spain (dubbed  somewhat colorfully as the PIIGS)  are coming under increasing scrutiny.  If Europe needs to resort to rescue packages involving bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, it would further damage the euro’s reputation and could lead to its  substantial fall against other key currencies.

The Greeks, laboring under high 6% interest rates for international loans need to meet governmental obligations, have pleaded with their other member states to provide them with cheaper money so that the road ahead is not so difficult.  But Germany, with Europe’s strongest economy, is having none of it.

With so much at stake, why are the Germans being so hard nosed?

Its quite simple really.  It refuses to pay for other members’ irresponsibility.    According to a joint statement on the EU Web site, in the event of a Greek default and failing to access funds in the foreign bond market , a “majority” of the euro zone States would have to contribute an amount based on their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and population.

This means Germany will be the main contributor, followed by France. Although the announcement did not mention any specific figure, a senior European official quoted by Reuters said that the potential package may be worth around 20 billion euro (US$26.8 billion).

Perhaps that is why Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, this week made it clear that in the event of a Greek  default, the International Monetary Fund would be required to participate in a Greek bailout.  With an economy almost twice the size of its nearest competitor, Germany has the muscle to force its European partners to squeal “yavol.”

The decision to involve the IMF in Europe’s first real test of its faith in its currency’s sustainability, has got many E.U. enthusiasts gulping with uncertainty.   Germany’s apparent reluctance to play ball, they feel, is an expression of a lack of confidence of the regional economic hegemon in the Euro’s future.  And if it has so little confidence in the Euro, how does it feel then about the European Union itself?

There has always been a problem of maintaining a common currency among a diverse group of countries.  When the Euro was introduced in 1999, many skeptics asked how it would be possible to uphold the currency’s value  and stability without a firm united fiscal policy or overall budgetary framework.    With each of the participating countries  permitted to determine their own economic future, what was to happen when one of the countries defaulted on its debts?

Well that scenario was deferred for nearly a decade as the euro displayed extraordinary strength, buoyed by a robust continent-wide housing boom and  investor  confidence.   When Greece, for example, dumped its own currency, it gained unprecedented footing in financial markets. With Greek debt backed by the powerful euro, Athens raised billions from foreign pension funds and global banks at interest rates nearly as low as those offered to Germany. Flush with easy money, government spending soared and the economy boomed.

But the global recession has pummeled the continent with a force of a tidal wave, revealing, in its wake,  some of the true institutional susceptibilities of the entire European enterprise.

Part of those problems relate to fertility rates and rapidly aging populations.   The inability of many European countries to produce a work force to meet the needs of growing economies is exacerbated by the weight of pensions that the state is required to dole out to its retirees.

No wonder public sector unions  strikes are occurring all over the country.

The government also has drawn criticism from university students who now doubt that there will be enough jobs for them. Angry posters fill the walls of the entry hall at Athens University’s economics department.   Students there are skeptical that the government will be able to jump-start Greece’s economy.

Valia Floridis, 21, for instance, is looking for work abroad. She says many young Greeks feel they have no future here.

“It depends on their dreams. If they just want to have a job and salary to eat and sleep and live without prospects, it’s OK. But if you want more, if you want something great, if you have big dreams.”

To date, the Greek prime minister, Georgios Papandreou, has stated that Greece does not need any immediate financial aid.   But he admits that it does need the confidence of its partners, for without such a display of continental solidarity, it will lose access to the cheaper money it needs to finance its short and long term obligations.

The situation of this Mediterranean country has many declaring it an isolated case of a country gone wrong.   Yet no one should mistake the tragedy playing out in Athens as a peculiarly Greek one. This playbook gives us an alarming view of the true state of Europe’s finances, with smaller countries and their huge debts threatening to drag the large,  richer ones into a whirlpool of financial collapse.

Blame it on the over ambitiousness of the Euro enthusiasts,  but back in 1999 the likely truth is that the continent, without some kind of political union which provided an overall budgetary framework, was not yet ready for a united currency.   As the succeeding Portuguese, Irish Italian and Spanish crises may  begin to make clear,  countries with much to protect may begin to resist the demand to bolster weaker economies in their continental partnership.

In such a case,  sovereignty will almost certainly trump both ideology and sentiment as northern European countries, fearing a spiraling vortex of economic collapses,  slowly begin to reduce their commitment to the union they worked so hard to establish.


A Pirate’s Life for Me

March 26, 2010

On March 5, pirates seized the Norwegian-owned chemical tanker UBT Ocean and its crew of 21 off the coast of Madagascar, 1,000 miles south of the zone where the seaborne bandits normally operate.

The news that Somali pirates are now expanding  the scope of their activities to prey on vessels plying the waters well south of the Horn of Africa, should be making all of us sit up and pay attention.

Until now, the pirates have mounted a sophisticated operation targeting the shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden and have been bought off by governments and shipping companies ( and their insurers) who can afford to pay the hefty ransoms.

But since mid-2009, when European nations began to ramp up their assault on the Somalian pirates of Puntland,  the pirates  have been forced to seek their prey well beyond territorial waters.

While the continuing brazenness of the pirates might be damaging to international trade, we can at least chalk up one very significant achievement to their credit:  they have been able to unite nations who would normally have nothing to do with one another in a full blown united assault on their operations.

The United States, Russia, China, Portugal, Spain, India and many of the countries grouped around the Gulf of Aden, have joined in a multilateral force called Combined Task Force 151 which has had some limited success in curbing the number of successful attacks on ships passing through the Gulf of Aden.

Yet the Somali pirates remain undeterred.

The number of recorded hijackings rose from 32 in 2008 to 42 in 2009. The average ransom paid by shippers also rose, from $1m to $2m. If unpublicized pay-offs are included, some by Spain’s government, the pirates probably earned around $100m last year – a record amount.

In all, there were 217 pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden in 2009, the highest number on record.  Forty-seven ships were commandeered for ransom, about the same number as in 2008.

The vessels of the multilateral force are surprised to find that the Somalians display little fear of the warships patrolling their waters and even goad them into firing upon them.  When apprehended, the Somali crews will simply dump their arms and grapple hooks  into the ocean. They will be given medicine and food and detained for several days, but the crews of the  apprehending ships, deterred by the legal complexities of bringing the pirates to shore, usually let them go.  Within days, many of the same pirates are manning new boats and seeking new targets.

The daunting task of patrolling 3,000 km of  Somali coastline also needs to be taken into account.  The rugged shore provides  an easy means to secret both captured vessels and armaments in many hidden coves and bays.

What, then, to do about this problem?  Well perhaps we need to understand that it is more than money and the lure of riches that drives Somali piracy.

Somalia is a failed state, with no effective central government and involved in a bitter civil war between Islamist and secular forces since 1992.  After 17 years of non-stop conflict and the prevailing anarchy this has wrought, nearly 50% of the population require some kind of food aid.  Low life expectancy and limited means of income have driven many Somalis into an appreciation that no one will help them unless they help themselves.

The success of the piracy trade over the past ten years has therefore been a boon to coastal Somalians and brought with it not only unimagined wealth, but enabling self-esteem.

According to this BBC report by Robyn Hunter, one Somali observer explained:   “They have money; they have power and they are getting stronger by the day.  They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars and new guns.”

Many other residents appreciate the rejuvenating effect that the pirates’ on-shore spending and re-stocking has had on their impoverished towns, a presence which has oftentimes provided jobs and opportunity when there were none. Entire hamlets have in the process been transformed into boomtowns with local shop owners and other residents using their gains to purchase items such as generators allowing full days of electricity, once an unimaginable luxury.

This has had a glavanizing impact on national morale.   An independent Somali news-site, WardherNews,  found that 70 percent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence of the country’s territorial waters”.

So much so that, outrageously, the funding of piracy operations is now structured in a stock exchange with investors buying and selling shares in upcoming attacks in a bourse in Harardhere.

There can, then, be little doubt that Somalian piracy will not be deterred by naval means alone.   To pierce the heart of Somalian piracy,  the civil war will need to be brought to an end and an effective government established.  Somalian fishing activities, which have been all but suspended due to allocation of resources for more nefarious purposes, will need to be rejeuvenated – and with international assistance.  Coastal towns and hamlets, grown rich on the bounty of the ransoms, should be directed towards light industry, once again with international corporate participation.

But perhaps even more important than this, means must be found to stanch the flow of  the international funding of the pirates. Financial backing of the pirate trade can be found in Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.  International crime syndicates in Europe and Asia are reportedly providing vast sums for the purchase of sophisticated weaponry, tracking equipment and vessels in exchange for a cut in the takings.  Sever the funding and the operations will begin to wilt.

Piracy on the high seas has existed as long as man has plied the oceans for commerce.  But it is a mistake to consider piracy  ” a 17th Century problem, demanding a 21st century solution,” as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has called the establishment of  Co-ordinated Task Force 151.  Sea piracy has never been eradicated. Not only that, but the number of pirate attacks around the world ( particularly in the the Straits of Malacca and the Sea of Japan)  has tripled in the past decade-putting piracy at its highest level in modern history. Today’s pirates might not fly the Jolly Roger but they are more often than not trained militia seated aboard speedboats equipped with satellite phones and  global positioning systems and are often  armed with automatic weapons, antitank missiles and grenades.  They have the sophistication to taunt and then escape warships,  showing  no fear of them.

It doesn’t take much imagination then to conjecture that modern terrorist organizations will begin to see how piracy, particularly of oil tankers, can take a significant toll on Western economies and will increasingly figure in their strategies to destabilize the West.

We must then transform our thinking of modern pirates from the yo-ho-ho stereotypes of Disney films and children’s books, to an understanding of them as dangerous commandos, antagonistic  to the West, with the power, funding and motivation to deliver significant damage to international trade and personal welfare.   For as in the continuing struggle with terrorism, the characterization of the coordinated international effort to control piracy as a mere policing action, rather than as an all out war conducted on many levels, will only encourage further brazenness and  the challenge to global economic interests, international security and the rule of law.


Anne Coulter’s Uncivilized Discussion

March 25, 2010

By Anne Coulter’s own admission, its been a pretty rough week.   Over the past few days she has been accused of thought crimes, threatened with criminal prosecution for speeches she hasn’t yet given and denounced on the floor of a Legislature.   Posters advertising her speech have been officially banned, while campus billboards denouncing  her are pervasive.

Where is she?   In the capital of a liberal democracy having been invited to deliver a speech that no one will now hear.

On March 22, Coulter was scheduled to speak on behalf of the International Free Press Association at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, the second appearance in a national tour.  But with 2,000 protesters gathered outside the University’s Marion Hall bearing stones and other projectiles, and with the very real risk of violence, the appearance had to be cancelled.

Unknown to most, however, it was not Coulter herself who decided to cancel the speech, but the Ottawa police, who could not or would not guarantee her safety.

Before she arrived, François Houle, the University’s Academic Vice-President Academic and Provost wrote her a cautionary letter suggesting that she ought to weigh her words with “respect and civility in mind”

He wrote:

” There is a strong tradition in Canada, including at this University, of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions and I urge you to respect that Canadian tradition while on our campus. Hopefully, you will understand and agree that what may, at first glance, seem like unnecessary restrictions to freedom of expression do, in fact, lead not only to a more civilized discussion.”

This is part of the same Canadian campus scene, of course, where Catholics have been accused of being killers and pedophiles, evangelicals of being hate-mongers and homophobes, Zionists of being genocidal butchers and conservatives of being deranged and imbecilic.

How is that for “ restraint, civility and respect?”

The University of Ottawa now joins that pantheon of great Canadian universities, such as York University (Daniel Pipes) and Concordia (Benjamin Netanyahu) where violence has been threatened and used to quash an alternative point of view.

Coulter might pay Pipes’ experience particular note. Recalling the January, 2003 incident where his talk “Barriers to Peace in the Middle East” was cancelled and then reinstated at the last minute, the Middle East expert stated:

” But surely the most memorable aspect of this talk was the briefing by James Hogan, a detective in the Hate Crime Unit of the Toronto Police Service, to make sure I was aware that Canada’s Criminal Code makes a variety of public statements actionable, including advocating genocide (up to five years in prison) and promoting hatred of a specific group (up to two years).”

Things have not changed all that much at York in the intervening eight years. Last month, a series was to be presented by the actively pro- Israel group Christians United For Israel ( CUFI).   However, as David Frum reports,  campus police made the following demands of the group:

” It insisted on heavy security, including both campus and Toronto police — all of those costs to be paid by the program organizers. The organizers would also have to provide an advance list of all program attendees and advance summaries of all the speeches. No advertising for the program would be permitted — not on the York campus, not on any of the other campuses participating by remote video.”

Interestingly, an anti- Israel apartheid week in the same month had no such barriers placed upon it.  It did not have to pay for its own security. It was free to advertise and its speakers were not pre-screened.

In September, 2002 , a speech by then Israeli Finance Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia University in Montreal was similarly cancelled when students broke through barriers and attempted to storm the auditorium.   Riot police had to escort attendees from the building.  One of the student recalled:

” The scene as we exited was disgusting. Benches were overturned, papers and garbage streaked across the hallways, and broken windows. We were shoved outside directly into a huge pro-Palestinian riot, where some of our people were apparently attacked… On their side, they threw bottles at people’s heads, screamed hatred, and tried to break the barriers down to hurt us. They started tossing pennies and coins at us — one of the oldest ways to taunt Jews by saying we’re all “money-grubbing.” While we sang Hatikvah arm in arm, they spat at us.”

The sheer terror of the scene is captured evocatively in the documentary Confrontation@Concordia.

I’ m no great fan of Ann Coulter’s.  I find much of her work tasteless.  But tastelessness does not amount to hate speech, no matter what the University of Ottawa’s administration nor York University’s campus police believe.  The apparent willingness to allow those who employ violence and intimidation to speak without restraint, while those who refuse to do so have their speech reviewed, monitored, crimped and even cancelled, is  craven surrender to anti-democratic notions and a potential death blow to free speech.

Do our western university administrations understand this?  Have they no courage at all to employ their authority on campus to decisively impose zero tolerance proscriptions on hate mongering against conservatives and its attendant violence?

I am not sure.  Certainly Canada is in the throes of a serious reversal of basic democratic rights, convincing itself  that it is all in the interests of keeping the peace.  That attitude will haunt the nation as a generation comes to realize that it can achieve with violence far more than what it can gain through dialogue and openness to alternative points of view.

One has to wonder whether Provost Houle and others of his ilk appreciate that this is exactly the kind of  “civilized discussion” our future universities can anticipate and could be their most fateful legacy.


Bombers For Settlements

March 25, 2010

I can’t say I disagree with the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens all  too often.  His is the first piece of writing I turn to every Tuesday morning, so certain am I that I will be greeted by a succinct, well argued editorial, wrapped in elegant, wry prose.

But his last two pieces for the print version of the Journal have angered me, not for the  thrust of his arguments, but for some ancillary matters that he allowed to slip into the writing which betrayed a bias out of keeping with his generally level headed approach.

On Tuesday, March 16,  his piece  Settlements Aren’t the Problem, he let fly this doozy of a paragraph:

“It’s easy to dislike Israel’s settlements, and still easier to dislike many of the settlers. Whatever your view about the legality or justice of the enterprise, it takes a certain cast of mind to move your children to places where they are more likely to be in harm’s way. In the current issue of The American Interest, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer persuasively spells out the many ways in which the settlement movement has undermined Israel’s own rule of law, and hence its democracy. And as last week’s diplomatic eruption over the prospective construction of 1,600 housing units in municipal Jerusalem shows, the settlements are a constant irritant to the United States, one friend Israel can’t afford to lose.”

Mr. Stephens falls into dangerous tropes when he stereotypes the settlers as generally ” unlikeable” or that they have manifested a profound irresponsibility by moving their children” into harm’s way.”  The settlement movement in Judea and Samaria boasts the highest percentage of soldiers serving in elite units in the country; its communities regularly win awards for good government and efficiency; cooperation with local Arab communities, never reported by the mainstream media, remains vigorous and is essential to the health and welfare of the overall Arab population.  And Ariel University, in the center of the territories, is now regarded as one of the primary tertiary institutions in the nation, serving Arab, Jew and Bedouin alike with unparalleled educational opportunities.

More than this, statistics reveal that the territories are no less safe than any other part of Israel, with those who live in the settlements suffering about the same percentage of attacks over the past 17 years (since the Oslo Accords), as any other portion of Israel’s population.

Mr. Stephens compounded his offense when he made a nonsensical argument on March 24, concluding his otherwise fine piece, The Netanyahu Diaries, with the following feigned address from the Israeli prime minister to the U.S. president :

“Let’s make a deal, Mr. President: Our settlements for your bombers. We can’t fully destroy Iran’s nuclear sites—but you can. You can’t dismantle our settlements—but we can. We’ll all come out the better for it, including the Palestinians. Think about it, Barack.”

The idea that Israel would move hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, splitting Israeli society in two and abandoning territory that Netanyahu has not only regarded as part of  the Jewish inheritance, but, according to his own work, A Place Among the Nations, as vital to Israel’s security, for  a military attack conducted by another nation, seems extraordinarily far-fetched.  Israel has never out- sourced its security to another nation and likelihood of doing it in the case of Iran is remote.    Add to this the uncertainty of a successful U.S. bombing raid (or any military action) against Iranian nuclear facilities and you clearly have a reflection,  not of Netanyahu’s or his government’s positions on the matter, but rather those of the writer himself.

We should not  forget that Mr. Stephens was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post for two years, so it is not as if he is ignorant about the Middle East conflict or unaware of its bedeviling contradictions.    But the flippant dismissal of a group, their ancestral associations or valid  strategic arguments  for retaining vital territory, belongs not to a writer of  Stephens’ renown, but to the smug, self -aggrandizing style of the New York Times’  Thomas Friedman.

Jimmy Carter, another ‘expert’ on the Middle East spent years vilifying the settlers without ever visiting a settlement, rarely ever meeting a settler.  That changed in June, 2009 when he accepted an invitation to enter the Gush Etzion settlement of Neve Daniel.  What he saw there, by his own admission, changed his mind – at least about the future of the settlement in question.

I am sure Mr. Stephens has met settlers and has visited settlements.  What I am not so sure about is his willingness to shrug off prejudices that do a disservice to his journalism, to  balance and fairness – and to the cause of peace itself.


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