Saudi Arabia to impose new rules on preachers |

Don’t believe that the Wahhabis and the Saudi government are two different entities. The Saudi government has been supporting local hate preachers all along:

Actions against imams who do not comply with the instructions of the ministry will start with a warning if the violation is not severe, to be followed by an official blame.
Imams could also have their financial perks reduced and, in some cases, they could be dismissed.
However, no action will be taken against any imam without giving him the opportunity to explain his attitude or action.
According to Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, an imam should address social issues and help correct misconceptions while promoting positive values.

via Saudi Arabia to impose new rules on preachers |

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What It Was Like to Work With Einstein, Feynman, Oppenheimer, Pauli, and Bohr?

You also knew Robert Oppenheimer, who came to Princeton shortly after his work at Los Alamos. I’ve heard he was a truly gifted leader, at least while he was running the Manhattan Project, and probably a better administrator than scientist. Was that true?

I don’t know whether that’s true. He did one really important thing in science, which was the theory of black holes. He really discovered black holes, which turned out to be extremely important. That was done in 1939 with his student [Hartland Snyder]. They developed this theory of why black holes exist, how they are formed, and he got everything right. Essentially, he was the originator of black holes as a concept and it was a prediction that turned out to be true.

The sad thing was that this paper was published on the first of September, 1939—actually the day that Hitler walked into Poland. So the whole world was looking at Poland and not at Oppenheimer. That piece of work somehow got forgotten and Oppenheimer himself lost interest in it and he never went back to it later. It went out of his life and that was a shame. He could have done a lot more with it, so it all had to be redone 20 years later. He was a big scientist. The strange thing is, the really great thing that he did was not what he wanted to do. He wanted to do particle physics and wasn’t interested in astronomy. Anyway, that’s the way the ball bounces. You never know what you end up being famous for.

via What It Was Like to Work With Einstein, Feynman, Oppenheimer, Pauli, and Bohr?

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Five Bully-boy Tactics to Win Elections and Influence People


Dissent author Nick Robinson describes how leaders of the new “Authoritarian Democracies” keep and hold power.

1. Politicizing the prosecution of political opponents. In countries like India, it is not uncommon for politicians in power, or their allies, to bring cases against opposition politicians. Even if a court ultimately dismisses these charges, these prosecutions drain the resources of one’s opponents and cast them under a veil of suspicion. Trump’s declared intent to appoint a special prosecutor to pursue a criminal investigation against Hillary Clinton and “lock her up” over her email server fits this pattern. It is not a stretch to imagine that Trump will use politicized investigations or prosecutions against political opponents in the future.

2. Selective application of the law to the media and civil society. In India, Narendra Modi’s government has audited civil-society organizations critical of his government for their taxes or for not complying with regulations around accepting foreign funding. Such actions keep these organizations on the defensive and undermine their legitimacy in the eyes of the broader public. Similar selective application of the law to shut down critics could also be used in the United States. Indeed, after being angered by the Washington Post’s coverage of his campaign, Trump threatened he would order the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to bring an antitrust action against Amazon in retaliation (both the Post and Amazon are owned by Jeff Bezos).

3. The use of libel laws to attack critics. Even before running for office, Trump was involved in a number of libel actions and he says he will bring litigation against the women who accused him of sexual assault during the campaign. Peter Thiel, who helped fund the lawsuit that ultimately bankrupted Gawker, is one of his primary supporters. Even if Trump ultimately loses the libel cases he brings, the threat of prolonged and expensive litigation can silence both those who wish to speak out about Trump’s less savory behavior and the media outlets that dare to report such stories.

4. Undercutting non-partisan government institutions. After a recent coup attempt earlier this year in Turkey, President Erdoğan replaced thousands of civil servants with loyalists. The Turkish example is dramatic, but leaders can also more gradually undermine the non-partisanship of the state. For instance, in June the Reserve Bank of India’s well-respected leader Raghuram Rajan was forced into resigning by the Modi government after he expressed concern over rising intolerance in the country.
In the United States, there are many non-partisan positions to which Trump might appoint loyalists or attempt to push out those who do not toe the line—this might be in the Department of Justice, FBI, Federal Reserve, or even the judiciary. Trump has already expressed a desire to “fire” the country’s top generals, which he legally could do, thereby turning the military into a partisan entity and reducing its ability to act as a check on Trump’s potentially extreme or dangerous orders.

5. Silence in the face of violence. Perhaps, however, the most powerful discretionary tool of an authoritarian-inclined leader is not any specific action, but rather his or her silence or inaction in the face of violence or intimidation undertaken in their name. In India, Modi has effectively sat on the sidelines when allies in the media like Arnab Goswami of Times Now (think Sean Hannity on steroids) have branded rights advocates and critical journalists as “anti-national,” or when Muslims have been attacked in the name of the Hindutva ideology that aided his rise to power.
In the United States, we have already seen minorities, journalists, and university spaces attacked in the name of “Making America Great Again.” The dramatic rise in hate incidents and crimes since the election has been startling in its breadth. Trump did not order these attacks, but in refusing to clearly condemn them and continuing to scapegoat minorities, he encourages more such crimes. In a constitutional democracy extreme elements of the public can frequently do far more to intimidate and wear down critics than the government itself. Authoritarian-minded leaders know this and use it to their advantage.

The above is not an exhaustive list of strategies. There are many others, including tactics that are illegal, but difficult to detect—such as leaking damaging secrets about political opponents (Trump, after all, will now have access to the most sophisticated intelligence agencies ever created).

Trump is not Modi or Erdoğan, or, as some suggest, Hitler—each of whom themselves sit on a wide spectrum of authoritarianism. Trump’s leadership will have its own pathologies that reflect the man and his context. We should not be surprised, though, to see him use any of the strategies discussed here, and should anticipate their potentially long-term effects: they may not only allow him to stay in power for far longer than four years, but could also do irreparable damage to the country’s political fabric and create an environment in which future American presidents may feel less constrained to use these tactics themselves.

These tactics work because Americans are much more tribal than they used to be. Politics has become identity politics, a Balkanization that destroys the trust a democracy needs to function.

When identity politics rule, racism and polarization thrive. It is no coincidence that we are seeing a resurgence in outright white nationalism — embodied in the so-called alt-right — at the same time that America’s leftist cultural elite are decisively rejecting Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that Americans be judged by the “content of their character” and not the color of their skin.

If we don’t respect our neighbors because they belong to a different political tribe, we’re not going to respect their vote.

Americans have always hated and mistrusted our politicians. That’s normal. What’s not business-as-usual is for us to trust a politician (or a political party) more than our neighbors and friends. When we do that, we’re not just losing our democracy, we’re losing our essentially American pragmatism, the knowledge that unity is strength.

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Why I support Rudy Giuliani as Secretary of State


(despite the partisan pandering he’s done lately)

My focus for the past decade, foreign policy-wise, has been on our sick and sad relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Anyone who reads the news knew that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the act of war that was 9/11. Now we have proof. We also know that our politicians, Democrats and Republicans, openly take bribes from them.

The Saudi government stones children They also crucify them. They let little girls burn to death for the crime of not being properly ‘covered’. They give women fewer rights than dogs and yet the UN allows them to be on their Human Rights Council.

Why have our institutions decayed to this point? For the same reason Guatemala has been taken over by gangs: the government is allied with the supporters of the gangs/terrorists they’re supposed to be fighting because it benefits them personally. Supporters of our alliance with Saudi will tell us that it keeps our economy going, but that’s not true. Saudi spending on ‘defense’ mostly benefits the 1 percent (and their ‘defense’ is mostly very offensive, targeting noncombatants in Yemen.)

They’ll tell you it’s all about the oil, but we don’t rely on the KSA for our oil. OPEC has lost most of the power it had. With current oil prices, Saudi is looking at the possibility of going bankrupt.

As the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Giuliani did what no other did before him – he weakened Mafia influence in NYC. He knows how the government/gang/terrorist infrastructure works, and he doesn’t like it.


That was evident in the speech he gave to the Saudi-enablers in the United Nations shortly after 9/11.

Now is the time in the words of your charter, the United Nations Charter, “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.”‘ This is not a time for further study or vague directives. The evidence of terrorism’s brutality and inhumanity, of its contempt for life and the concept of peace is lying beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center, less than two miles from where we meet today. Look at that destruction, that massive, senseless, cruel loss of human life, and then I ask you to look in your hearts and recognize that there is no room for neutrality on the issue of terrorism: You’re either with civilization or with terrorists.

On one side is democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human life; on the other, it’s tyranny, arbitrary executions, and mass murder. We’re right and they’re wrong. It’s as simple as that. And by that I mean that America and its allies are right about democracy, about religious, political, and economic freedom. And the terrorists are wrong and, in fact, evil in their mass destruction of human life in the name of addressing alleged injustices.

Let those who say that we must understand the reasons for terrorism, come with me to the thousands of funerals we’re having in New York City — thousands — and explain those insane maniacal reasons to the children who will grow up without fathers and mothers and to the parents who have had their children ripped from them for no reason at all. Instead, I ask each of you to allow me to say at those funerals that your nation stands with America in making a solemn promise and pledge that we will achieve unconditional victory over terrorism and terrorists.

He’s also the only politician in our living history who has turned down money from a Saudi prince.

NEW YORK (CNN) — Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Thursday the city would not accept a $10 million donation for disaster relief from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal after the prince suggested U.S. policies in the Middle East contributed to the September 11 attacks.

“I entirely reject that statement,” Giuliani said. “There is no moral equivalent for this [terrorist] act. There is no justification for it. The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification for it when they slaughtered 4,000 or 5,000 innocent people.”

I don’t know if he knew then about the Saudi tradition of paying blood money (diyya) to escape punishment for a crime, but at that moment, he became the only politician worldwide with a sense of moral courage.

That may have changed. He’s not a perfect person by any means, but his immediate reaction to 9/11 was brave. Standing up to the local Mafia was brave. That kind of courage is unique in our political world. We desperately need it in our foreign policy.

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An All-American Dictatorship


My review (on Amazon):

“It Can’t Happen Here” is Sinclair Lewis’ satirical prediction of how an All-American dictatorship, led by personable, patriotic deal-maker Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, could rise.

Most of the story takes place in a small town in Vermont, and it’s told through newsman Doremus Jessup’s eyes. Jessup is an established liberal newspaper editor with a capable, unimaginative wife. His family and friends are a full cast of characters. Lewis wrote this when he’d just returned from Germany in the early thirties, and he saw a number of different reactions to Hitler’s rise. Some people saw the danger, some didn’t, and some enthusiastically cheered the Nazis on. I’d guess that some real-life reactions inspired his characters.

Windrip is an interesting villain. “The one thing that most perplexed [Jessup] was that there could be a dictator seemingly so different from the fervent Hitlers and gesticulating Fascists and the Cæsars with laurels round bald domes; a dictator with something of the earthy American sense of humor of a Mark Twain, a George Ade, a Will Rogers, an Artemus Ward. Windrip could be ever so funny about solemn jaw-drooping opponents, and about the best method of training what he called “a Siamese flea hound.” Did that … make him less or more dangerous?”

As a newsman, Jessup he feels the need to stand up for free speech and human rights, but as a social democrat, he believes that the system is sound. It supported his comfortable lifestyle, it gave him what he needed. It must be capable of repairing itself. He says “The hysteria can’t last; be patient, and wait and see, he counseled his readers. It was not that he was afraid of the authorities. He simply did not believe that this comic tyranny could endure.”

And, of course, he was wrong. Most Americans don’t think it can happen here. We believe our Constitution protects us from demagogue wannabes. That’s the genius of this book. Lewis shows us how a master dealmaker could wrap himself up in the flag, carry a cross for good measure and with the right steps in the proper order, shred the Constitution and our system of checks and balances.

Just in case anyone was looking for warning signs, the 7 steps for becoming an All-American dictator are:

1. Give them what they want. Doremus Jessup describes Windrip’s folksy appeal: “watching Senator Windrip from so humble a Boeotia, could not explain his power of bewitching large audiences. The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store.”

2. Attack first amendment rights. Encourage Americans to spy on each other. In the book, the problem started in the colleges where “Any member of the faculty or student body of Isaiah who shall in any way, publicly or privately, in print, writing, or by the spoken word, adversely criticize military training … shall be liable to immediate dismissal from this college, and any student who shall, with full and proper proof, bring to the attention of the President or any Trustee of the college such malign criticism by any person whatever connected in any way with the institution shall receive extra credits in his course in military training, such credits to apply to the number of credits necessary for graduation.”

Jessup recognizes this as “fast exploding Fascism”.

3. Attack the fourth amendment – claim that you’re doing this for security or our ‘own good’

4. Build up an army of goons from an angry downtrodden group. Arm, train and encourage them.

5. Make outrageous, clearly pie-in-the-sky promises. Use goons and fervent followers to threaten anyone who isn’t fooled.

6. After you’re elected, don’t follow through on the promises you’ve made.When people are justifiably angry, call the protests a “Crisis”, declare Martial Law and shut down all dissent. This, of course, is for our ‘security’.

“[Windrip compared] the Crisis to the urgency of a fireman rescuing a pretty girl from a “conflagration,” and carrying her down a ladder, for her own sake, whether she liked it or not, and no matter how appealingly she might kick her pretty ankles.”

7. Sit back, enjoy the spoils, and watch your back.

One Amazon reviewer from Soviet Russia noted that “It Can’t Happen Here” was forbidden in the USSR because Stalin’s censors knew that an imagined fascist hell in America would look too familiar for readers in a “socialist paradise”.

Whenever we’re faced with a boorish racist lout who encourages his followers to beat up dissenters we ask “is this another Hitler?” Maybe he is, or maybe he’s another Mugabe, Erdogan, Assad, Charles Taylor, Papa Doc Duvalier. But although America flirts with the lunatic idea of a ‘benevolent dictator’, it hasn’t come to pass because generally pragmatic and self-reliant Americans would not tolerate it.

That’s the central message behind “It Can’t Happen Here”. We can’t depend on the system to protect us. We have to act to protect ourselves.

Are we still self-reliant and pragmatic, or are we becoming like the characters in Lewis’ dystopia? It’s not clear. That’s why I recommend this book.

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Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 – the greatest of all business books

Catch-22’s most obvious business character is MiloMinderbinder, who moves from supervising the mess hall to running a worldwide trade operation, flying Lebanese cedars to Oslo sawmills, where they are turned into shingles for Cape Cod builders. Because it makes business sense — the Germans paid him to — he arranges the bombing of his own base.

But more acute is Heller’s grasp of quotidian organisational idiocies. He writes about the instructions from the top, passed on by those in the middle, even though everyone can see they make no sense. When they are ordered to bomb an Italian village so that the rubble falls on the road below to block German military traffic, the airmen object. Innocents will die — especially children who come out to see what they think are friendly planes. Surely it would be more logical to bomb the road itself? “I don’t know,” says the hapless major briefing them. “Look, fellows, we have to have some confidence in the people above us.”

There is Colonel Korn,struggling with Yossarian’s failure to drop his bombs the first time he flies over a bridge, necessitating a dangerous second run. What to do about this lapse? Korn decides to give Yossarian a medal, saying: “Act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.”

But, as a Financial Times reader once pointed out, the novel’s truly emblematic management character is Colonel Cathcart, who is intent on impressing his superiors via the soul-breaking efforts of his subordinates. He increases the number of missions his airmen fly. He affects great insight into the organisation but the truth was that “he was someone in the know who was always striving pathetically to find out what was going on”.

via Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is the greatest of all business books

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U.S. Space Exploration Programs Face Potential Reset Under Donald Trump – WSJ

For NASA and its leading contractors, shaken by sharp changes in the wake of the 2008 presidential election, Tuesday’s results could translate into serious belt tightening.

Yet Mr. Trump has stressed the importance of supporting deep-space exploration, and his campaign attracted a cadre of veteran experts with long histories supporting robust space efforts.

One far-reaching set of potential changes that have been discussed for years may now be squarely on the table, according to industry officials and transitions aides: restructuring and shrinking NASA’s web of regional centers.

Such moves could slash thousands of employees and save billions of dollars yearly.

Based on Mr. Trump’s campaign positions, NASA’s climate-change research also may come under the ax, along with aerospace research not directly tied to space endeavors.

During the primaries, Mr. Trump hinted his NASA policies would cut agency spending as part of a broader deficit reduction drive, though such topics generated scant attention. But as the general election campaign heated up in Florida, where space is a fundamental pillar of the economy, the message morphed into extolling the importance of pursuing such programs

via U.S. Space Exploration Programs Face Potential Reset Under Donald Trump – WSJ

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