U.S. Treasury to discuss funding for Iraq militant group

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will discuss counterterrorism financing during his visit to the Middle East, including the funding network of the group fomenting an insurgency in Iraq, Treasury officials said on Friday.

President Barack Obama on Friday said the United States was weighing how to help Iraq counter militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which has launched a rebellion against Iraq's government.

Lew will meet with officials in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Germany next week, where he will also discuss issues of tax evasion and economic growth.

“The recent events in the Middle East do nothing but underscore the importance (of terrorist financing), and so certainly that will be a prime issue that the secretary will be discussing, our joint efforts to undermine any financial networks that support terrorist groups,” a senior Treasury official told reporters ahead of Lew's trip.

Treasury has already sanctioned leaders of ISIL, which was formerly called Al Qaeda in Iraq, and has said it was closely tracking the funding stream of the group. Treasury officials said Saudi Arabia and the UAE see “eye to eye” with the United States on the importance of stopping ISIL's activities.

In Abu Dhabi, Lew will also emphasize the need to keep pressure on Iran while discussions over its nuclear program continue, said the Treasury officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The United States and other world powers are currently in negotiations with Iran on limiting Tehran's controversial nuclear program in exchange for an end to sanctions. The UAE stands to benefit directly from any easing of sanctions that have dampened regional trade.

Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Leslie Adler

Most depressing brain finding ever

Yale law school professor Dan Kahan’s new research “>piece about it in Grist:  “Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.” 

Kahan conducted some ingenious experiments about the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly.  His conclusion, in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.” 

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.   

For years my go-to source for downer studies of how our hard-wiring makes democracy hopeless has been “>The answer, basically, “>Here’s “>Best Columnist award, is the “>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Iraq cutting cooperation with U.S. over Jewish archives

Iraq said it is cutting archaeological cooperation with the United States because the U.S. has not returned Iraq’s Jewish archives.

Iraqi Tourism and Archaeology Minister Liwaa Smaisim is pushing for the return of the archives that were removed from Iraq following the 2003 U.S. Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the French news agency AFP.

Iraq was home to a large Jewish community prior to 1948 before most Iraqi Jews immigrated to Israel.

The archives, which were discovered in the flooded basement of Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, include Torah scrolls, and Jewish law and children’s books.  Seventy percent of the collection consists of Hebrew-language documents and 25 percent is in Arabic. The rest of the documents are written in other languages.

Smaisim, a member of the anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement, told AFP that Iraq will “use all means” to retrieve the archives.

“One of the means of pressure that I used against the American side is I stopped dealing with the American [archaeological] exploration missions because of the case of the Jewish archives and the antiquities that are in the United States,” Smaisim told AFP.

Asked for comment, U.S. Embassy spokesman Michael McClellan told AFP that the archives were in “the temporary custody of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration for conservation, preservation and digitization” and that “all the material will return to Iraq at the conclusion of the project.”

A Year to Remember

I once had a history teacher who was ambivalent about dates. Before a test, an anxious student would invariably ask whether we’d need to remember what year an event happened.

He’d wave off the question, "Just remember the big ones."

Don’t you get the feeling 2003 will be a Big One?

Every generation believes it is witness to momentous times. That desire accounts for people at the fringes who forecast the imminent end of the world — then are forced to readjust their predictions when, say, 2000 came and went like lunchtime.

But it also accounts for the rest of us who smirk when reciting the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times," certain that, as opposed to the Chinese guy who came up with the phrase, ours really are interesting times.

Even those of us who don’t stand asteroid watch sense that the world has been spinning faster since Sept. 11, 2001. "I rise to issue a warning and sound the alarm to you, my dear congregation," Rabbi Jacob Pressman of Temple Beth Am said in his Rosh Hashana sermon this year. After speaking of the ominous clouds gathering over the heads of American Jewry, he revealed that his words, which rang true on Rosh Hashana 2002, were first spoken by his rabbi on the first day of Rosh Hashana — 1938.

Indeed, 2003 looks like it could be, if not, heaven forbid, 1939, then a date up there with the big ones. Consider:

The Second Gulf War — It’s not if, it’s when.

President Bush and his advisers see the fall of Saddam Hussein as the key to democratization throughout the Mideast — the domino effect, with us pushing the first tile. Others say the president’s motivation is cheap oil. And Bush himself says it’s because Saddam is a weapon of mass destruction waiting to happen. All three motivations are no doubt at work, though in what proportion who can say.

War will bring havoc, but how much and to whom no one can predict. Remember Gulf War syndrome? The burning oil fields? The Scuds? The ineffectual Patriot missile batteries? The chaotic and ill-informed end, when we deserted Saddam’s opposition to face his wrath? We will likely not face those catastrophes again, but there will be new and unpredicted ones.

Israel — This week the Quartet pushed forward a Mideast peace plan that outlines in relative detail the steps Israel and the Palestinians must take to disengage their forces. The plan will not go into effect until after Israel’s elections on Jan. 28, and even then it is predicated on the Palestinians adhering to a cease-fire and Israel suspending the growth of its settlements. The former is something the various Palestinian factions have been unwilling to do; the latter something the Israelis went on doing through every government, including Ehud Barak’s.

During the Second Gulf War, Israel will face a far greater threat than will the United States. After the Second Gulf War, America, having put its soldiers on the line in eradicating one of Israel’s greatest enemies, might come calling to cash in big chits. Until then, there is little sign that the terror and retaliation will cease.

The Economy — The lean times are upon us with a vengeance. The California budget deficit of $34.8 billion (and ticking) will necessitate across-the-board cuts in social services. Combine these with a failing health-care system, increased public expenditures on security needs and lower charitable giving due to a slack economy, and the scope of the crisis seems historic.

The Other Shoe — This is the unpredictable lurking behind the unknowables. To hear many of our own elected officials tell it, another major terror attack is inevitable. I’m still not certain what they expect us to do with that information, other than remember not to vote them out of office afterward for not warning us — should they or we be around for the afterward.

Graded on a curve, of course, we have much less reason for fear and foreboding than most people in the world, or, for that matter, than many people in our city. We are not an Iraqi mother waiting for the bombs to fall, an African teenager dying of AIDS, an Israeli father maimed by a suicide attack or an Angeleno sleeping on the streets these winter nights.

Many of us would do well to focus more on these people’s worries than our own, not just to improve our perspective but to improve our world. If we can’t worry any less, let’s give more — there’s one response to a world that feels slated to go awry. Few of us can jump on the levers of power. Most of us have to choose in much, much smaller ways whether or not to be one of the bright spots in a dark year. History may prove that 2003 was America’s darkest hour, or its brightest.

As essayist Louis Menand reminds us, never "worry about what future historians will think of us: they’ll despise us no matter what. It’s what we think of us that we need to be concerned with."

Happy New Year.