Commentary Magazine


Topic: starvation

Food Now Being Smuggled Out of Gaza

A tunnel from Gaza to the Sinai that is normally used to transport weapons is now being used to smuggle food out of the Palestinian territory and into Egypt, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday. The report further debunks the claim that Gaza suffers from food shortages due to the Israeli military blockade:

According to the paper, which supports Hizbullah, traders in control of the tunnels have “been working for days” smuggling bread and food in the “opposite direction” – from Gaza into Egypt — because of “supply disruptions” from Cairo to the Sinai.

Anti-Israel activists have long argued that the Israeli blockade has led to starvation and lack of medical care for Gaza residents. But those claims have never been backed up by reality. Last summer, journalists released photos of fully stocked food markets, restaurants, and luxury swimming pools in the territory. Perhaps these new reports will dispel the food-shortage rumors once and for all — but with the anti-Israel bias of the human-rights groups in the region, it’s pretty doubtful.

A tunnel from Gaza to the Sinai that is normally used to transport weapons is now being used to smuggle food out of the Palestinian territory and into Egypt, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday. The report further debunks the claim that Gaza suffers from food shortages due to the Israeli military blockade:

According to the paper, which supports Hizbullah, traders in control of the tunnels have “been working for days” smuggling bread and food in the “opposite direction” – from Gaza into Egypt — because of “supply disruptions” from Cairo to the Sinai.

Anti-Israel activists have long argued that the Israeli blockade has led to starvation and lack of medical care for Gaza residents. But those claims have never been backed up by reality. Last summer, journalists released photos of fully stocked food markets, restaurants, and luxury swimming pools in the territory. Perhaps these new reports will dispel the food-shortage rumors once and for all — but with the anti-Israel bias of the human-rights groups in the region, it’s pretty doubtful.

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Media- and NGO-Fueled Ignorance on Egypt and Tunisia

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

Read Less

Are Chinese Mothers Superior?

A certain essay appeared in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday, titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” to which one excerpted reaction from the Journal community itself was “I am in disbelief after reading this article.” The author is a Chinese mother, Amy Chua, a professor of law at Yale perhaps best known for writing the New York Times bestseller World on Fire.

The essay affirms that stereotypical Chinese parenting produces stereotypical cases of success for the children raised in that fashion — impeccable grade reports, precocious competence in the violin and piano (but mind you, those instruments and no other!), and fortitude of mind in the child to boot — and it explains how all this can be achieved by drawing on representative episodes from the author’s own experience as a Chinese mother. The most instructive and blood-chilling of these is the story of how little Lulu, Chua’s youngest daughter, was compelled to learn, just in time for her piano recital, how to play “The Little White Donkey” — a most difficult piece, apparently requiring uncommon ambidexterity, and, one would think, rapid and fluent communication between the hemispheres of a seven-year-old’s brain, across its not fully developed corpus callosum:

Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off. “Get back to the piano now,” I ordered. … She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic. … I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress. … Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

The author beams with pride over this “success story” and seems to consider it a vindication of her school of parenting against all naysayers. And throughout the article, starting from its title, she does little to disguise her scorn for Western parents, their tolerance for underachievement in their own children, and their squeamishness at the sight or report of the treatment other (luckier) children undergo every day in the hands of their Chinese mothers.

Having long been convinced that nothing harms stereotypical Western children more than their parents’ stereotypical laxness, I nevertheless find appalling much of what Chua states and even more of what she implies. Perhaps the foibles of modern Western parenting have grown so obvious and so ridiculous that any criticism of them is allowed to stick and any proposed alternative is welcomed; the more diametrically opposed to the status quo, the better even. But what Chua is prescribing in her article should not be rashly applauded by even the most frustrated critics of modern parenting mores. Read More

A certain essay appeared in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday, titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” to which one excerpted reaction from the Journal community itself was “I am in disbelief after reading this article.” The author is a Chinese mother, Amy Chua, a professor of law at Yale perhaps best known for writing the New York Times bestseller World on Fire.

The essay affirms that stereotypical Chinese parenting produces stereotypical cases of success for the children raised in that fashion — impeccable grade reports, precocious competence in the violin and piano (but mind you, those instruments and no other!), and fortitude of mind in the child to boot — and it explains how all this can be achieved by drawing on representative episodes from the author’s own experience as a Chinese mother. The most instructive and blood-chilling of these is the story of how little Lulu, Chua’s youngest daughter, was compelled to learn, just in time for her piano recital, how to play “The Little White Donkey” — a most difficult piece, apparently requiring uncommon ambidexterity, and, one would think, rapid and fluent communication between the hemispheres of a seven-year-old’s brain, across its not fully developed corpus callosum:

Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off. “Get back to the piano now,” I ordered. … She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic. … I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress. … Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

The author beams with pride over this “success story” and seems to consider it a vindication of her school of parenting against all naysayers. And throughout the article, starting from its title, she does little to disguise her scorn for Western parents, their tolerance for underachievement in their own children, and their squeamishness at the sight or report of the treatment other (luckier) children undergo every day in the hands of their Chinese mothers.

Having long been convinced that nothing harms stereotypical Western children more than their parents’ stereotypical laxness, I nevertheless find appalling much of what Chua states and even more of what she implies. Perhaps the foibles of modern Western parenting have grown so obvious and so ridiculous that any criticism of them is allowed to stick and any proposed alternative is welcomed; the more diametrically opposed to the status quo, the better even. But what Chua is prescribing in her article should not be rashly applauded by even the most frustrated critics of modern parenting mores.

What’s right with Chinese parenting? It demands and expects the attainment of competence through perseverance and industry. It accepts no excuses for failure. It discourages trivial pursuits. It desensitizes children to occasional harshness from others, even loved ones. Now, is there anything wrong with Chinese parenting? I’d say plenty. The readiest hint can be found in Chua’s own opening: stereotypical Chinese parenting is responsible for cases of stereotypical success in the children subjected to it. It’s what it’s known for. Nothing more. One cannot imagine Da Vinci raised by a Florentine “Chinese” mother or Beethoven by a German one. Genius cannot develop and flourish when its would-be building materials have been deformed and forcibly molded to the shape of a narrow box designed by stereotypical Chinese parents. John Ruskin developed a singular mind in spite of an upbringing with some Chinese flavor to it, not because of it. And in Praeterita, his autobiography, he looks back with his usual keen discernment on the chief calamities of his childhood:

My judgment of right and wrong, and powers of independent action, were left entirely undeveloped; because the bridle and blinkers were never taken off me. Children should have their times of being off duty, like soldiers; and when once the obedience, if required, is certain, the little creature should be very early put for periods of practice in complete command of itself; set on the barebacked horse of its own will, and left to break it by its own strength. But the ceaseless authority exercised over my youth left me, when cast out at last into the world, unable for some time to do more than drift with its vortices. My present verdict, therefore, on the general tenor of my education at that time, must be, that it was at once too formal and too luxurious; leaving my character, at the most important moment for its construction, cramped indeed, but not disciplined; and only by protection innocent, instead of by practice virtuous.

What Ruskin laments the want of, in his own childhood, can be roughly summarized as the rudiments of Stoicism, which, if genius does not need them, the well-ordered mind of the upright citizen certainly does. Instilling Stoic values in a child by the Chinese method is a contradiction in terms. And any nobility of soul, grandeur of mind, or genuine self-discipline in man partakes of Stoic values. It is of this tradition of Stoicism — which, however modified, has shone bright in the high noon of every great Western culture — that we are the almost bankrupt heirs today. Only faint shadows of its former glory survive in popular culture. One of them, as it pertains to the upbringing of children, is the notion (sneered at by Chua), commonly accepted though perhaps misunderstood even by its adherents, that the child, as far as it is capable of rational thought, is a free agent, entitled to make its own decisions and deserving what minimal freedom it requires in order to follow the basic dictates of its conscience. The application of this principle in practice today almost always ends up in a grotesque caricature of its intended meaning, but that meaning itself is noble, and not only that, I will go further and say that an understanding of that meaning, whether conscious or intuitive, is necessary to the mental constitution of any citizen of a free society — just as necessary today as it was to the breeding of the English gentleman in the golden days of the Empire or to the education of the likes of Cato the Younger, Cicero, and Seneca.

To be the master of oneself and one’s passions, to understand the rightness of one’s moral law and to obey it out of a sense of inward affinity to what’s good and natural; to practice virtue as its own reward, freely; to view one’s sense of duty serenely and make it one with one’s will and desires; and to stand firm in the face of hardship or even annihilation, without bending to coercion from tyrants or losing oneself in any frenzied mob — this is the ideal of discipline that cuts against the grain of the Chinese method, which, despite the good intentions of many of its practitioners, must be recognized for what it is: i.e., the relic of an authoritarian and collectivistic, however stable, culture and a tool for the perpetuation of the same. The mettle to confront mortal danger, eagerly if principle requires it and always with composure, does not come from yielding in childhood to threats of starvation, corporeal punishment, sequestration of property, and the like. On the contrary, someone who values freedom and deserves it tries to teach himself and his child to be indifferent to such debasing stimuli; whereas a child raised to respond to them — and their lowest common denominator is always brute force — grows up to be a cowardly, obedient serf of his parents, elders, and dictators. The only form of discipline he learns is that of endurance, which is also the main virtue he is expected to practice throughout his life as the subject of an absolute external authority that can’t be argued or reasoned with. But said serf might learn to play “The Little White Donkey” at the age of seven, and that’s worth something, right?

In all earnestness, please consider the premises of Chinese parenting as laid out in Chua’s own words:

a) Children are not allowed to 1) play any instrument other than the piano and violin, 2) not play the piano and violin, 3) choose their own extracurricular activities. (Even Socialist Realism permits greater freedom of expression.)

b) Children owe their parents everything (as do citizens to the State).

c) Parents know what is best for their children and therefore override all their children’s own desires and preferences. (The state knows what’s best for the little people and gets it done against their will, but with their best interests very much at heart. Isn’t this how the Communist Party of China justifies its autocratic rule to itself and to the rest of the world?)

In light of all this, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Amy Chua’s bestseller is subtitled “How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.”

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How the World’s Obsession With Israel Hurts Palestinians

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian Jordanian researcher at Britain’s University of Bedfordshire, has a must-read piece in today’s Jerusalem Post on the price Palestinians pay for the world’s obsession with Israel: namely, the fact that many Palestinians in Arab countries suffer far worse conditions than those in the West Bank and Gaza, but remain faceless and voiceless, with nobody to lobby for improvements in their situation.

For instance, he notes, Israeli officials fear traveling to many European countries lest they be arrested for “war crimes” like the Gaza blockade (which is actually perfectly legal under customary international law). Yet that blockade, for all the outrage it produces, never reduced anyone to starvation; Israel always let in “food items and medications.”

In contrast, Nabih Berri commanded a Shiite militia, Amal, during Lebanon’s civil war, which “enforced a multi-year siege on Palestinian [refugee] camps, cutting water access and food supplies to them” and reportedly reducing residents to “consuming rats and dogs to survive.” But today, as speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Berri travels to Europe frequently, without fear. Being Lebanese rather than Israeli, the far more brutal blockade he imposed elicits no outrage whatsoever.

Moreover, Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps “are not allowed access to basics such as buying cement to enlarge or repair homes for their growing families. Furthermore, it is difficult for them to work legally, and [they] are even restricted from going out of their camps at certain hours.” Incredibly, this has been true for “almost 30 years.”

By contrast, Israel’s ban on cement imports to Gaza is only five years old, and stemmed from a real military threat: Hamas’s daily rocket launches at southern Israel. But somehow, the same people who are outraged about Palestinians in Gaza who can’t repair their homes couldn’t care less about Palestinians in Lebanon being unable to do the same for 30 years.

“Many other Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians,” Zahran continued. “Why do the media choose to ignore those and focus only on Israel? While the security wall being built by Israel has become a symbol of ‘apartheid’ in the global media, they almost never address the actual walls and separation barriers that have been isolating Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries for decades.”
In an earlier piece, for instance, Zahran wrote that Palestinians in Jordan have suffered “decades of systematic exclusion in all aspects of life expanding into their disenfranchisement in education, employment, housing, state benefits and even business potential, all developing into an existing apartheid no different than that formerly adopted in South Africa, except for the official acknowledgement of it.” Jordan has even begun stripping thousands of Jordanian Palestinians of their citizenship.

But Lebanese and Jordanian Palestinians “do not have someone to speak for them in the global media,” because the media is too busy obsessing over Israel.

That’s clearly good for the Arab states committing this abuse; they get a free pass. But it isn’t so good for the Palestinians who suffer it.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the world doesn’t actually care about Palestinians. What it cares about is demonizing Israel.

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian Jordanian researcher at Britain’s University of Bedfordshire, has a must-read piece in today’s Jerusalem Post on the price Palestinians pay for the world’s obsession with Israel: namely, the fact that many Palestinians in Arab countries suffer far worse conditions than those in the West Bank and Gaza, but remain faceless and voiceless, with nobody to lobby for improvements in their situation.

For instance, he notes, Israeli officials fear traveling to many European countries lest they be arrested for “war crimes” like the Gaza blockade (which is actually perfectly legal under customary international law). Yet that blockade, for all the outrage it produces, never reduced anyone to starvation; Israel always let in “food items and medications.”

In contrast, Nabih Berri commanded a Shiite militia, Amal, during Lebanon’s civil war, which “enforced a multi-year siege on Palestinian [refugee] camps, cutting water access and food supplies to them” and reportedly reducing residents to “consuming rats and dogs to survive.” But today, as speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Berri travels to Europe frequently, without fear. Being Lebanese rather than Israeli, the far more brutal blockade he imposed elicits no outrage whatsoever.

Moreover, Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps “are not allowed access to basics such as buying cement to enlarge or repair homes for their growing families. Furthermore, it is difficult for them to work legally, and [they] are even restricted from going out of their camps at certain hours.” Incredibly, this has been true for “almost 30 years.”

By contrast, Israel’s ban on cement imports to Gaza is only five years old, and stemmed from a real military threat: Hamas’s daily rocket launches at southern Israel. But somehow, the same people who are outraged about Palestinians in Gaza who can’t repair their homes couldn’t care less about Palestinians in Lebanon being unable to do the same for 30 years.

“Many other Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians,” Zahran continued. “Why do the media choose to ignore those and focus only on Israel? While the security wall being built by Israel has become a symbol of ‘apartheid’ in the global media, they almost never address the actual walls and separation barriers that have been isolating Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries for decades.”
In an earlier piece, for instance, Zahran wrote that Palestinians in Jordan have suffered “decades of systematic exclusion in all aspects of life expanding into their disenfranchisement in education, employment, housing, state benefits and even business potential, all developing into an existing apartheid no different than that formerly adopted in South Africa, except for the official acknowledgement of it.” Jordan has even begun stripping thousands of Jordanian Palestinians of their citizenship.

But Lebanese and Jordanian Palestinians “do not have someone to speak for them in the global media,” because the media is too busy obsessing over Israel.

That’s clearly good for the Arab states committing this abuse; they get a free pass. But it isn’t so good for the Palestinians who suffer it.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the world doesn’t actually care about Palestinians. What it cares about is demonizing Israel.

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North Korea’s Dilemma

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

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Egypt Does PR Right

Credit where it is due: The Egyptians know how to deal with Hamas and especially with the useful idiots who have turned Gaza into a cause celebre. When George Galloway and his traveling roadshow of activists showed up in Egypt to make trouble, the Egyptians simply threw all of them out of the country.

“George Galloway is considered persona non grata and will not be allowed to enter into Egypt again,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. The activist left Egypt Friday morning from Cairo airport. … “He was told that he is a trouble maker and his behavior is undermining Egyptian security.”

This is no exaggeration. The arrival of Galloway’s “relief convoy” was accompanied by Hamas-staged riots along the Gaza border in which a Hamas sniper killed an Egyptian border guard. As a result, “Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit said his country would ban aid convoys from entering its territory.”

Where are the outraged Human Rights Watch press releases? When are the UN Human Rights Council hearings? Where is the collective outrage of the British media? We have banned aid convoys to Gaza — this statement would cause global apoplexy if uttered by the Israeli foreign minister.

But Egypt isn’t done:

Mosques throughout Egypt took advantage of Friday prayers to criticize Hamas…London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Saturday that most of the 140,000 mosques operating under the auspices of Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf took part in the verbal onslaught on the Palestinian Islamist group. …

According to another imam, Hamas is to blame for the blockade imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza. “Its leaders want to stay in power, even at the cost of their own people’s expulsion and starvation,” the imam said during a sermon at Cairo’s Al-Rahma Mosque.

Egyptian officials speak the terse and confident language of sovereignty. Israelis too frequently employ the defensive language of ethics, unaware that such noble rhetoric, when applied to foreign policy, invites little but skepticism and complaint.

Credit where it is due: The Egyptians know how to deal with Hamas and especially with the useful idiots who have turned Gaza into a cause celebre. When George Galloway and his traveling roadshow of activists showed up in Egypt to make trouble, the Egyptians simply threw all of them out of the country.

“George Galloway is considered persona non grata and will not be allowed to enter into Egypt again,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. The activist left Egypt Friday morning from Cairo airport. … “He was told that he is a trouble maker and his behavior is undermining Egyptian security.”

This is no exaggeration. The arrival of Galloway’s “relief convoy” was accompanied by Hamas-staged riots along the Gaza border in which a Hamas sniper killed an Egyptian border guard. As a result, “Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit said his country would ban aid convoys from entering its territory.”

Where are the outraged Human Rights Watch press releases? When are the UN Human Rights Council hearings? Where is the collective outrage of the British media? We have banned aid convoys to Gaza — this statement would cause global apoplexy if uttered by the Israeli foreign minister.

But Egypt isn’t done:

Mosques throughout Egypt took advantage of Friday prayers to criticize Hamas…London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Saturday that most of the 140,000 mosques operating under the auspices of Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf took part in the verbal onslaught on the Palestinian Islamist group. …

According to another imam, Hamas is to blame for the blockade imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza. “Its leaders want to stay in power, even at the cost of their own people’s expulsion and starvation,” the imam said during a sermon at Cairo’s Al-Rahma Mosque.

Egyptian officials speak the terse and confident language of sovereignty. Israelis too frequently employ the defensive language of ethics, unaware that such noble rhetoric, when applied to foreign policy, invites little but skepticism and complaint.

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Revoke Jimmy Carter’s Security Clearance

One of the perks that former presidents receive, if they choose to utilize it, is a daily security briefing from the CIA. This is how Jimmy Carter came to know (or at least claim) that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons, considering the fact that the Israeli government has pursued a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear weapon capability. This is a policy that was formed with tacit agreement by the United States, which in exchange for a promise by Israel not to conduct nuclear tests, agreed to the rubric that the Jewish State would not be the first, officially acknowledged Middle Eastern nuclear power. Of course, Carter knew a lot about Israel’s nuclear capability during his time in office, and it’s unprecedented that a former president would reveal this information publicly.

Carter did not make this revelation in the midst of top-level policy discussion with world leaders (or terrorists who pretend to be leaders), but at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in Wales, an annual event sponsored by The Guardian newspaper. He followed this disclosure with the assertion that “One of the greatest human rights crimes on earth is the starvation and imprisonment of 1.6m Palestinians.” Writing in Ha’aretz, defense analyst Reuven Pedatzur observes “One can assume that Iran will now be able to make use of Carter’s comments in order to point to the double standard of the Western world, which is prepared to accept a nuclear Israel but makes a great effort to prevent Iran from going nuclear.”

Last month I questioned whether Jimmy Carter was in violation of the Logan Act for his meeting with Khaled Meshal, leader of Hamas. Edward Zelinsky of the Cardozo School of Law concluded that the former President was breaking the law, but that given the history of the statute’s non-enforcement by federal authorities, a prosecution would be unlikely and ill-considered. Taking Professor Zelinsky’s learned opinion to heart, the United States government ought to at least revoke Carter’s security clearance before our worst ex-President further endangers international peace and security.

One of the perks that former presidents receive, if they choose to utilize it, is a daily security briefing from the CIA. This is how Jimmy Carter came to know (or at least claim) that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons, considering the fact that the Israeli government has pursued a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear weapon capability. This is a policy that was formed with tacit agreement by the United States, which in exchange for a promise by Israel not to conduct nuclear tests, agreed to the rubric that the Jewish State would not be the first, officially acknowledged Middle Eastern nuclear power. Of course, Carter knew a lot about Israel’s nuclear capability during his time in office, and it’s unprecedented that a former president would reveal this information publicly.

Carter did not make this revelation in the midst of top-level policy discussion with world leaders (or terrorists who pretend to be leaders), but at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in Wales, an annual event sponsored by The Guardian newspaper. He followed this disclosure with the assertion that “One of the greatest human rights crimes on earth is the starvation and imprisonment of 1.6m Palestinians.” Writing in Ha’aretz, defense analyst Reuven Pedatzur observes “One can assume that Iran will now be able to make use of Carter’s comments in order to point to the double standard of the Western world, which is prepared to accept a nuclear Israel but makes a great effort to prevent Iran from going nuclear.”

Last month I questioned whether Jimmy Carter was in violation of the Logan Act for his meeting with Khaled Meshal, leader of Hamas. Edward Zelinsky of the Cardozo School of Law concluded that the former President was breaking the law, but that given the history of the statute’s non-enforcement by federal authorities, a prosecution would be unlikely and ill-considered. Taking Professor Zelinsky’s learned opinion to heart, the United States government ought to at least revoke Carter’s security clearance before our worst ex-President further endangers international peace and security.

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The Philharmonic’s “Glass House”

The New York Philharmonic will be playing in Pyongyang next Tuesday. Lorin Maazel, its music director, notes in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that the decision to take the Philharmonic to Communist North Korea has been greeted in some quarters with shock and dismay. Presumably, among those whom Mazaal is answering is Terry Teachout, who wrote this trenchant column, also for the Wall Street Journal

Mazaal lays out the case that, pace Teachout and others, the visit will do some good:

bringing peoples and their cultures together on common ground, where the roots of peaceful interchange can imperceptibly but irrevocably take hold. If all goes well, the presence of the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang might gently influence the perception of our country there. If we are gradually to improve U.S.-Korean relations, such events have the potential to nudge open a door that has been closed too long.

I lived in Russia for a spell back when it was Communist country and am willing, by extrapolating from that experience, to grant Maazel a point on behalf of the concert that he could have made but does not. North Koreans, completely isolated from the outside world, are presented with a ubiquitous stream of propaganda that portrays the United States as a country full of avaricious militarists bent upon provoking a new war on the Korean peninsula. A concert in Pyongyang performed by American musicians, the very idea of which runs counter to the officially generated images of the past, is likely to evoke extreme curiosity in the North Korean populace, both about the visiting Americans and about what their visit portends for the future of their society.

But beyond that minimal effect of generating curiousity, let’s not get carried away by illusions and other political maladies, which is precisely what has happened to Maazel. “Human rights are an issue of profound relevance to us all,” he writes, noting that “[a]ny citizen, anywhere, can be deprived of them — brutally under tyrannical regimes, subtly in more open societies . . . . If we are to be effective in bringing succor to the oppressed, many languishing in foreign gulags, the U.S. must claim an authority based on an immaculate ethical record.”

Is that really so? What Maazel has done here is create the impression that when it comes to human rights, a country like North Korea and the United States are on the same continuum, the major difference between the two being that Pyongyang operates “brutally” while democratic societies like our own oppress “subtly.” “Woe to the people we are trying to help if we end up in a glass house,” he writes.

This is disgraceful. What does this “glass house” metaphor mean other than that we should be wary of criticizing North Korea because our own human-transgressions are on a par in some way with the most oppressive society on earth? Artists in the public arena, writes Maazel in the same op-ed, “must be totally apolitical, nonpartisan, and free of issue-specific agendas.” If only he would follow his own advice. 

Maazel recounts that in negotiating arrangements for the Philharmonic’s visit, “[w]e requested that the concert in Pyongyang be open to the average citizen.” The average citizen? The naivete on display here is record-setting. One thing is utterly certain: the average North Korean citizen will not be attending the Philharmonic’s concert next week. Maazel’s op-ed leaves the impression that he is completely incapable of imagining the nature of the society he will be visiting, a place where the lot of the average citizen is constant exposure to terror, lawlessness, a cradle-to-grave system of political indoctrination, and starvation.

The grim reality of Communist North Korea is that the average citizen is not a citizen at all but a slave.

The New York Philharmonic will be playing in Pyongyang next Tuesday. Lorin Maazel, its music director, notes in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that the decision to take the Philharmonic to Communist North Korea has been greeted in some quarters with shock and dismay. Presumably, among those whom Mazaal is answering is Terry Teachout, who wrote this trenchant column, also for the Wall Street Journal

Mazaal lays out the case that, pace Teachout and others, the visit will do some good:

bringing peoples and their cultures together on common ground, where the roots of peaceful interchange can imperceptibly but irrevocably take hold. If all goes well, the presence of the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang might gently influence the perception of our country there. If we are gradually to improve U.S.-Korean relations, such events have the potential to nudge open a door that has been closed too long.

I lived in Russia for a spell back when it was Communist country and am willing, by extrapolating from that experience, to grant Maazel a point on behalf of the concert that he could have made but does not. North Koreans, completely isolated from the outside world, are presented with a ubiquitous stream of propaganda that portrays the United States as a country full of avaricious militarists bent upon provoking a new war on the Korean peninsula. A concert in Pyongyang performed by American musicians, the very idea of which runs counter to the officially generated images of the past, is likely to evoke extreme curiosity in the North Korean populace, both about the visiting Americans and about what their visit portends for the future of their society.

But beyond that minimal effect of generating curiousity, let’s not get carried away by illusions and other political maladies, which is precisely what has happened to Maazel. “Human rights are an issue of profound relevance to us all,” he writes, noting that “[a]ny citizen, anywhere, can be deprived of them — brutally under tyrannical regimes, subtly in more open societies . . . . If we are to be effective in bringing succor to the oppressed, many languishing in foreign gulags, the U.S. must claim an authority based on an immaculate ethical record.”

Is that really so? What Maazel has done here is create the impression that when it comes to human rights, a country like North Korea and the United States are on the same continuum, the major difference between the two being that Pyongyang operates “brutally” while democratic societies like our own oppress “subtly.” “Woe to the people we are trying to help if we end up in a glass house,” he writes.

This is disgraceful. What does this “glass house” metaphor mean other than that we should be wary of criticizing North Korea because our own human-transgressions are on a par in some way with the most oppressive society on earth? Artists in the public arena, writes Maazel in the same op-ed, “must be totally apolitical, nonpartisan, and free of issue-specific agendas.” If only he would follow his own advice. 

Maazel recounts that in negotiating arrangements for the Philharmonic’s visit, “[w]e requested that the concert in Pyongyang be open to the average citizen.” The average citizen? The naivete on display here is record-setting. One thing is utterly certain: the average North Korean citizen will not be attending the Philharmonic’s concert next week. Maazel’s op-ed leaves the impression that he is completely incapable of imagining the nature of the society he will be visiting, a place where the lot of the average citizen is constant exposure to terror, lawlessness, a cradle-to-grave system of political indoctrination, and starvation.

The grim reality of Communist North Korea is that the average citizen is not a citizen at all but a slave.

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The Dennis and Mike Show

The Nation is holding a poll on its website where readers can choose their ideal choice for the Democratic presidential nomination. Online polls are usually meaningless (the popularity of Ron Paul in such internet venues is a testament to his rabidly enthusiastic and technically savvy online fan base, rather than to his actual popularity among Republican primary voters) and the magazine’s editors at least note, in the fine print, that the poll is “not statistically valid.”

Though it’s true that the poll is “not statistically valid” in the sense that it is not an accurate prediction of what will happen in the Democratic primaries, the poll is nonetheless a useful barometer of where the magazine’s readership lies on the political spectrum. And thus it’s no surprise that Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich—whose most novel proposal has been the creation of a cabinet level “Department of Peace”takes the lead at 34 percent (at the time of this posting), trouncing the actual front runners Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama. Indeed, the fact that the presumptive nominee, Clinton, garners only 5 percent, speaks volumes about how radical the magazine’s readership is. That former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (no longer invited to Democratic Party debates and given to holding his own, one-man rants across the street) has more than double her support (11 percent) speaks to the outright self-delusion of the Nation‘s readership. Kucinich’s campaign slogan is the inversion of an old Ronald Reagan saying: “Strength through Peace,” which makes about as much sense as “Satiation through Starvation.”

Earlier this month, Democratic Party officials in South Carolina rejected Stephen Colbert’s attempt to make it onto the state’s primary ballot on the grounds that he is a comedian and would distract from the real business of presidential politicking. But that’s nonsense. There are already at least two comedians running for president in the Democratic primary.

The Nation is holding a poll on its website where readers can choose their ideal choice for the Democratic presidential nomination. Online polls are usually meaningless (the popularity of Ron Paul in such internet venues is a testament to his rabidly enthusiastic and technically savvy online fan base, rather than to his actual popularity among Republican primary voters) and the magazine’s editors at least note, in the fine print, that the poll is “not statistically valid.”

Though it’s true that the poll is “not statistically valid” in the sense that it is not an accurate prediction of what will happen in the Democratic primaries, the poll is nonetheless a useful barometer of where the magazine’s readership lies on the political spectrum. And thus it’s no surprise that Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich—whose most novel proposal has been the creation of a cabinet level “Department of Peace”takes the lead at 34 percent (at the time of this posting), trouncing the actual front runners Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama. Indeed, the fact that the presumptive nominee, Clinton, garners only 5 percent, speaks volumes about how radical the magazine’s readership is. That former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (no longer invited to Democratic Party debates and given to holding his own, one-man rants across the street) has more than double her support (11 percent) speaks to the outright self-delusion of the Nation‘s readership. Kucinich’s campaign slogan is the inversion of an old Ronald Reagan saying: “Strength through Peace,” which makes about as much sense as “Satiation through Starvation.”

Earlier this month, Democratic Party officials in South Carolina rejected Stephen Colbert’s attempt to make it onto the state’s primary ballot on the grounds that he is a comedian and would distract from the real business of presidential politicking. But that’s nonsense. There are already at least two comedians running for president in the Democratic primary.

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Down the (North Korean) Rabbit Hole

A couple of months ago I blogged about a news report that North Korea had bought some giant rabbits from a German breeder as seed stock, apparently in the hope of alleviating its dire food shortage.

Although the starvation of Koreans is anything but funny, here in a capsule was the entire story of Communist economics. Despite its professed humanitarian motives, the Marxist model was entirely mechanistic, blind to the role of human invention and incentive in creating wealth. Planners could simply draw blueprints of abundance and—abracadabra—their word would become flesh.

Stalin, for example, decided that it would be more efficient if some of the rivers of the Soviet Union reversed direction, so he tasked his engineers to turn them around. Mao calculated that China could industrialize overnight if each citizen made his own steel, so millions of backyard furnaces were created. And this year the minions of Kim Jong Il figured out that national starvation could be solved by means of larger rabbits, each of which could feed many more humans than ordinary examples of that species.

Read More

A couple of months ago I blogged about a news report that North Korea had bought some giant rabbits from a German breeder as seed stock, apparently in the hope of alleviating its dire food shortage.

Although the starvation of Koreans is anything but funny, here in a capsule was the entire story of Communist economics. Despite its professed humanitarian motives, the Marxist model was entirely mechanistic, blind to the role of human invention and incentive in creating wealth. Planners could simply draw blueprints of abundance and—abracadabra—their word would become flesh.

Stalin, for example, decided that it would be more efficient if some of the rivers of the Soviet Union reversed direction, so he tasked his engineers to turn them around. Mao calculated that China could industrialize overnight if each citizen made his own steel, so millions of backyard furnaces were created. And this year the minions of Kim Jong Il figured out that national starvation could be solved by means of larger rabbits, each of which could feed many more humans than ordinary examples of that species.

By Communist standards, the plan was good—easier than reversing rivers or smelting backyard steel. But alas, the timing was bad. Apparently, the rabbits arrived in North Korea just before the Dear Leader’s birthday, an occasion of jubilant feasting—at least by him. According to a new report, the German breeder of the giant bunnies has told reporters that the creatures disappeared before they could begin reproducing. Karl Szmolinksy, who had contracted to come to North Korea to help manage the rabbits’ propagation, has said that as far as he can discover they were requisitioned for the celebratory dinner table. “North Korea won’t be getting any more rabbits from me. They don’t even need to bother asking,” said the indignant man.

Considering the millions of human beings that perished in other Communist projects, the loss of a few rabbits is no cause for mourning—except that the North Korean people are still starving. Perhaps next, instead of larger rabbits, their Dear Leader et al. will try breeding smaller citizens.

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