Friday, July 28, 2006

Charles Krauthammer: Let Israel Win the War

July 28, 2006
The Washington Post
Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- What other country, when attacked in an unprovoked aggression across a recognized international frontier, is then put on a countdown clock by the world, given a limited time window in which to fight back, regardless of whether it has restored its own security?

What other country sustains 1,500 indiscriminate rocket attacks into its cities -- every one designed to kill, maim and terrorize civilians -- and is then vilified by the world when it tries to destroy the enemy's infrastructure and strongholds with precision-guided munitions that sometimes have the unintended but unavoidable consequence of collateral civilian death and suffering?

Hearing the world pass judgment on the Israel-Hezbollah war as it unfolds is to live in an Orwellian moral universe. With a few significant exceptions (the leadership of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and a very few others), the world -- governments, the media, U.N. bureaucrats -- has completely lost its moral bearings.

The word that obviates all thinking and magically inverts victim into aggressor is "disproportionate," as in the universally decried "disproportionate Israeli response."

When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did not respond with a parallel "proportionate" attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to a cinder, and turned the Japanese home islands to rubble and ruin. Disproportionate? No. When one is wantonly attacked by an aggressor, one has every right -- legal and moral -- to carry the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled that it cannot threaten one's security again. That's what it took with Japan.

Britain was never invaded by Germany in World War II. Did it respond to the blitz and V-1 and V-2 rockets with "proportionate" aerial bombardment of Germany? Of course not. Churchill orchestrated the greatest land invasion in history that flattened and utterly destroyed Germany, killing untold innocent German women and children in the process.

The perversity of today's international outcry lies in the fact that there is indeed a disproportion in this war, a radical moral asymmetry between Hezbollah and Israel: Hezbollah is deliberately trying to create civilian casualties on both sides while Israel is deliberately trying to minimize civilian casualties, also on both sides.

In perhaps the most blatant terror campaign from the air since the London blitz, Hezbollah is raining rockets on Israeli cities and villages. These rockets are packed with ball bearings that can penetrate automobiles and shred human flesh. They are meant to kill and maim. And they do.

But it is a dual campaign. Israeli innocents must die in order for Israel to be terrorized. But Lebanese innocents must also die in order for Israel to be demonized, which is why Hezbollah hides its fighters, its rockets, its launchers, its entire infrastructure among civilians. Creating human shields is a war crime. It is also a Hezbollah specialty.

On Wednesday, CNN cameras showed destruction in Tyre. What does Israel have against Tyre and its inhabitants? Nothing. But the long-range Hezbollah rockets that have been raining terror on Haifa are based in Tyre. What is Israel to do? Leave untouched the launch sites that are deliberately placed in built-up areas?

Had Israel wanted to destroy Lebanese civilian infrastructure, it would have turned out the lights in Beirut in the first hour of the war, destroying the billion-dollar power grid and setting back Lebanon 20 years. It did not do that. Instead, it attacked dual-use infrastructure -- bridges, roads, airport runways -- and blockaded Lebanon's ports to prevent the reinforcement and resupply of Hezbollah. Ten-thousand Katyusha rockets are enough. Israel was not going to allow Hezbollah 10,000 more.

Israel's response to Hezbollah has been to use the most precise weaponry and targeting it can. It has no interest, no desire to kill Lebanese civilians. Does anyone imagine that it could not have leveled south Lebanon, to say nothing of Beirut? Instead, in the bitter fight against Hezbollah in south Lebanon, it has repeatedly dropped leaflets, issued warnings, sent messages by radio and even phone text to Lebanese villagers to evacuate so that they would not be harmed.

Israel knows that these leaflets and warnings give the Hezbollah fighters time to escape and regroup. The advance notification as to where the next attack is coming has allowed Hezbollah to set up elaborate ambushes. The result? Unexpectedly high Israeli infantry casualties. Moral scrupulousness paid in blood. Israeli soldiers die so that Lebanese civilians will not, and who does the international community condemn for disregarding civilian life?

Debbie Schlussel: What I Saw in Dearbornistan

This very informative piece is accompanied by a lot of nice color pictures taken at a rally featuring plenty of pleasantries from adherents to the "religion of peace".

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thomas Sowell: More Amnesty Fraud
Thursday, July 27, 2006

Just when it looked like the Senate Republicans had finally gotten the message that the American people in general, and their own supporters in particular, are outraged over amnesty for illegal aliens, some Republican Senators have come up with yet another disguise for amnesty -- and gotten bipartisan support, including Ted Kennedy and John McCain.

Under this new plan, its advocates claim, illegal immigrants would "have to leave the country" and re-apply to come back in legally and get on a path toward citizenship. It sounds good but on closer examination it turns out to be a fraud.

How long would the illegal immigrants have to leave the country? According to the Senate bill they "may exit the United States and immediately re-enter." In other words, do a U-turn and come right back. How is that for "tough" border control?

Nobody else gets into the United States that easily. You can say "tough" all you want and still be a wimp. Or a politician.

How long do the Senate Republicans think they can keep insulting the public's intelligence, with an election just a few months away?

Every gesture that the Senate has made toward controlling the border is one that they have backed into under pressure from an outraged public. The Senators' whole focus has been on what they could do for the illegal aliens, in order to win Hispanic votes -- and how they could camouflage it in order not to lose other votes.

Businesses that want cheap labor are also in favor of amnesty, under whatever name. So are citizen-of-the-world intellectuals, for whom national borders are just unfortunate relics of the past and illegal aliens are just like everyone else except for not having legal documents.

Nobody is just like everyone else, individually or collectively. Second-generation immigrants are not even just like their parents. Their crime rates are far higher than those of their parents who came here to work and who can appreciate the difference between what they had in Mexico and what they have here.

The second generation does not compare their lives here with how people live in Mexico. They compare their lives with the lives of other Americans -- and there are all sorts of people around to tell them that the difference is due to injustices that they suffer.

Some of the more doctrinaire free trade advocates see the free movement of people across national borders as being just like the free movement of goods. But, when you buy a Toyota, it doesn't issue demands that our automobile laws be in Japanese and it doesn't have little Toyotas that add to the crime rate or to the burdens of our school system.

Moreover, when a Toyota needs repair, it doesn't go to an emergency room and expect the taxpayers to pay for parts and labor.

Whoever buys a Toyota is expected to pay the full price of the car and its upkeep.

But employers of illegal immigrants get the benefit of cheap labor and leave it to the taxpayers to cover the costs of their health care, imprisonment and everything else.

Our schools pay the price not only in money but also in lower educational quality when children with a limited knowledge of English and a limited commitment to learning impede the education of other children.

People who argue about immigration in the abstract ignore the fact that there is no such thing as an immigrant in the abstract. Immigrants from some countries have twice the education of immigrants from other countries and the differences between how many commit crimes can be some multiple between one group and another.

The most fundamental question is: What is to decide how many immigrants from what countries are to be admitted to the United States? The laws of this country or the fait accomplis of illegal aliens?

Are the citizens of this country to be people committed to this country or people who go back and forth, who expect American culture to adjust to them instead of vice versa, and who are kept separate and disaffected by their leaders and by the multicultural cult? We already have too many Americans with no real commitment to this country and no willingness to defend it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rita Katz and Josh Devon: Osama's Olive Branch to Shi'ites

The Boston Globe
July 26, 2006

After the release of Osama bin Laden's latest audio message, some media reports indicated that bin Laden was calling for renewed attacks against the Shi'ite s of Iraq. However, a careful analysis of bin Laden's message demonstrates that the Al Qaeda leader is instead toning down Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi's venomous rhetoric toward the Shi'ites .

Prior to Zarqawi's rise to prominence as head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the leadership and ideologues used a shared enmity toward the West as a way of uniting disparate jihadists. The Shi'ite s were an issue to address only after repelling the West from the lands of Islam.

Zarqawi, however, viewed the jihad in Iraq and elsewhere primarily as a war against the Shi'ite s and attacked them mercilessly with both language and weapons. In a letter discovered in Iraq in February 2004, Zarqawi called the Shi'ite s ``the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom." Declaring war on the Shi'ite s in an audio message released on Sept. 14, 2005, Zarqawi dictated that Al Qaeda ``has decided to launch a comprehensive war on the Shi'ites all over Iraq, wherever and whenever they are found." In his last audio message published on June 1, Zarqawi claimed, ``the main purpose of the Shi'ite faith was to destroy Islam," and argued that ``fighting them is also a must according to the Kitaab [the Koran] and the Sunnah" [tradition]. Zarqawi accused the Iranians of conspiring with the Americans to harm the position of Sunnis in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, where, Zarqawi argued, ``the Shi'ites are being represented by Hezbollah where they received their orders from Iran, the axis of evil and the crib of the expected Mahdi, the Anti-Christ."

While many jihadists rallied to Zarqawi's cause against the Shi'ite s , some of the Al Qaeda leadership remained skeptical of this tactic. In his intercepted letter to Zarqawi from July 2005, Zawahiri, who shares a hatred of the Shi'ite s with Zarqawi, attacked Zarqawi's strategy of targeting the Shi'ite s , asking, ``And is the opening of another front now in addition to the front against the Americans and the government a wise decision? Or does this conflict with the Shi'ite s lift the burden from the Americans by diverting the mujahideen to the Shi'ite s , while the Americans continue to control matters from afar? And if the attacks on Shi'ite leaders were necessary to put a stop to their plans, then why were there attacks on ordinary Shi'ite s ? Won't this lead to reinforcing false ideas in their minds, even as it is incumbent on us to preach the call of Islam to them and explain and communicate to guide them to the truth?"

In what may be an effort to refocus Al Qaeda in Iraq on the Americans, Osama bin Laden called the Shi'ite s ``cousins" in his most recent audio message released July 1, nearly three weeks after Zarqawi's death. Substantially moderating Al Qaeda's tone toward the Shi'ite s , bin Laden's language was a marked departure from Zarqawi's customary derogatory epithets. In the message, bin Laden directs Al Qaeda's attention on the Americans and their collaborators, relieving the general Shi'ite population of direct culpability.

Speaking directly to the mujahideen in Iraq, bin Laden said, ``I tell you that the first step needed to stabilize Iraq is to get the Crusaders' armies out by fighting, then to punish the parties' leaders . . . who lied to the people and told them that the way to get the Crusaders out is to participate in the political process." Specifically addressing Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, Zarqawi's successor in Iraq, bin Laden reiterated, ``I also advise him to concentrate his fighting on the Americans, as well as their allies and supporters, in their war against Islamic people in Iraq."

While ultimately bin Laden's beliefs likely afford no room for Shi'ite Islam, the terrorist leader recognizes that the Shi'ite s are a far weaker foe than the Americans and that the mujahideen must first concentrate on expelling America from Iraq. Attacking the Shi'ite s and the Americans simultaneously necessitates that the mujahideen fight two wars at the same time. By recasting the role of the Shi'ite s in Iraq, even if only temporarily, bin Laden can concentrate the jihad on the Americans more effectively. The Americans, devoid of their Shi'ite allies, may find the occupation of Iraq even more intractable.

Rita Katz and Josh Devon are co-founders of the SITE Institute, an international terrorist-investigation and information group.

Bernard Haykel: The Enemy of My Enemy Is Still My Enemy

Op-Ed Contributor
The New York Times
July 26, 2006

With Israel at war with Hezbollah, where, you might wonder, is Al Qaeda? From all appearances on the Web sites frequented by its sympathizers, which I frequently monitor, Al Qaeda is sitting, unhappily and uneasily, on the sidelines, watching a movement antithetical to its philosophy steal its thunder. That might sound like good news. But it is more likely an ominous sign.

Al Qaeda’s Sunni ideology regards Shiites as heretics and profoundly distrusts Shiite groups like Hezbollah. It was Al Qaeda that is reported to have given Sunni extremists in Iraq the green light to attack Shiite civilians and holy sites. A Qaeda recruiter I met in Yemen described the Shiites as “dogs and a thorn in the throat of Islam from the beginning of time.”

But now Hezbollah has taken the lead on the most incendiary issue for jihadis of all stripes: the fight against Israel.

Many Sunnis are therefore rallying to Hezbollah’s side, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan. The Saudi cleric Salman al-Awda has defied his government’s anti-Hezbollah position, writing on his Web site that “this is not the time to express our differences with the Shiites because we are all confronted by our greater enemy, the criminal Jews and Zionists.”

For Al Qaeda, it is a time of panic. The group’s Web sites are abuzz with messages and questions about how to respond to Hezbollah’s success. One sympathizer asks whether, even knowing that the Shiites are traitors and the accomplices of the infidel Americans in Iraq, it is permissible to say a prayer for Hezbollah. He is told to curse Hezbollah along with Islam’s other enemies.

Several of Al Qaeda’s ideologues have issued official statements explaining Hezbollah’s actions and telling followers how to respond to them. The gist of their argument is that the Shiites are conspiring to destroy Islam and to resuscitate Persian imperial rule over the Middle East and ultimately the world. The ideologues label this effort the “Sassanian-Safavid conspiracy,” in reference to the Sassanians, a pre-Islamic Iranian dynasty, and to the Safavids, a Shiite dynasty that ruled Iran and parts of Iraq from 1501 till 1736.

They go on to argue that thanks to the United States (the leader of the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy), Iraq has been handed over to the Shiites, who are now wantonly massacring the country’s Sunnis. Syria is already led by a Shiite heretic, President Bashar al-Assad, whose policies harm the country’s Sunni majority.

Hezbollah, according to these analyses, seeks to dupe ordinary Muslims into believing that the Shiites are defending Islam’s holiest cause, Palestine, in order to cover for the wholesale Shiite alliance with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ultimately, this theory goes, the Shiites will fail in their efforts because the Israelis and Americans will destroy them once their role in the broader Zionist-Crusader conspiracy is accomplished. And then God will assure the success of the Sunni Muslims and the defeat of the Zionists and Crusaders.

In the meantime, no Muslim should be fooled by Hezbollah, whose members have never fought the infidel on any of the real battlefronts, like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya or Kashmir. The proper attitude for Muslims to adopt is to dissociate themselves completely from the Shiites.

This analysis — conspiratorial, bizarre and uncompelling, except to the most diehard radicals — signals an important defeat for Al Qaeda’s public relations campaign. The truth is that Al Qaeda has met a formidable challenge in Hezbollah and its charismatic leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who have made canny choices that appeal to Al Qaeda’s Sunni followers. Al Qaeda’s improbable conspiracy theory does little to counter these advantages.

First, although Sheik Nasrallah wears the black turban and carries the title of “sayyid,” both of which identify him as a Shiite descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, he preaches a nonsectarian ideology and does not highlight his group’s Shiite identity. Hezbollah has even established an effective alliance with Hamas, a Sunni and Muslim Brotherhood organization.

Second, Hezbollah’s statements focus on the politics of resistance to occupation and invoke shared Islamic principles about the right to self-defense. Sheik Nasrallah is extremely careful to hew closely to the dictates of Islamic law in his military attacks. These include such principles as advance notice, discrimination in selecting targets and proportionality.

Finally, only Hezbollah has effectively defeated Israel (in Lebanon in 2000) and is now taking it on again, hitting Haifa and other places with large numbers of rockets — a feat that no Arab or Muslim power has accomplished since Israel’s founding in 1948.

These are already serious selling points. And Hezbollah will score a major propaganda victory in the Muslim world if it simply remains standing in Lebanon after the present bout of warfare is over and maintains the relationships it is forging with Hamas and other Sunni Islamist organizations.

What will such a victory mean? Perhaps Hezbollah’s ascendancy among Sunnis will make it possible for Shiites and Sunnis to stop the bloodletting in Iraq — and to focus instead on their “real” enemies, namely the United States and Israel. Rumblings against Israeli actions in Lebanon from both Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq already suggest such an outcome.

That may be good news for Iraqis, but it marks a dangerous turn for the West. And there are darker implications still. Al Qaeda, after all, is unlikely to take a loss of status lying down. Indeed, the rise of Hezbollah makes it all the more likely that Al Qaeda will soon seek to reassert itself through increased attacks on Shiites in Iraq and on Westerners all over the world — whatever it needs to do in order to regain the title of true defender of Islam.

Bernard Haykel, an associate professor of Islamic Studies at New York University, is the author of “Revival and Reform in Islam.”

Christopher Hitchens: The Truth about the Iraqi-Niger "yellowcake" nexus

Case Closed

By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Tuesday, July 25, 2006, at 12:46 PM ET

Now that Joseph and Valerie Wilson's fantasies of having been persecuted by high officials in the administration have been so thoroughly dispelled by Robert Novak (and now that it seems the prosecutor has determined that there was no breach of the relevant laws to begin with), we may return to the more important original question. Was there good reason to suppose that Iraqi envoys visited Niger in search of "yellowcake" uranium ore?

In a series of columns, I have argued that the answer to this is "yes," and that British intelligence was right to inform Washington to that effect. Iraq—despite having yellowcake of its own—had bought the material from Niger as early as 1981 and had not at that time informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (weapons inspectors effectively stopped Iraq's domestic yellowcake production after 1991). On Oct. 31, 1998, Iraq announced the end of its cooperation with the U.N. inspectors, who were effectively barred from the country. A few days later, the U.N. Security Council condemned this move in Resolution 1205, dated Nov. 5, 1998. The following month, the Clinton administration ordered selective strikes in and around Baghdad. A few weeks after that—on Feb. 8, 1999, to be precise—an Iraqi delegation visited Niger. It was headed by the improbable figure of Saddam Hussein's ambassador to the Vatican.
But the improbability becomes more intelligible when it is understood that this diplomat, Wissam al-Zahawie by name, was a very experienced Iraqi envoy for nuclear-related matters.

I shall quote here, with his permission, from a letter I have received from Ambassador Rolf Ekeus. Ambassador Ekeus, currently high commissioner for national minority questions for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, is a founder of the renowned Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, has been Sweden's envoy both to the United Nations and the United States, and won great acclaim for his effective defanging of Iraq when he was the first chairman of UNSCOM after the first Gulf War in 1992. (When it was proposed 10 years later that the U.N. inspectors be sent back to Iraq, Kofi Annan actually renominated Ekeus for the job but was overruled by France and Russia, who wanted the more conciliatory Hans Blix.) Ekeus writes to me as follows, having known Zahawie in a professional capacity and having read the posting, apparently from him, in Slate's "Fray":

One of my colleagues remembers Zahawie as Iraq's delegate to the IAEA General Conference during the years 1982-84. One item on the agenda was the diplomatic and political fall-out of Israel's destruction of the Osirak reactor (a centerpiece of Iraq's nuclear weapons ambitions). Zahawie in his response [to Slate] appears to confirm that he was Iraq's delegate, though not the Permanent delegate, to the IAEA (the General Conference) and therefore clearly not foreign to the nuclear issues, especially as he was the under-secretary of the foreign ministry selected by Baghdad to represent Iraq on the most sensitive issue, the question of Iraq's nuclear weapons ambitions. His participation as leader of the Iraqi delegation to the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference merely confirms his standing as Iraq's top negotiator on nuclear weapons issues.

He confirms that he was Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, a not unimportant position given that all Iraq's [other] embassies in the West lacked senior or ambassadorial leadership and that all Western embassies in Iraq were closed. His modesty in this case is puzzling if you don't take into account that a resident ambassador in Rome was ideally placed to undertake discreet and sensitive missions, especially as he was fully plugged into the intricacies of nuclear-weapons diplomacy.

Zahawie furthermore confirms his trip to Niger. The question remains, why Iraq's top man on nuclear weapons diplomacy and negotiations would travel to Niger: with all respect, not the dream-place for a connoisseur of Mozart and Italian bel canto, though no longer of Wagner.
(Ambassador Ekeus' allusion in that last sentence is to Zahawie's affecting claim that he was posted to Rome in virtual semiretirement and mainly for the music. This is as credible as his claim, made to Hassan Fattah—then of Time magazine—that when he visited Niger he did not know that it exported yellowcake—which is famously just about the only thing that it does export.)

Let me now introduce a second corroborative witness, whose acknowledged expertise in the field is hardly less than that of Ekeus. Thérèse Delpech is the director for strategic studies at the French Atomic Energy Commission and also a senior research fellow at CERI, the Center for International Studies and Research, at Sciences-Po, the national political-science university in Paris. Until fairly recently, she was also a board member of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission chaired by Hans Blix. She has since resigned from this body. According to a letter from her to me, at a meeting of the WMDC in Cairo in February 2005, Wissam Zahawie attended one closed session of the commission. Delpech:

asked the Chair [Blix] to get him out of the room in the following ten minutes if he wanted me to stay. This was done in writing (a note). Since this was not done, I left the room myself. The intervention of another member was then necessary to have him out at the coffee break. In my letter of resignation, I have indicated to Hans Blix that this incident was one of the three reasons for my resignation.

When I asked her on the telephone why she reacted so strongly to Zahawie's presence, Delpech told me that she had been the adviser to the French envoy to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty "extension conference" at the United Nations in New York in 1995 and had recognized Saddam's ambassador to the Vatican. She commented dryly that "the French ambassador to the Holy See does not go on official visits to West Africa." When I told her of Zahawie's claim that he didn't know Niger made and exported uranium yellowcake and described this claim as "unlikely to be true," she responded that " 'unlikely to be true' is a very British understatement."

To summarize, then: In February 1999 one of Saddam Hussein's chief nuclear goons paid a visit to Niger, but his identity was not noticed by Joseph Wilson, nor emphasized in his "report" to the CIA, nor mentioned at all in his later memoir. British intelligence picked up the news of the Zahawie visit from French and Italian sources and passed it on to Washington. Zahawie's denials of any background or knowledge, in respect of nuclear matters, are plainly laughable based on his past record, and he is still taken seriously enough as an expert on such matters to be invited (as part of a Jordanian delegation) to Hans Blix's commission on WMD. Two very senior and experienced diplomats in the field of WMDs and disarmament, both of them from countries by no means aligned with the Bush administration, have been kind enough to share with me their disquiet at his activities. What responsible American administration could possibly have viewed any of this with indifference?

The subsequent mysteriously forged documents claiming evidence of an actual deal made between Zahawie and Niger were circulated well after the first British report (and may have been intended to discredit it) and have been deemed irrelevant by two independent inquiries in London. The original British report carefully said that Saddam had "sought" uranium, not that he had acquired it. The possible significance of a later return visit—this time by a minister from Niger to Baghdad in 2001—has not as yet been clarified by the work of the Iraq Survey Group.

This means that both pillars of the biggest scandal-mongering effort yet mounted by the "anti-war" movement—the twin allegations of a false story exposed by Wilson and then of a state-run vendetta undertaken against him and the lady wife who dispatched him on the mission—are in irretrievable ruins. The truth is the exact polar opposite. The original Niger connection was both authentic and important, and Wilson's utter failure to grasp it or even examine it was not enough to make Karl Rove even turn over in bed. All the work of the supposed "outing" was inadvertently performed by Wilson's admirer Robert Novak. Of course, one defends the Bush administration at one's own peril. Thanks largely to Stephen Hadley, assistant to the president for national security affairs, our incompetent and divided government grew so nervous as to disown the words that appeared in the 2003 State of the Union address. But the facts are still the facts, and it is high time that they received one-millionth of the attention that the "Plamegate" farce has garnered.

Related in Slate

Back in 2004, Christopher Hitchens dismissed Joseph and Valerie Wilson's delusions of persecution as lame; Robert Novak finally corroborates Hitchens' stance here. Hitchens explains why Joseph Wilson isn't a martyr—just clueless. An alleged Wissam al-Zahawie takes to the Fray to defend himself; Hitchens responds here. Need convincing that the Niger/Iraq yellowcake connection deservers "one-millionth of the attention that the 'Plamegate' farce has garnered"? Be gently persuaded here and here.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent book is Thomas Jefferson: Author of America

Daniel Pipes: Arabs Disavow Hezbollah

Daniel Pipes
July 26, 2006

The current round of hostilities between Israel and its enemies differs from prior ones in that it’s not an Arab-Israeli war, but one that pits Iran and its Islamist proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah, against Israel.

This points, first, to the increasing power of radical Islam. When Israeli forces last confronted on this scale a terrorist group in Lebanon in 1982, it fought the Palestine Liberation Organization, a nationalist-leftist organization backed by the Soviet Union and the Arab states. Now, Hizbullah seeks to apply Islamic law and to eliminate Israel through jihad, with the Islamic Republic of Iran looming in the background, feverishly building nuclear weapons.

Non-Islamist Arabs and Muslims find themselves sidelined. Fear of Islamist advances – whether subversion in their own countries or aggression from Tehran – finds them facing roughly the same demons as does Israel. As a result, their reflexive anti-Zionist response has been held in check. However fleetingly, what the Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh calls “an anti-Hezbollah coalition,” one implicitly favorable to Israel, has come into existence.

It began on July 13 with a startling Saudi statement condemning “rash adventures” that created “a gravely dangerous situation.” Revealingly, Riyadh complained about Arab countries being exposed to destruction “with those countries having no say.” The kingdom concluded that “these elements alone bear the full responsibility of these irresponsible acts and should alone shoulder the burden of ending the crisis they have created.” George W. Bush’s spokesman, Tony Snow, a day later described the president as “pleased” by the statement.

On July 15, the Saudis and several other Arab states at an emergency Arab League meeting condemned Hizbullah by name for its “unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts.” On July 17, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned against “adventures that do not serve Arab interests.”

A number of commentators began to take up the same argument, most notably Ahmed Al-Jarallah, editor-in-chief of Kuwait’s Arab Times, author of one of the most remarkable sentences ever published in an Arab newspaper: “The operations of Israel in Gaza and Lebanon are in the interest of people of Arab countries and the international community.” Interviewed on Dream2 television, Khaled Salah, an Egyptian journalist, condemned Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbullah: “Arab blood and the blood of Lebanese children is much more precious than raising [Hizbullah’s] yellow flags and pictures of [Iran’s Supreme Leader] Khamene’i.”

A leading Wahhabi figure in Saudi Arabia even declared it unlawful for Sunni Muslims to support, supplicate for, or join Hizbullah. No major Arab oil-exporting state appears to have any intention to withhold its oil or gas exports out of solidarity with Hizbullah.

Many Lebanese expressed satisfaction that the arrogant and reckless Hizbullah organization was under assault. One Lebanese politician privately confided to Michael Young of Beirut’s Daily Star that “Israel must not stop now … for things to get better in Lebanon, Nasrallah must be weakened further.” The prime minister, Fuad Saniora, was quoted complaining about Hizbullah having become “a state within a state.” A BBC report quoted a resident of the Lebanese Christian town of Bikfaya estimating that 95 percent of the town’s population is furious at Hizbullah.

The Palestinian Legislative Council expressed its dismay at these muted Arab reactions, while a women’s group burned flags of Arab countries on Gaza’s streets. Hassan Nasrallah complained that “Some Arabs encouraged Israel to continue fighting” and blamed them for extending the war’s duration.

Surveying this opinion, Youssef Ibrahim wrote in his New York Sun column of an “intifada” against the “little turbaned, bearded men” and a resounding “no” to Hizbullah’s effort to start an all-out war with Israel. He concluded that “Israel is finding, to its surprise, that a vast, not-so-silent majority of Arabs agrees that enough is enough.”

One hopes that Ibrahim is right, but I am cautious. First, Hizbullah still enjoys wide support. Second, these criticisms could well be abandoned as popular anger at Israel mounts or the crisis passes. Finally, as Michael Rubin notes in the Wall Street Journal, coolness toward Hizbullah does not imply acceptance of Israel: “There is no change of heart in Riyadh, Cairo or Kuwait.” Specifically, Saudi princes still fund Islamist terrorism.

Arab disavowal of Hizbullah represents not a platform on which to build, only a welcome wisp of reality in an era of irrationality.

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Mr. Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).

P. David Hornik: Apocalypse Soon

P. David Hornik
July 26, 2006

The most striking image to emerge so far from the Israel-Hizbullah war is that of missiles (to use the term generically) hitting Haifa. Small Israeli cities—particularly Kiryat Shemona a few decades ago, Sderot and Ashkelon more recently—have been hit before by missiles fired by terrorist organizations. Large Israeli cities—Tel Aviv and Haifa—have been hit before, in the Gulf War, by missiles fired by a state. But this marks the first time a large Israeli city has been hit by missiles fired by a terrorist organization.

Hizbullah, as the more pessimistic analyses have emphasized, has been able to keep firing the missiles at Haifa and smaller communities despite two weeks of Israeli bombardment of its positions. In other words, a terrorist fighting force estimated at about eight thousand has been able to keep about a million citizens imperiled, with many living in shelters or fleeing southward, and a country seriously hampered.

Israel, at least, has more realistically accepted the need for ground forays into Lebanon and is taking major Hizbullah strongholds there. But whatever the eventual outcome of the war, both Israeli and U.S. intelligence agree that the extent of Hizbullah’s entrenchment in Lebanon—the range and sophistication of its missiles, the depth and density of its underground networks, its surveillance and detection capabilities—went well beyond assessments.

The dangers posed by terror groups with missiles are of course hardly confined to Israel. (by subscription), in a recent dossier on North Korean ruler Kim Jong-Il, cites a four-year study by the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis in Charleston, South Carolina that concluded:

Most important of our observations is that the United States has no effective defense against ballistic missile attack—and absolutely none against terrorists who might purchase short-range ballistic missiles and launch them from ships in international water off our coasts at cities where 75 percent of Americans live.

The article also notes a CIA assessment that “Pyongyang has between 12 and 20 atomic bombs, with the likelihood that North Korea has already designed missile warheads.” Iran’s race toward nuclearization is, of course, in the public eye.

The Israeli case so far can be seen as a microcosm of the imminent dangers and of a Western country’s difficulties in coping with them. Israel’s fecklessness in allowing Hizbullah’s buildup in the six years since Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000 is now clear to all. So is the ability of a small terrorist force backed by state sponsors to build up strategically menacing capabilities. But what emerges most starkly is the need for threatened democracies to take a proactive, offensive approach instead of waiting for situations where their armies are humiliated and their citizens come under mass attack.

The Bush administration’s recent apparent shift to a European appeasement-mode in dealing with Iran has upset most clear-headed commentators. If the costliness of the Iraq involvement is what has discouraged Bush from a more assertive posture, then conservative critics of that war’s overambitious nature are reinforced. All that is clear is that the more weeks and months Teheran is handed to keep augmenting its capabilities, the more difficult and dangerous it will become to strike them if that is the plan at all.

The best reminder of the gravity of the situation is those missiles now hitting Haifa—in other words, a reality that is a WMD-warhead away from catastrophe. Just as the suicide bombings that started to plague Israel in the 1990s eventually spread to much of the world, so will the current missile-terror be a harbinger unless stopped in its tracks. For the U.S. administration, that means allowing Israel to win the current war without lapsing into European “cease-fire” mode, and, even more critically, confronting Teheran and Pyongyang with something more convincing than multiparty talks and the Security Council.

Whether or not either of those regimes would itself fire its nukes, a world in which they can proliferate them to terror groups is one at the brink of apocalypse.

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P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Jerusalem. He can be reached at

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Packs Full of Memories

By Eric Neel
Page 2

I believe baseball cards have magical powers.

That is why, in the summer of 1988, I arranged my Dodgers cards like players on a baseball diamond on the floor of my friend Michael's Berkeley apartment. And I challenged him to do the same with his beloved Giants cards. Just moments before our teams faced off on TV, we would set them out -- starters on the hardwood field, reserves side-by-side in an imaginary dugout -- and sit cross-legged beside them. (And I should say at this point, we were grown men at the time; me in my 20s, Michael in his 30s.)

The cards were voodoo warriors to us, every bit as bad-ass as Chewbacca's holographic chess players. We knew, laid out on the floor, with their energy unleashed and with each of us passing his hands over them like some proud Ouija wizard, that they could make a difference, make all the difference, in the outcome of the game.

I used to put hexes on Michael's Will Clark. He once threatened to tear my Orel Hershiser in half. I mocked him for Kevin Mitchell's sleepy look. He was all over me because Alfredo Griffin's 1988 card actually was shot when Griffin was still with the A's. We thumbed the cards like rosaries. We shuffled pinch-hitters and relievers in and out. We were at war. We were compadres.

When Michael died suddenly in a car accident five years later, it wasn't the eulogies at his funeral, the old photographs or the stories and memories of friends that made it possible to wrap my mind around him being gone. It was a card. Back at Michael's house after the services, I stood in his den and looked at the CDs and books on his shelves, and then I saw it, the Will Clark, perched on the shelf in front of his Coltrane discs, sitting there like some sacred object on an altar. Like Michael, Clark looked like he was jawing at me, like he was having a last laugh, like he was giving me the business. And like me, Clark looked incredulous, too, like he couldn't believe he and I were the only ones left, like this was madness.

I took the little bastard down off the shelf and put him on the floor, in front of the TV, on the first base side. And then I sat down cross-legged beside him. Just sat there. Missing Michael. Feeling good and bad at once. Knowing everything was different. Feeling somehow, just for a moment, as if it were all the same.

Even when you and I were kids, first collecting, baseball cards were about memories. You held Mike Schmidt's card in your hand and you pictured the flight of his last long home run into the seats in left at the Vet. You saw in the close-up shot of Nolan Ryan the steely eyes you'd gotten a glimpse of on TV weeks before, peeking out from under his cap as he racked up another double-digit strikeout afternoon.

Over time, as we got older, the cards -- the collecting, the sorting, the trading, the hours spent in their company and in the company of friends who felt their magic, too -- became memories themselves.

That's what this piece, this collection of pieces, is about. It's about the way some special card opens a door to a particular place and time. It's about the way a card, for whatever reason, stays with you, lingers in the imagination, does some kind of magic.

I asked my colleagues at Page 2 to tell me about a card like that in their lives. Here's what they had to say:


I was the oldest child, and my dad wasn't a sports fan. Nobody in my extended family was. So my baseball card addiction wasn't inherited, nor was it influenced by brothers or cousins.

It all started because I loved playing baseball and listening to St. Louis Cardinals games, which were brought to life via the radio in the bedroom I shared with my destined-to-become-a-famous-chef brother. In Oklahoma City, the voice and conscience of the Cardinals, Harry Caray, came in as loudly and clearly on KMOX out of St. Louis as my little brother telling my mother to make me turn down my bloomin' radio.

As fate would have it, the first card on top of the first pack I ever bought, at the neighborhood 7-Eleven in 1960, was … a St. Louis Cardinal! Well, at least Gino Cimoli had been a Cardinal the previous year. In fact, Gino was a Cardinal for only the '59 season, batting .279 with eight homers and 72 RBI for a pretty lousy 71-83 team.

But all I saw was that Cardinals logo on his chest -- those cartoonish redbirds perched on either end of a bat -- and I was hooked. I began buying more and more baseball cards just for the rush of tearing off the wrapper and slowly revealing each card to see if I got another Cardinal. Stan Musial! Curt Flood! Ken Boyer! Bob Gibson! Bill White!

This became my private little Cardinal lotto game. I somehow thought if a Cardinal popped up in the pack I bought that day, my Little League team would win that evening and my Cardinals would win that night. So after I opened my cards, I was pretty much done with them. Never traded a single one. I just took them home -- including the Mantles and the Koufaxes -- and tossed them in this giant box that would barely slide under the bunk bed.

After that first summer, I tired of playing Cardinal lotto -- but I kept buying baseball cards for several more years. Only now do I realize why.

What I actually got hooked on was the bubble gum. Yes, I lived to smell those flat sticks of pink gum that were almost as wide and as thin as the cards themselves. Ah, that fine white sugar coating that came off like fairy dust on a Musial or a Gibson.

Baseball card gum gave you the greatest initial burst of flavor of anything you could put in your mouth, from Reese's to Nestle's. The problem was, that flavor lasted about 45 seconds before baseball card gum began to taste like asparagus. So you were constantly chucking barely chewed gum in favor of a brand new fairy-dusted stick.

Only now do I realize this was a plot to make America's kids buy more cards. In the end, I must have had 10,000 crammed into that giant box.

Years later, when I realized some of them might be valuable, I called my mom to see if that box was still in her attic. Of course, she had thrown it out when I left for college. Probably justice. I was really no more than a gum collector.


Jim Pisoni played nine games for the Milwaukee Braves in 1959. Nine games!!! So why was his baseball card in every other pack I bought or was given that year? It surely wasn't because of Pisoni's stellar statistics the previous season, because he wasn't even in the major leagues in 1958; and in 1957, he appeared in a grand total of 44 games for the A's. I doubt the manufacturers were flooding the market to satisfy an adoring public's insatiable demand for his card.

I know Jim Pisoni's stats now 'cause I just looked 'em up. He hit .167 in his nine 1959 games in a Braves' uniform. In five major league seasons, including stints with the A's and the Yankees, his career batting average was .212.

Back then, though, all I knew was that he was a nobody, and I seemed to have a shoe box stuffed to the gills with his nobody cards.

We -- and by "we" I mean me and the scores of other Braves fans I presumed to be out there in the big, wide, wonderful world beyond Fairborn, Ohio, who wanted nothing more for our birthdays than a full box of card packs to open -- ached for Hank Aaron's card. Or Eddie Matthews, or Warren Spahn, or Billy Bruton, Lew Burdette, Joe Adcock, Del Crandall, Wes Covington … anybody who played a key role on the Milwaukee juggernaut that won the World Series in '57, lost it in '58 and dropped a three-game playoff series against the Dodgers for the National League pennant in '59.

Instead, we -- and by "we" I mean "me" this time -- always got Pisoni. Over and over again. He played nine games for the Braves that year, and I had at least 20 of his cards. Something's wrong with that picture.

You know what? You go back and look at his baseball card picture now, and you can see what's wrong. In Pisoni's posed photo, he wears the expression of a .212 career hitter. It's the look of a player who suspects he doesn't really belong in a real major league uniform on a real major league baseball card, a player who knows he won't be in that uniform very much longer. He looks worried.

It's the look of a man who carries with him every day the awful knowledge that his card keeps disappointing and frustrating an 8-year-old kid in Ohio, over and over again.


It was a crumpled-up, old grocery bag, bursting at the seams, sporting a few good rips and appearing to be at least 5 years old.

And it contained pure gold.

My jaw dropped as I saw its contents come pouring out onto the carpet.

A '75 George Brett. A '78 Eddie Murray. A '75 Robin Yount. A '77 Andre Dawson. A '78 Jack Morris.

My best friend and I didn't need a Beckett's guide to tell us that we'd just hit the mother lode.
The year was 1986, and my buddy and I spent every spare cent bolstering our baseball collection. We called it an "investment," but that was just a fancy way of saying that girls weren't returning our phone calls at the time.

So, we poured ourselves into our hobby of carefully sliding 3x5 pieces of cardboard into plastic sheets that we kept in a three-ring binder. On weekends, we hit the rummage sales with the senior circuit, hoping to find that shoe box loaded with thousands of dollars of cards, selling for 50 cents or a buck.

Finally, on that spring day in '86, we found our holy grail.

Hearing that a senior jock needed to sell part of his collection, we followed him home from school one day. Maybe he needed beer money. Maybe he wanted speakers for his car. Maybe he needed extra cash to take his hot senior girlfriend to the prom.

We didn't ask questions. We just sat in his living room, waiting for him to come back with the "bag."

Seconds later, we were staring at a virtual murderer's row from the 1970s. Rookies, All-Stars, Hot Prospects, aging Hall of Famers. They were all there in front of us.

Two cards glowed at me like fluorescent needles in that wonderful haystack.

Both from 1975. Both Topps rookie cards. Both the "mini" versions -- rumored to have been only distributed in California (or so the legend went) and worth even more than the full-sized version.

Two of my favorite players: George Brett and Robin Yount.

I didn't care that these cards were less than perfect. The frayed edges and off-center borders meant nothing to me.

This was Brett, the hot-hitting Royals third baseman with the movie-star looks who could do no wrong in my book. (Especially since I had no idea what hemorrhoids were back in 1980.)

This was Yount, the guy who led Harvey's Wallbangers to the '82 World Series (damn you, Willie McGee) and was cool enough to play both shortstop and center field.

"We'll give you 50 bucks," barked my partner as I stood there drooling over cardboard porn.
"Done," said the senior jock, punctuating it with a chuckle as if he were taking a couple of sophomores for a ride.

In reality, we'd committed a felony. But we didn't really care. After all, he had a girlfriend and a car … what did he need with an awesome card collection?

My buddy and I later split up our windfall. He got the Brett. I took the Yount.

It still sits on the mantle in my TV room -- a reminder of the great heist of '86, the good ol' days before eBay taught everyone that even a ripped-up grocery bag can be priceless.


My favorite baseball card of all time is the No. 21 card from the Topps 1982 set. It was labeled "Future Stars" and showcased three rising talents in the farm system of the Baltimore Orioles, my local team when I was growing up.

(In my childhood naiveté, I thought that the "Future Stars" card was some sort of bargain: Three players for the price of one! I only later realized that they probably really put three players on their "Future" cards to hedge their bets.)

Long before touted young players were minted into "rookie" cards the moment they were drafted, they were stuck in a photo array with a couple of minor league teammates, like the card collector was supposed to look at them as if they were a book of mug shots down at the police station and pick out the right one: "Yes! That's the one!"

Each team got a "Future Stars" card, and, if a fan was lucky, you heard about one of them a year or two (or more) later. If you were really lucky, one of the players turned out to be more "star" than "future."

That 1982 Topps No. 21? From the Orioles: Shortstop Bob Bonner, pitcher Jeff Schneider and, in the middle, a third baseman named Cal Ripken Jr.

This would become Ripken's "rookie" card, currently valued around $20 or $30, but it took more than 20 years for me to finally realize my focus on the player in the middle led me to ignore the far more fascinating stories on the "Future Stars" on the margins.

We know what happened to Ripken. What happened to the other two guys? (Well, aside from not becoming stars.) Do you think they have copies of this card? Does it make them smile?
Wistful? Frustrated?

Inevitably, one player (at most) of any "Future Stars" trio would make it; the other two faded into obscurity, with their biggest baseball legacy likely being that they were featured on the rookie baseball card of someone far more successful.

As I look back on that card, which for so long for me was all about Ripken, its drama turned out to be just as much about the whiffs as the hit.


In 1989 I set about on a mission that millions of boys my age did that year -- yes, ridding girls of the scourge of cooties -- but also gaining ownership of the Bill Ripken Fleer card in which the words "F--- FACE" were visible on the knob of his bat. Unfortunately for me, I never did get that card. And unfortunately for Bill Ripken, he probably never stopped getting referred to his new nickname by baseball fans due to his .247 career batting average and 20 home runs over 12 seasons.

My disappointment over missing out on the Ripken card was relieved, however, by my first and only quest to compile an entire set. And in my infinite little-kid wisdom I chose the 1989 Topps set, which was made unique by its bland design and lack of valuable rookie cards. After using almost all my allowance to purchase well over $100 worth of packs throughout the summer, I finally got the entire set. Sure, the 1989 Topps set was only worth 20 bucks in 1989, I told myself, but it would be worth far more in the future. And I was right. Today it is worth … let's see … let me consult an online price guide here … it's now worth … $26. Twenty-six dollars?!
What the … six bucks of value gained in 17 years?! That's horrible. That's below inflation. At this rate, by the time I'm 80, the only thing I'll be able to get with the sale of my '89 Topps set is a delicious glass of orange juice.

But, hey, it's not all bad. At least I have my dozen or so Gregg Jefferies rookie cards. They're like money in the bank. They call him the next Pete Rose, you know.


I began my baseball card-collecting career in 1986, when I was 8 years old. Perhaps that's why I still find the '86 Topps design so aesthetically pleasing, with those large block letters spelling out the team name on top.

My favorite card? The '86 Topps card of my favorite player, Don Mattingly. Now, for the record, I'm no bandwagon Yankees fan. My father grew up a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium on the Grand Concourse. He actually worked for the Yankees, helping handle fan mail, during the famed summer of 1961 (and you can imagine there was a lot of fan mail that summer). I'm a born and bred Bronx Bomber.

And yes, I've been spoiled over the past decade. But I will never forget the desperate teams that the Yankees fielded during the prime of my card-collecting years. Back then I couldn't imagine the Yankees winning a World Series. I still have nightmares about some of those teams, the pitching staffs in particular (Andy Hawkins and Melido Perez ring a bell?).

But I always had one reason to turn on Channel 11, or WABC, or beg my father to take me to the Stadium. And that was No. 23, batting third, playing first base. Oh, that sweet swing, and that slick glove. Mattingly was the reason I kept watching the Yankees. Donnie Baseball is the reason I'm still a baseball fan.

When I got my hands on my first Mattingly card, it instantly became the prize of my collection. It wasn't his rookie card -- heck, Mattingly already had won an AL MVP by 1986. But it was my first … and you never forget your first.

Other fans might scoff at this -- especially Cubs fans, I imagine -- but I actually kinda miss that dreadful Yankee period. Maybe I just miss my dad. Maybe I miss a time when my most important pursuit could be collecting baseball cards. All I know is, I just found my second favorite baseball card. I just spent $24.99 (plus sales tax and shipping) on a Don Mattingly 1984 rookie card. I've never spent that much on a card.

There's no more worthy player. And there never will be. At least to me.


I did it at last. I had to give up a lot, but my ultimate All-Star baseball card collection became complete with the addition of Johnny Bench.

I prefer the action shots for cards. I always liked the ones where you could see Bench's bare-handed swing, or the grease lines under his eyes as he guarded the plate. Too bad his 1978 Topps card was a boring profile. But I didn't care. I had Bench on the team and that's all that mattered.

You'd think his card would be in every pack back then, but not where I grew up. A few of us kids around the block had set out collecting and trading cards that summer. We all had our team of favorites, and now I'd upgraded mine. With so many great players, it was a relief to have the one guy I wanted. It cost me a Rod Carew rookie card, a Tom Seaver card (I had doubles of both cards), a Wacky Packages set and my favorite football-shaped eraser. That might sound like an unbalanced deal, but to me Johnny Bench meant my ultimate goal with trading cards was reached. Not only did I have my favorite catcher, I had all my favorites on the desk, in position, at my fingertips.

These cards were kept separate from the foot-high stack of cards in the storage box in my closet. So separate that when my mom cleaned out my vacated room years later, they found their way into a box for the thrift store. "I didn't take anything from your box," she told me.
Urrrrgh. At least I had my team, for a couple seasons.


I went with my mother to a baseball card show at the Astroarena when I was 9 years old. She'd given me 10 bucks to spend any way I saw fit, so I went to town. After a couple of hours of shopping, I saw a table with a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card.

The card, which showed a young, smiling Griffey in his San Bernardino Spirits duds, was the first card in the first Upper Deck set. Junior was on the fast track to stardom, so I really, really wanted this, his rookie card.

Plus, I figured it would be worth a lot of money some day.

But it cost 12 bucks. I had only two. I went and begged my mother for some more dough, but she told me that was too much for a child to pay for a baseball card.

It must not have been too much for an adult to pay, however. Ten minutes later, I came back to the table to find my mother using the negotiation skills she learned in Nigerian marketplaces to get a deal on my card. Mom talked the dude down to 10 bucks and had herself a baseball card.

Needless to say, I wasn't too happy.

My old man swore to me that she was just waiting for the right time to give the card to me, maybe after a good report card or something.

Sixteen years later, the card is still sitting on her dresser in a protective case. And 16 years later, it's still a helluva card.


Everyone claims their mother threw away their baseball cards, but that's simply an unfair stereotype. I don't know why everyone insists on blaming their poor, devoted mothers for such a hideous crime when they know full well the true blame usually lies elsewhere.

For instance, my father threw mine away.

He probably doesn't remember it, but one night when I was 6 years old I had my cards spread all over the living room. My father is a very patient man, but when I ignored his repeated orders to clean up the cards or have them thrown away, he simply stomped in, swept them up in his arms and whisked them away.

For years I searched for those cards, certain that he had carefully hidden them. But I never found them. For all I know, they're buried with Jimmy Hoffa.

But I haven't given up. He took those cards away almost 40 years ago, yet when I was helping him clean out the house to put it on sale last winter, I still hoped to find them somewhere.

I didn't. And the worst thing is, I know, I mean I just know, that there were about four Nolan Ryan rookie cards in there.


I was once, I admit, a baseball card nerd.

Piles of cards, plastic sleeves, price guides, cardboard boxes … let's just say I spent a few hours sorting those 1983 Topps … and 1984 Topps … and 1985 Topps … OK, you get the picture.
(My wife likes to say I was "playing" with the baseball cards. I think she means it affectionately. But why does she laugh when she says this?)

Anyway, this obsession (which, by the way, is long past; I haven't purchased a pack of cards for myself in probably 15 years) began back in 1978.

With George Foster.

It was the season after he hit 52 home runs. For you kids out there, that was a lot of home runs once upon a time. The year before, in 1976, the league leaders had hit 38 and 32. So George Foster, with his black bat, menacing stare, long sideburns and 52 home runs, was a very, very big deal.

Every kid in the neighborhood had to have the George Foster baseball card.

I turned 9 that spring. My birthday was in May, which was an advantage -- back then, you didn't find the packs of Topps cards in the local drugstore until April, so when my birthday party rolled around I told all my friends I just wanted packs of cards as presents.

I ripped through the packs, passed out the pieces of pink gum to everyone, kept getting John Ellis (some stiff backup catcher for the Rangers) and Ron LeFlore … until, finally, there it was … George Foster, NL All-Star OF, bat on shoulder, Reds cap perched on his head. The first kid to have it. They cheered and patted me on the back. It was a big deal.

And better yet -- I now had a whole pile of cards to play with.

You've read our memories, now let's hear yours. Send us a short (no more than 200 words), smart, funny, touching reminiscence of your favorite baseball card.

Pontificating Against Israel

By Joseph D'Hippolito
July 25, 2006

As Israel began its latest campaign of self-defense, the Vatican’s leading government official rushed to join his peers on the speeding bandwagon of international disapproval.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state and effectively its prime minister, condemned Israel’s attack against Hezbollah’s positions in Lebanon and the resources the terrorist group could exploit.

“In particular, the Holy See deplores right now the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation, and assures its closeness to those people who already have suffered so much to defend their independence,” he told Vatican Radio on July 14. “The right of defense on the part of a state does not exempt it from its responsibility to respect international law, particularly regarding the safeguarding of civilian populations.”

Perhaps someone should ask the good cardinal how Israel should respond to enemies who have publicly expressed their desire to destroy it, who have rejected various peaceful settlements, ignored concessions and who continue to murder and maim Israeli civilians. Perhaps someone should ask the cardinal how any nation facing a similar situation should respond.

In any event, Sodano’s words expose three facts of life in Rome. One is the Vatican’s remarkable lack of empathy or compassion for Israeli victims of terrorist atrocities. Another is a policy toward Israel that has outlived its usefulness. The final fact is Sodano’s pending obsolescence.

Sandro Magister, the veteran Vatican correspondent for Italy’s L’Espresso, pointedly described on July 19 the hypocrisy concerning Israel – especially considering Pope Benedict XVI’s warm outreach to Jews: “…it is striking that Benedict XVI is not defending the existence of Israel – which its enemies want to annihilate as the final aim of the conflict underway – with the same explicit, strong determination with which he repeatedly raises his voice in defense of the ‘non-negotiable’ principles concerning human life.”

That silence reflects a position toward Israel revolving around support for civilian Arab populations – especially Palestinians and Arab Christians – as a counterweight to Israeli power.
Vittorio Parsi, professor of international relations at the Catholic University of Milan, described that policy in 2003 for the Italian magazine Diritto e Libertà.

“Regarding the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Vatican's political stance has been and remains directed by a cornerstone and long-held principle within Church tradition: that is, attention must be given to peoples and not their governments,” Parsi wrote. Given that cornerstone and the lack of a Palestinian state, which the Vatican supports establishing, “it is by the side of (the Palestinian) populace that the Vatican has decided to stand firm, without its choice implying any anti-Israeli discrimination.”

Parsi, who also serves as a columnist for the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, further analyzed the Vatican’s policy toward Israel with respect to issues that are particularly relevant now.

Self-defense: “The Vatican’s concept of security is by definition one which refers to the notion of collective safety and multi-lateral ways of its realization. In addition, this notion tends toward a criteria of balance that, from Rome’s perspective, is an irrefutable aspect of Middle Eastern policy. What’s more, for the Holy See, security must be achieved while respecting the norms of international law.

“Israel, on the other hand, holds that security must be a prerequisite for any further step toward achieving a solution to the conflict and can be unilaterally guaranteed with all necessary means. In terms of international law, Jerusalem then is seen to have assumed an increasingly open critical position over the years.”

Syrian influence in Lebanon: “…Lebanon is considered by Israel simply as a Syrian protectorate, especially because of the openly managerial role Damascus has played for more than two decades in Lebanon. For Israel, once the Syrian issue is resolved, the logical result will be the end of interference in Lebanon.

“For the Vatican as well, both Lebanon and Syria are connected, but in the sense that its strategy is to consolidate Lebanese integrity and independence in the Arab world with the goal of safeguarding the conspicuous Christian presence in the region. Perhaps it is in this sense that we can understand why the Vatican has maintained particularly prudent relations with Damascus - which, in actual fact, violates Lebanese sovereignty much more than Jerusalem does.”

Iran: “Israel maintains that the Islamic republic is even a more serious threat than was Saddam Hussein's regime. What is alarming to the Israeli government is not so much Iran's support of Hezbollah militia as much as it is the Iranian nuclear program.

“The Holy See appears, however, much more inclined toward Iran. Above all, it is particularly careful to exploit reformist efforts…At the same time, the Vatican greatly fears that Israel may opt for a preventive strike against Iranian nuclear reactors, thus provoking widespread conflict arising from unforeseeable consequences."

The Vatican’s stance regarding Israel, forged during the papacy of Pope John Paul II, has proven useless in mitigating geopolitical conflicts between Israel and its enemies. It has also failed on a moral level, not only by ignoring terrorism against Israeli civilians but also by failing to protect Arab and Palestinian Christians against Muslim oppression.

In a September interview with the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa – who represents the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which governs church property –bluntly described the difficulties Palestinian Christians face:

“What do you mean by difficulties between Israel and the Vatican? We Christians in the Holy Land have other problems. Almost every day – I repeat, almost every day – our communities are harassed by the Islamic extremists in these regions. “And if it's not the members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, there are clashes with the 'rubber wall' of the Palestinian Authority, which does little or nothing to punish those responsible. On occasion, we have even discovered among our attackers the police agents of Mahmoud Abbas or the militants of Fatah, his political party, who are supposed to be defending us.”

Sodano’s remarks also reflect what Parsi called the “pro-Arab prejudice” that “persists in some noteworthy exponents within Vatican hierarchy.” Few such exponents are more noteworthy than Sodano himself.

As secretary of state, Sodano is responsible for the Vatican’s communications outlets – including its newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, which constantly displays an anti-Israel attitude. The magazine from Sodano’s own office, Civilita Cattolica, complements L’Osservatore with anti-American rhetoric “after the fashion of the radical left of Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore,” Magister wrote.

Moreover, Magister describes Sodano as “a great admirer of Yasser Arafat” and “a supporter of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah,” whose support for Palestinian extremists and opposition to Israel was explored in'sPatriarch of Terror.”

Sodano has gone so far as to use duplicitous means to promote his agenda, even at the expense of the Vatican’s diplomatic credibility and Benedict’s dignity.

The secretary of state took advantage of the pope’s vacation in July 2005 to prepare a statement in Benedict’s name that condemned recent terrorist attacks “in various countries like Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Great Britain.” Omitted was any reference to a suicide bombing in Netanya, an Israeli coastal resort. Five victims died and 90 were wounded.

Sodano publicized the statement July 24, 2005. One day later, Israel’s foreign ministry filed a protest. Tensions reached the point where Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke directly with Sodano, who tried to shift the blame to the Vatican’s press secretary, Joaquin Navarro-Walls, who accompanied Benedict on vacation.

But mandatory retirement is forcing the 78-year-old Sodano out. Pope Benedict himself testified to Sodano’s rapidly diminishing influence by publicly contradicting him July 18, when the pope supported the G8 summit’s blaming Hezbollah and Hamas for hostilities.

Sodano’s replacement, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will assume office September 15 as part of Benedict’s gradual, meticulous housecleaning of high Vatican offices. That housecleaning includes a subtle shift in policy regarding Israel.

Magister reported in L’Espresso on March 6 that Benedict plans to promote Pizzaballa and appoint him as the bishop for Hebrew-speaking Christians in Israel. Pizzaballa “is viewed very favorably by the Israeli authorities,” Magister wrote.

That move complements another that Benedict made last September. To mitigate Sabbah’s influence, the pope appointed Fouad Twal, the former Archbishop of Tunis, as Sabbah’s auxiliary. Twal – expected to replace Sabbah in two years – is “regarded in Israel as far more acceptable,” wrote Abdal-Hakim Murad, a Muslim commentator in Britain.

Father David Jaeger, a member of the Franciscan Custody and a canon lawyer who has advised the Vatican concerning Israel, implied the policy shift on Vatican Radio one day before Sodano made his remarks: “It is necessary to understand the depth and force of Israel’s anger. The Lebanese government has a choice: It can continue to allow Hezbollah to control southern Lebanon or it can show some courage, reaffirm Lebanese sovereignty and suppress Hezbollah.”

Pope Benedict also seeks a more confrontational approach toward Islam, especially regarding religious freedom for Christians in Muslim countries. In the process, Benedict seems to be less willing to disregard Islamic radicalism for the sake of ecumenical dialogue than his predecessor.
Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s foreign minister, expressed this new direction in May during an address to the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants. Some excerpts:

…one notices a recent general tendency of the Muslim-majority countries to promote, even outside their own borders, an increasingly radical form of conduct in conformity with Islamic precepts, and to assert a greater public presence of such conduct. This phenomenon … results in a religious fanaticism that exerts strong social and institutional pressure upon minorities of other faiths…In the realm of principle, it must be said that in the face of Islam the Church is called to live out its own identity to the full without drawing back, and to take clear and courageous positions in asserting the Christian identity. We know well that radical Islam takes advantage of anything that it interprets as a sign of weakness. It is evident that the initiatives for dialogue on religious topics do not belong to the states, but to religious leaders, although they can be facilitated by political officials.

But if the Vatican is serious about changing its policy toward Israel – and if it really believes its rhetoric about supporting peoples rather than their governments – it must forcefully and unequivocally offer the same support to Israeli victims of terror as it does to Arab victims of war and religious persecution.

Otherwise, intelligent people will recognize the Vatican’s support for the innocent as nothing but a cover for its own geopolitical interests and cynical personal agendas – as, unfortunately, it has been to this point.

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Joseph D’Hippolito is a columnist for, whose main focuses are religion and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

$neaker War: Part III

Are you kidding?
Shoe companies set their sights on players as young as 12
By Bob Hohler, Boston Globe Staff
July 25, 2006

Third in a three-part series on the sneaker industry's influence on amateur basketball in New England.

You've never heard of Joe Sharkey, a 14-year-old who just finished eighth grade at Brimmer and May, a small private day school in Chestnut Hill. But Adidas has.

Sharkey was 12 and ranked by a national scouting service among the top 20 sixth-grade players in the country when Adidas gave him his first free pair of basketball shoes and apparel. He was 13 and rated the best player from New England at the company's invitation-only Jr. Phenom Camp when he received his second free pair of Adidas shoes and gear. And when he accepted his invitation this month to the Adidas Phenom 150 Camp for players entering ninth and 10th grade, he collected more free merchandise.

It has come to this in the sneaker wars. A generation after Nike revolutionized the marketing of athletic footwear by signing a 21-year-old NBA rookie, Michael Jordan, to an endorsement deal, the sneaker giants -- Nike, Adidas, and Reebok -- have turned their multimillion-dollar hunt for the next Jordan into a struggle for the souls of middle schoolers.

The competition has become so fierce -- Nike signed LeBron James to a $90 million contract before he received his high school diploma -- that Hoop Scoop, a national scouting service, rates fifth-grade players and the sneaker companies are scrambling after prepubescent prospects.

``The whole thing has gotten out of control, and the shoe companies are driving the bus," said Hoop Scoop's Clark Francis.

As the young Sharkey sits before a bowl of chips and dip in the kitchen of his Norwood home, the notion of him one day becoming the face of a blockbuster marketing campaign for a multinational corporation may seem unfathomable.

Not to Adidas.

``He's one of our golden-child kids," said Joe Keller, who two years ago opened a new front in the sneaker wars by launching the invitation-only Adidas Jr. Phenom Camp for middle schoolers. "He should definitely be a Division 1 basketball player, and he has his head screwed on correctly."

All of this for a boy of 14. All of it in the hope that Sharkey or some other eighth-grade phenom -- Ron Giplaye of Lowell, Rodney Beldo of Dorchester, and Nadir Tharpe of Worcester also rank among the state's best -- beats astronomical odds and becomes a bankable marketing commodity as a professional basketball star.

All of it, too, to the possible detriment of the children's development, according to specialists in youth sports.

``In a word, it's obscene," said Bruce Svare, a child psychologist and executive director of the National Institute for Sports Reform. ``I understand that they're trying to move billions of dollars worth of sports apparel, but they're doing it by coddling these young kids into a sense of entitlement that could hurt the kids and work against the companies."

Low-grade fever

The sneaker giants forge ahead nonetheless. Sonny Vaccaro, Reebok's senior director of grassroots basketball, set the trend as an Adidas executive in 2003 when he invited four eighth-graders to his ABCD Camp in Teaneck, N.J., for the nation's elite high school players. The same year, Vaccaro dipped lower into the talent pool by creating Camp Next for children who had completed eighth or ninth grade (Reebok now sponsors the program).

``We're going to find them, expose them, and get them used to the grind at an earlier age," Vaccaro said. ``I believe in that theory."

As a result, Vaccaro wasted no time last year establishing ties to Renardo Sidney, then a 6-foot-9-inch eighth-grader in Mississippi widely considered the nation's top prospect in the Class of 2009. Vaccaro provided Sidney an all-expenses-paid trip to the ABCD camp and arranged for the sneaker company to sponsor Sidney's summer team.

Vaccaro also spoke last year with Cully Payne, then a 14-year-old eighth-grader in Chicago, about committing to a college team before he reached high school. Three weeks after Payne completed the eighth grade -- and not long after his conversation with Vaccaro -- the boy verbally accepted a non-binding basketball scholarship offer from DePaul, a rarity for a child so young.

Vaccaro, who pays freelance scouts to help him target the nation's best young players, also took Juwan Moody, an 11-year-old phenom from Detroit, to lunch two years ago at a Johnny Rocket's restaurant near Vaccaro's home in Calabasas, Calif.

``When I met him, he was 5-2, and it was hard explaining to him that at some point he will have to grow a little bit," Vaccaro said. ``But I've maintained a friendship with him and his dad. I haven't seen him play, but he's supposed to really be a phenom."

In the next breath, however, Vaccaro shared a secret of the sneaker wars.

``The word `phenom' is nothing more than a selling tool," he said. ``It's a trick."

In New England, the most prominent company-sponsored youth teams -- the Nike-backed Boston Amateur Basketball Club and Adidas-sponsored New England Playaz -- have all but cornered the market of the region's middle-school phenoms. BABC coach Leo Papile has stocked his program with so much young talent that he recently entered two 15-and-under teams in the state AAU tournament, with both teams advancing to the championship game (they shared the trophy rather than play each other).

``They are probably the best basketball team I've ever seen at that age category," said John Kottori, the AAU's chairman of youth basketball in southern New England.

Papile already has enlisted Sharkey to join a 15-and-under team next fall that is expected to include Giplaye and Beldo, both of whom are 15-year-olds entering ninth grade. Papile also picked up several of the region's best 15-year-olds entering 10th grade, including 6-7 Erik Murphy of St. Mark's and 6-6 Dartaye Ruffin of St. Andrew's, though Ruffin recently jumped from the BABC to Thomas J. ``TJ" Gassnola's New England Playaz. Murphy is the son of former Boston College star and NBA player Jay Murphy.

Papile also has a 6-8 phenom, Alex Oriakhi, who completed ninth grade at the Brooks School and who turned 16 June 21.

Tharpe, who ranks with Sharkey among the region's best 14-year-olds, is considered such a dominant player that the New England Playaz built a new 15-and-under team around him. A speedy, 5-10 guard with exceptional passing and shooting skills, Tharpe played as an eighth-grader last season for the varsity team at St. Peter-Marian of Worcester and wasted little time turning heads as he scored 24 points against Worcester's Doherty High School and 23 against St. Bernard's of Fitchburg.

``He's one of those kids who comes along once in a lifetime," said Gassnola, who recruited Tharpe.

Just as Papile has helped many of his young players land scholarships to private schools, Gassnola has tried to do the same for Tharpe, recently taking him for a visit to St. Andrew's School, a small basketball power in Barrington, R.I.

``He's the best I've seen come through Worcester in the last eight or nine years in his age bracket," St. Peter-Marian coach Tim Tibaud said. ``We're hoping to keep him, but once the prep schools see him, it's going to be hard."

Five-star prospect

As for Sharkey, a 6-2 sharpshooter, his basketball life took a dramatic turn in the summer after sixth grade. By making the all-star team at the elite Five-Star Basketball Camp while he competed against players who were two years older, Sharkey earned an invitation to the inaugural Adidas Jr. Phenom Camp and gained the top 20 rating from Hoop Scoop, all at age 12.

``It was really exciting," he said, ``because I never thought I could play that well against older kids."

Sharkey has done so ever since. In addition to playing in higher age brackets on the summer circuit, he created a stir at Brimmer and May two seasons ago when he became one of the only seventh-graders in state history to play varsity basketball. Blending his skills as a floor leader with his deft shooting touch, Sharkey played so well as a seventh - grader that in one game he led his senior-dominated team in scoring.

``He was the most advanced player in both basketball talent and knowledge of the game I've seen at that age level," said Daryn Freedman, the former Brimmer and May coach who suggested Sharkey apply to the school after spotting him at a Five-Star camp in Pennsylvania when Sharkey was 11. Alumni of the Five-Star camp include dozens of NBA players, including Jordan, James, Vince Carter, and Carmelo Anthony.

Freedman, now an assistant coach at Duquesne University, said Sharkey was so skilled at age 12 that he once created an uproar among an opposing team's fans when he made a rare appearance with an injury-depleted 13-and-under summer team after playing in a 17-and-under division.

``I'm excited to see what happens in his career," Freedman said.

So are the sneaker companies, even as they hunt for more Joe Sharkeys.

``My job is to discover them before anybody knows who these kids are," said Keller, founder of the Adidas Jr. Phenom Camp. ``Everybody wants to find out who the top players are at an earlier age."

Francis, the scouting analyst, has seen the competition between sneaker companies intensify as he travels the country to rate players at youth camps and tournaments. Nike last month signaled its commitment to competing with Adidas and Reebok for middle schoolers by launching a national tournament for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders as part of its Memorial Day Classic in Nashville.

``The interest has skyrocketed because the shoe companies and colleges now realize that if they don't start going after kids in middle school, they're not going to get them," Francis said.

So it is that hundreds of college coaches subscribe to scouting services like Hoop Scoop. But even Vaccaro, who tracks middle schoolers as aggressively as any sneaker company operative, said adolescents can undergo so many physical, attitudinal, and social changes that trying to rate children as potential basketball stars as young as 11 may be foolhardy.

``You can't define players that young," Vaccaro said. ``It's humanly impossible because there are so many intangibles. That's why somebody has to stand up and say, `It's [b.s.].' "
Francis defended his rankings, to a degree.

``Quite honestly, I think our lists of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders are really good," he said. "But I think our list of fifth-graders is a joke."

No New Englanders appear on Hoop Scoop's list of the nation's top fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders, but the list of the top 300 eighth-graders includes Beldo (42), Sharkey (117), and two 6-5 players from Waterbury, Conn.: Josh Turner (55) and Cory Andrews (160).

Francis said he has yet to hear parents complain about their children appearing on such lists. He said he hears instead from parents who believe their children should be ranked higher.

``I tell them, `Don't worry, we've got six more years to get it right,' " he said.

Disturbing trend?

The best of the young phenoms are celebrated in teen-oriented magazines like Slam, which is thick with ads and features touting sneaker company apparel, camps, and tournaments.

Child prodigies also are tracked by websites such as New York-based, whose stated mission is to provide ``cutting-edge stories about the hottest grammar school players" as young as second-graders.

The trend troubles specialists like Peter Roby, who has captained Dartmouth's basketball team, coached Harvard's basketball team, served as Reebok's vice president of US marketing, and now heads Northeastern's Center for the Study of Sport in Society.

``It sends a bad message to many of these kids that their basketball skills separate them from their peers in a way they don't deserve," Roby said. ``It bothers me a lot because we already know we have issues with adult athletes who feel they have a special sense of entitlement because people are falling over them. If adult athletes have trouble keeping their perspective, imagine how difficult it can be for a sixth- or seventh-grader."

Fixing the problem may require the sneaker companies, perhaps with support from the NBA, to cooperatively fund a network of regional youth development programs that addresses the needs of both recreational players and elite college prospects, said Brian McCormick, author of ``Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development."

McCormick said his plan is aimed in part at curbing the profit-driven competition between the sneaker companies and its harmful effect on young players.

``It may not be the perfect solution," he said, ``but at least it will get people talking about the problem."

Vaccaro acknowledged the exploitative nature of the system, but he also defended it.

``We put these kids on pedestals and when they bottom out, the entities that supported them and the people who rated them don't bottom out," he said. ``We're wrong in this evaluation thing more than we're right, and no one sees our failures. But when we're right, it allows us to perpetuate the dream. There's nothing wrong with that."

Many youth coaches cringe, however, as they watch sneaker companies and college recruiters pursue ever-younger players.

``You see people drooling over 10-year-old kids and you wonder, at what point is he no longer just a kid playing the game because it's fun and at what point does it tarnish him," said Carl Parker, who coaches a regional travel team from Maine and recently became the head coach at Lee Academy in Maine. ``All that hype and exposure at such a young age, I'm not sure how good that is for the kids."

It hurt Demetrius Walker, who was 12 when he was featured on the front page of the Los Angeles Times and 14 when he was trumpeted last year on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Walker, who will be a 6-4 sophomore at Fontana (Calif.) High School, got swept up in his hype and slipped, at least temporarily, from can't-miss to overrated.

Vaccaro blamed the media and Walker's handlers.

``That was the greatest miscarriage of justice I've ever seen, proclaiming the kid to be the greatest when he was in sixth grade," he said. ``Demetrius is pretty good, but he's never going to be LeBron."

Keller, who coached Walker in his Adidas-sponsored summer program, acknowledged the boy ``was hurt to some degree" by the booing he received when his game deteriorated after the hype.

``Anytime someone tells us we're the greatest in the world, we tend not to work as hard, and that happened to Demetrius," Keller said. ``But this has brought him back to reality and he's back in the gym five or six hours a day."

Unlike some sneaker-sponsored coaches who avidly publicize their players, others prefer to shield the youngsters from media exposure.

Only after some prodding, for example, did Craig Stockmal, coach of the Boston-based Junior Celtics 16-and-under team, share the names of three of his players who were invited to this summer's Adidas 150 Phenom Camp: his twin sons, Cory and Kyle Stockmal, of Watertown High School, and Tucker Halpern, of Noble and Greenough. All three will be entering 10th grade.

``I don't want them to think they are that good at such a young age," Stockmal said. "If you keep telling them they are the best, they may not work hard enough to compete at the next level."

Sharkey said he considers himself an Adidas kid, though he expressed no reluctance about joining the Nike-sponsored BABC in the fall. He and his parents, Patrick and Denise, said they are keenly aware of the pitfalls of his youthful stardom and plan to avoid them.

As part of his development, Sharkey is leaning toward eventually transferring from Brimmer and May to Worcester Academy, which plays a more rigorous schedule but also has a strong academic program.

``It all depends on whether you keep everything in perspective," said Patrick Sharkey, a Boston trial lawyer. ``You have to think, just because some guy says you're the 20th best player, who died and left him in charge?"

The truth is, the elder Sharkey said of many talented younger players, ``They're all seeds, and you don't know who's going to blossom."

Still, the sneaker companies spend millions of dollars working the garden, searching for prize flowers. And no one seems able to control them, including watchdog agencies that have tried.

``There are groups that seem to invest a great deal of money in this," said Robert Kanaby, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations. ``Until that changes, I think we're a long way from a solution.

Bob Hohler discusses this three-part series at

Monday, July 24, 2006

$neaker War: Part II

Wading in cesspool
Officials for amateur teams admit doling out cash to players

By Bob Hohler, Globe Staff July 24, 2006

Second in a three-part series on the sneaker industry's influence on amateur basketball in New England.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- It's a sleepy Saturday afternoon in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, and Rakim Sanders, a 16-year-old hotshot from a Rhode Island housing project, has created a buzz at a Boys and Girls Club on the edge of town.

Recruiters from major colleges across the country have trekked in April to the gym on a dead end street in northwest Arkansas to pay respect to Sanders, a sleek, 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard. Assistant coaches from Boston College and the University of Connecticut anchor a group watching Sanders from one end of the basketball court while rivals from Providence, Syracuse, and other Division 1 powers stand vigil at the opposite end.

As New England's top college basketball prospect in the high school class of 2007, Sanders -- a high-scoring junior at St. Andrew's School in Rhode Island -- has received scholarship offers from BC and Providence and has been projected by a basketball trade publication as a 2010 selection in the NBA draft. (Two weeks later, on May 1, he verbally commits to BC.)

Sanders also is the jewel of the Adidas-backed New England Playaz, an elite travel team based in Springfield. And he will receive a special benefit from the Playaz after he performs at the Real Deal on the Hill Tournament in Fayetteville, a major weekend showcase that attracts the nation's top college recruiters and scouting services.

Playaz president Thomas J. ``TJ" Gassnola has paid for Sanders to travel not only from New England to Fayetteville, as Gassnola has done for the entire team, but also to fly after the tournament from Arkansas to Orlando to vacation with his brothers and sisters at Disney World. Gassnola then will pay for Sanders to fly home from Disney World.

Never mind that NCAA rules bar amateur teams such as the Playaz from paying for anything but ``actual and necessary travel, room and board, and apparel and equipment for competition and practice."

Gassnola, who has a lengthy criminal record and rich history of financial delinquency, says he also will slip his star player $100 to spend during his Disney vacation.
``The kid has no money, so I'm helping him out," Gassnola says. ``You want to throw me in jail for that? Go ahead."

Since Sanders will not be subject to NCAA rules until he enrolls in college -- and since no other agency closely regulates such activity -- the chances of anyone facing sanctions for Gassnola's special gift to Sanders are remote.

``It's all loosely regulated, at best," says Robert Kanaby, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations. ``We may just have to hope for some sense of voluntary compliance by the individuals who are making [the system] so lucrative and rewarding."

`Michael' motivation

So it goes in the shadowy corners of the high-stakes scramble by multibillion-dollar sneaker conglomerates to adorn America's basketball stars of tomorrow in their brands. Each of the three major companies -- Nike, Adidas, and Reebok -- spends millions of dollars sponsoring ``grassroots" teams like the Playaz and other youth programs, hoping their teen sensations one day will become endorsement giants, a la Michael Jordan (Nike), Tracy McGrady (Adidas), and Allen Iverson (Reebok).

``The theory remains the same: We're all looking for the next Michael," says Sonny Vaccaro, who revolutionized the market by signing Jordan for Nike in 1984 and now serves as Reebok's senior director of grassroots basketball.

Dreams are made and dashed at national camps and tournaments like the Real Deal, where big-monied sneaker companies and college coaches often determine the future of the nation's most promising amateur athletes. It's a basketball meat market, and the stakes are enormous for everyone:

Company-sponsored recruiters like Gassnola who have scoured gyms and playgrounds to deliver the best players they can enlist for the showcase;
players like Sanders, whose futures can hinge on their brief auditions before the nation's top college coaches;
colleges like BC, whose fortunes can rise or fall on the players in whom they decide to invest lucrative scholarships;
companies like Adidas, whose bottom lines can be determined by how many of the players they sponsor make it big.

If the companies or their representatives play fast and loose in the process, they rarely answer for it, as team officials such as Gassnola operate in a subculture in which pioneers like Vaccaro and Nike executive George Raveling set the standards, for better or worse.

Raveling, who followed Vaccaro as head of Nike's grassroots program, has acknowledged giving $100 to Amare Stoudemire's mother, Carrie, in 2000 while she was jailed on theft charges (Nike was wooing Amare before he turned pro). Stoudemire has since signed endorsement deals with Nike worth an estimated $33 million.

Vaccaro acknowledges that as an Adidas executive in the 1990s he bought street clothes for NBA player Lamar Odom when Odom played for an Adidas-funded youth team (Odom later signed with Nike). Vaccaro also says in an interview near his multimillion-dollar home in Calabasas, Calif., that he has provided players money for expenses not directly related to basketball, which critics decry as improper preferential treatment and the NCAA could consider a violation of its rules on amateurism.

``I would do that, absolutely," Vaccaro says of regularly giving players money for food and other expenses unrelated to basketball. ``There's no hard-line rule against it and it would be asinine to put one in because you couldn't monitor it."

Vaccaro acknowledges the sneaker companies participate in a system that exploits amateur youths for financial gain.

``It's a cesspool," he said, ``but everybody's involved in it: the sneaker companies, the NBA, the colleges, and the high schools."

Vaccaro, Gassnola and others justify the practice in part by citing the profits that sneaker companies, colleges, professional teams, television networks, agents and others make on teenagers, many of whom are poor.

``I live in a beautiful place and I'm pretty damn successful," Vaccaro says. "For a lot of these kids, it's a rough life."

A number of coaches whose players Gassnola tried to lure away see it differently.

``We don't want to be associated with street agents, and that's the best way I can think of to describe him," says Mike Crotty, director of the Belmont-based Middlesex Magic, whose players pay to participate.

Guiding light

Sanders says he just wants to survive financially. He was 11 when his mother died in 2000. His sister, Nyisha, who was 18 at the time, has since raised him and four other siblings at a low-income project in Pawtucket, R.I. Sanders's basketball ability helped land him at St. Andrew's, a small private school with a strong basketball program, and he hopes his athletic skills carry him further.

``I just want to get into college and not have my sister have to pay for it," Sanders says after leading the Playaz to victory in their first two games of the Real Deal's 17-and-under division. ``Making it through school for free, that would be the best thing for me."

Gassnola, who has lured away numerous players from summer teams in Greater Boston, including the Nike-backed Boston Amateur Basketball Club, has reached into Rhode Island for Sanders and a point guard, Andrew Hanson, one of 12 children from a Narragansett family who also attends St. Andrew's.

The Playaz have picked up a pair of 6-8 forwards from Springfield: Garrett Kissel, whom Gassnola helped enroll at St. Andrew's, and Travon Wilcher , whom Gassnola steered to Lee Academy in Maine. The team features two other talented guards: Sedale Jones, a prolific scorer from Pittsfield High School, and Dominique Price, a star for Holy Name in Worcester. Gassnola's second-leading scorer is 6-3 Corey Bingham, a 2005 Globe All-Scholastic at Lynn Tech who joined Wilcher at Lee Academy.

Gassnola also helps some of his players choose colleges, as he did last year with former Lynn Tech star Antonio Anderson. With several top Division 1 teams pursuing him, Anderson selected Memphis, whose coach, John Calipari, Gassnola considers a close friend.
``I'd take a bullet for the guy," Gassnola says.

Calipari's assistant, Derek Kellogg, has been Gassnola's best friend since they attended Cathedral High School together in Springfield.

``I told Antonio, `You need to go to a place where you're comfortable, with people I know, because I can't call [North Carolina coach] Roy Williams, but I can call Cal,' " Gassnola says. Calipari and Kellogg did not respond to interview requests.

So far this year, the 10-member Playaz squad has competed in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Arkansas. Before the summer ends, they will play in Washington, D.C., Georgia, North Carolina, New York, Nevada, and California, with all their expenses paid.

Nearly every member of the Playaz appears poised to secure a Division 1 basketball scholarship, and most say they have joined the team to try to enhance their recruiting positions.

``TJ gets us out to the bigger tournaments," says Sanders, who joined Gassnola last year after playing for the Rhode Island Breakers since he was 12. "He gives me a better chance to showcase my talents."

Bingham, who will spend two post-grad years at Lee Academy, credits Gassnola with helping him attract interest from his top choices: the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, St. John's, and Miami.

``You get way more exposure with the Playaz," Bingham says.

Wilcher, an athletic shot-blocker, already has generated interest from UMass, URI, and Wyoming. But his stock appears to climb during the Real Deal tournament as several recruiters, including one from UConn, ask Gassnola about him. (He verbally committed last week to UMass).

Wilcher says he might not have made it out of Springfield if Gassnola had not helped him academically by guiding him from Central High School there toward Lee Academy.
``I probably wouldn't be qualified to play right now if it wasn't for TJ," Wilcher says. "Now I'm in the correct classes."

A new member of the Playaz, 6-7 Josh Herritt, commutes from Stamford, Conn., in the hope of gaining more recognition. Herritt plays for King & Low-Heywood Thomas, a small private school little noticed by college recruiters. He hopes to play for a Division 1 program, perhaps in the Ivy League.

``Unfortunately, in today's environment, it's all about exposure and Josh needed to get some," says his father, Dave Herritt. ``TJ came to watch him play and it has worked out for all of us."

Overseeing operation Since NCAA rules bar individuals who have been charged with a felony from coaching in tournaments it certifies, Gassnola has not coached the Playaz since he formed them in 2004 (a jury found him not guilty in 2997 of felony assault and battery and unarmed burglary). He has left the coaching first to Mike Jarvis II, now the head team manager at Duke, and since then to Shawn Bloom, who played at Salem State after starring at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, Mass.

While Bloom directs the team, Gassnola stands amid the college recruiters at one end of the court, alternately cheering and chastising his players. After the Playaz win their opening game in the tournament, Gassnola peels a $100 bill off a roll he pulls from his pocket and hands it to Hanson, instructing him to buy food for the team.

``Anything we need, TJ gets it for us," Bingham says.

The Playaz dine at local restaurants between games, sleep at the Quality Inn, and travel about town in a rented van. Before the summer ends, Gassnola will have spent several thousand dollars per player, each of whom is outfitted with a full line of Adidas gear, including two game uniforms, warmups, and sneakers.

Gassnola, who describes himself as a real estate entrepreneur, also supports a 15-and-under travel team, which has not traveled to Fayetteville. He says he funds the program with his own money as well as contributions from Springfield-area businessmen and three NBA players he declines to identify. He says the program costs about $100,000 a year.

``TJ does everything," Hanson says. "All he wants me to do is run the team [on the court], and he said he'll take care of me."

Adidas is pleased with Gassnola because the Playaz are wearing its brand in a national showcase, where more than 175 colleges and 40 recruiting services are represented, with television cameras recording much of the action.

Gassnola's goodwill ebbs, however, when the Playaz fail to overcome a lackluster start in their third game of the tournament and suffer a 1-point loss to a team from Memphis.
``That's it," he says, fuming, to Bloom. ``Take away their cellphones, their iPods, everything. I'm kicking [butt]."

Despite the sullen interlude, Gassnola gets plenty of attention from college recruiters, who recognize the influence he wields. When he first walks into the Boys and Girls Club, he exchanges a hug and handshake with Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who quickly hands his cellphone to Gassnola.

One of Pearl's assistants is curious about Kiwan Smith, a 6-8 star Gassnola brought to the tournament the previous year. Gassnola had pushed the 17-and-under age limit with Smith, who is 21 and was barred from another tournament last year because of his age. (Tournaments often permit limited age exceptions, which is how the BABC's 15-and-under team recently won AAU national, regional, and state championships with four players who are 16.)

As for Smith, questions also arose about his character: He pleaded guilty in 2004 in Schenectady (N.Y.) County to a Class D felony of third-degree criminal possession of stolen property (an SUV) and was sentenced to five years probation. But the more pressing matter seems to be that Smith, who attends Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, has yet to meet NCAA academic eligibility requirements, diminishing Tennessee's interest.

Still, one coach after another, including Kansas State's Bob Huggins, makes a point of schmoozing with Gassnola. With dozens of major college prospects participating, organizers charge the coaches $250 each for team rosters (178 colleges are registered). And even though the NCAA bars the coaches from speaking with players -- coaches may only observe the players but are allowed to speak with organizers like Gassnola -- Huggins has turned out with many of his contemporaries, including Pearl, Williams, Calipari, Kentucky's Tubby Smith, and Michigan State's Tom Izzo.

In the past, Gassnola has helped at least one college recruiter break the rule barring communication with players. The Record of Bergen County, N.J., reported in 2002 that Gassnola, then an associate of the Playaz Basketball Club of Paterson, N.J., handed his cellphone to Demetris Nichols, of Dorchester, whom Gassnola had enlisted with the Playaz, so Nichols could speak with a Syracuse recruiter who was standing in the same gym during a tournament.
When a Record reporter asked Gassnola whether the NCAA would ever be able to stop such prohibited communication, he replied, ``They can't do a [expletive] thing about it."

Traveling show

In Fayetteville, the Reebok-sponsored tournament has drawn 156 teams from coast to coast, despite Nike advising its teams to boycott the event because of its rival's sponsorship. Several Nike-sponsored teams, including the Illinois Warriors, who win the tournament, have ignored the company's ban, a measure of the event's significance on the recruiting calendar. An additional 83 teams that sought to pay the $450 entry fee were wait-listed.

Izzo said it's ``imperative" for recruiters to attend such talent shows. One problem, he said, is the outsized influence many sneaker-company operatives have gained, sometimes for the worse.

``Some of the coaches are real good, like in high school," Izzo said, ``but some of them are shady."

For Gassnola, it's just another stop on the road. His team travels more than nearly any in New England, including the BABC, Nike's premier program in the region. The Playaz and BABC rarely face each other for several reasons, including their rival sponsorships and Gassnola being barred from AAU tournaments for failing to pay an estimated $2,500 in entry fees. Their premier teams also compete at different levels, Gassnola's in the 17-and-under division, Papile's at 15- or 16-and-under.

At the Providence Jam Fest, for example, which drew teams in April from as far as North Carolina, the New England Playaz won the 17-and-under title, with Sanders named the division's most valuable player, while the BABC captured the 15-and-under championship behind division MVP Erik Murphy.

The only team in New England that travels more than the Playaz is the Boston-based Junior Celtics, which receives sneakers, gym bags, and warmups from New Balance (the company does not provide cash grants to youth basketball teams). The Junior Celtics, the only other New England team to compete in the Real Deal tournament, are funded mostly by their coach, Craig Stockmal, and the players' parents, several of whom will donate frequent flyer and hotel points to help underwrite trips this year to New York, Rhode Island, Arkansas, Texas, Washington, D.C., Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Nevada.

Stockmal says Gassnola and the BABC's Leo Papile have tried to lure away a couple of his players, who include major college prospects such as 6-7 Andrew McCarthy of Buckingham Browne and Nichols and 6-3 Jamal Turner of Thayer Academy. But Stockmal says the players and their parents are pleased both with the national exposure the Junior Celtics provide and the program's emphasis on team play, which sometimes is lost on star-studded summer squads.
Stockmal says he also values his freedom from the sneaker wars.

``The more you see it," he says, ``the happier you are that you're a small, independent program."

The Junior Celtics, like the New England Playaz, win two of three games in their tournament pools before they are eliminated from the Real Deal. Soon, Stockmal will return to his sales job for a national printing firm. Sanders will be vacationing at Disney World. And Gassnola will be back prowling for the region's best young players, trying to deliver for Adidas.